Paris Smog Can Take Cars Off The Streets

Paris in mid-March smog, 2014 (photo:
Travelers cherish the city of Paris for the charm of its luxurious springtime, but maybe not this year. Since last Wednesday, air pollution in Paris and 22 suburbs has topped the safe limit for PM10 particulates (80 mg/cubic meter).

The Paris smog readings hit 180 mg on Friday, more than twice the accepted safe limit. This level prompted officials to offer public transport totally “free” (at a cost of $5.6 million a day), free bike-shares, and one-hour electric car sharing sessions. And at 5:30 a.m. yesterday morning, the government just stopped half the cars from driving within city limits. All drivers with plates ending in an even number had to use public transport, share a ride, or stay home.

News outlets around the world exaggerated the situation, comparing Paris smog to pollution in Beijing, where a Chinese citizen has recently had the temerity to sue the government for the poor air quality.

As The New York Times pointed out in January, New Delhi actually has worse air than the Chinese capital: “Lately, a very bad air day in Beijing is about an average one in New Delhi.” CleanTechnica and PlanetSave have reported on smog-eating paint, architectural paneling and sidewalks over the past couple of years, efforts to try to get this under control.

Mexico City, Los Angeles, Athens, Sarajevo, Riyadh, Cairo, Gabarone (Botswana), Dakar, Lagos, Singapore, and others also have very serious air pollution problems. The problem worsens appreciably in areas of wood and coal fuel burning; heavy internal combustion transport; sunny, warm, dry climates; and when the air is stagnant or disturbed by natural causes such as volcanoes.

Smog endangers human health in all areas affected by it. Air pollution can cause respiratory disease from asthma to COPD, lead to premature death from lung diseases and cancer, and limit human potential by causing birth defects and lowering the birth rate.

Here’s the bright side, though. The Los Angeles Times says the drastic measures taken by Paris affected the city’s environment positively in terms other than the amount of smog:

Authorities said that traffic jams were reduced by 25% in Paris and that there were 60% fewer cars on the main roads, the “portes,” leading into the city. The center of Paris was less clogged than usual, and pedestrians were able to breathe and cross the roads a little easier.

At midnight Monday (this morning), authorities lifted the curbs for Tuesday because Paris smog pollution levels had dropped. The combination of cold nights and warm days, which had prevented pollution from dispersing, has lessened. The city’s air quality will now be reviewed day-to-day from a transportation outlook to determine if alternate driving days are needed. The European Union has an eye on London’s ozone-high air and may recommend similar solutions.

Today’s a sort-of-okay day in Europe. The air in the City of Dim/City of Lights ranks 50 at the roadsides, 37 in the background, not unlike Munich and Stockholm, and certainly alright for a stroll along the Seine or boulevards and the free garden concerts and city fairs coming up (providing reasonable air continues through March and April). It’s first-rate in Caen, The Hague, Innsbruck, and Toulouse, but you might want to limit your time in Oslo (87 and 57, respectively).

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