Urban freeways (3)

The urban role of the automobile in Paris has clearly evolved during the last decades.

As the capital of a country with a powerful automotive industry and with relatively high automobile ownership rates for decades, the Parisian region has lived a complex relation with its freeways. The idea of an adaptation of the urban tissue and the street grid to the car appears as a relevant issue to the theoricians at the turn of the XXth century, as Augustin Rey or Eugene Henard (lower image), and is taken to its utmost development by Le Corbusier in its proposals for the city.

Le Corbusier’s Plan Voisin was sponsored by a car maker, and called for the destruction of a large part of the parisian core opening large freeways on the right bank.

In 1943, still under German occupation, René Mestais, then general inspector and chief of the topographic and urbanism services, proposes the Boulevad Peripherique for the first time. Beyond mobility issues there is also the will to define a clear physical limit between a more planned Paris and a more haphazard banlieue (suburbs), seen as opposites not to be mistaken. The proposal uses the old fortification line as the most convenient right of way, a decision subsequently maintained. In 1995 the Bernard Lafay plan proposes two beltways, the present Boulevard Peripherique and a more inner city belt. The Boulevard Peripherique will finally be built as a 35 km freeway from 1960 to 1973, with 9 km over embankments, 13,5 on open trenches, 6,5 over viaducts and 6 on covered trenches.

The mandate of President Georges Pompidou (1969-1973) is marked by the presentation of several schemes to extend the freeway network over the inner city, but only the river Seine shore driveway (voies sur berges) are finally realized.

Some projects even propose to consider the Seine as the ultimate right of way…

In the 1980’s and 1990’s there are proposals for an underground  toll motorway system to crisscross the central city (LASER and other projects9, raising opposition for fears of cost and a high environmental impact.

In 2001 the City Council votes a proposal for works to cover our sections of the Boulevard Peripherique with green spaces and public facilities over slabs. In all four cases the sections were up to that date open trenches, with no proposal to change the existing road level (but sometimes changing the ramps layout), with a project oriente towards a concrete slab structure built over an open freeway. When the covered lengths are longer than 30 m the safety rules are the ones applied to long mountain tunnels.

–          Porte de Vanves: 260 m of new slabs, that add a total of 410 m counting the preexisting bridges.

–          Porte de Villiers to Porte de Champerret (2 separate sections in the 2001 decission), with over a km of length.

–          Porte des Lilas, with 660 m covered in two sections, to be later joined in a 1 km tunnel.

The projects are integrated in a comprehensive plan that takes into account the urban continuities with the same suburbs René Mestais wanted to separate in 1943, the present project having the clear goal to avoid the barrier effect.

The City Council is promoting now the transformation of the Seine riverbank driveway, one more element in a movement started in this decade with initiatives such as Paris Plage (an urban beach in summertime), that have led to temporary cuts on traffic. The project has sparkled a conflict with the Sarkozy administration, that demanded more specific traffic studies to justify the project. The proposal covers 2,5 km of river banks, and has been presented as a “spanish rambla” by the river, with mobile elements as small greenhouses or an athletics racecourse. On the right bank the project keeps two traffic lane with traffic calming measures and traffic lights, and a pedestrian itinerary 1,5 km long. On the left bank the project closes 2,3 km to cars, freeing the space from Musée d’Orsay to the Eiffel tower. In parallel a reinforcement of the public transportation system is projected.

Some references:

The Boulevard Peripherique Project: http://www.paris.fr/accueil/Portal.lut?page_id=8684&document_type_id=4&document_id=49287&portlet_id=20594

The Seine project: http://www.paris.fr/politiques/berges-de-la-seine/a-la-reconquete-des-berges-de-la-seine/rub_9766_actu_78193_port_24314


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