HIGHWAYS TO BOULEVARDS BLOG: Interview with Paul Lecroart

The Seine will once again be for lovers not traffic
This post is a part of CNU’s new Highways to Boulevards Blog series, which features interview summaries and insights from some of the best minds at the frontline of our Highways to Boulevards Initiative.

In the fall of 2012, Paul Lecroart, Senior Urban Planner for the Institut d’Aménagement et d’Urbanisme de la Région Ile-de-France (IAU), Paris (Urban Planning & Development Agency for the Paris Region), sat down with CNU to discuss the Projet Berges de Seine (Seine Banks Project). Read our Highways to Boulevards post with Jeff Tumlin on the removal of San Francisco’s Central Freeway HERE.

“The Seine riverbanks are a major 8 mile-long highway going from the Western districts of Paris & suburbs to the Eastern districts & suburbs. The riverbanks are divided into two highways, the Right Bank Highway (RBH or Voie Express Georges Pompidou) and the Left Bank Highway (LBH). Today, the average traffic is about 40000 vehicles a day on the RBH and 25000 on the LBH, both are limited to just over 30 mph.” 

We first asked Mr. Lecroart to briefly describe the planned roadway transformations along the Seine: 

“Right Bank Highway: create an almost 2-mile long “urban boulevard” out of the highway with 6 new pedestrian-crossings with traffic lights giving direct access to the waterfront, connection with pedestrian bridges across the river connecting major sites, create a new 0.6 mile sidewalk on the river bank, offer space for a riverside café and 5 new leisure-culture boats; 

Left Bank Highway:  remove the 1.6 mile expressway and parking lots to create a new 10-acre reversible urban space for leisure, culture and nature, including 5 new artificial islands with all sorts of night-and-day activity, create 2 new urban logistic port areas.”

Mr. Lecroart highlights the primary considerations that drove removal and the aim of the Projet Berges de Seine:

“Give the Seine back to the pedestrians, Parisians, and visitors alike. Develop and diversify activities on the banks such as leisure, culture, civic, and economic activities related to the river. Enhance a unique World Heritage UNESCO listed landscape, part of the identity of Paris. Reinforce the presence of nature in the city.”

Photo Courtesy of The New York TimesStakeholder support is crucial in projects such as the Seine Banks Project. Resident engagement and support was achieved through “open public debates, exploratory walks, many public meetings in different districts, public workshops, children’s workshops, and finally a formal public hearing process [conducted in October 2011].” The Mayor also eventually received support from “major State Agencies such as Port of Paris, the Police Prefecture, and the Ministry of Culture in charge of heritage and architectural preservation of the Paris Landscape.”

One of the greatest hurdles to transportation reform is always the community’s fear of traffic congestion. In the case of the Seine Banks Project this was no different and “was addressed through a specific joint traffic impact study between the Paris Urban Planning Agency (APUR) and the Police Prefecture.”

When asked what advice Mr. Lecroart would offer to another city that is undertaking a similar project he gives the following suggestions:

“Go for it! In the last 10 years (2001-2010), car-use and traffic has decreased in the inner part of the Paris Region, public transportation has increased so has walking and cycling: this is good news for the future.

If we want to go further, we must go beyond what the traffic models tell us, increase dramatically our shared-car use (beyond HOV), and work on institutional arrangements at the metropolitan/regional level to better combine land-use and transport policies.”

Photo courtesy of the BBC“The LBH project was opened to the public in September 2012 and it is already a great success, particularly on sunny weekends with hundreds of pedestrian walking or sitting on the newly opened river banks.”

The project is small, with only a very short section of the expressway being removed, but it is a good start. To Paul and his colleagues, it is now time to think at the metropolitan level, where dozens or even hundreds of miles of expressway need to be redesigned if we are serious about sustainable development, public health and livability in the Paris Metropolitan Region (PMR).

This summary was created by CNU Project Assistant Kate Witherspoon.

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