Roads along the Seine

Seine riverfront
Paris, France

Contributed by Project for Public Spaces

Expressways that severely diminish riverfront access in Paris.

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Why It Doesn't Work

If you try to walk along either side of the Seine, you quickly realize how the wide roads that run parallel to the river detract from what should be the city's chief asset. The Seine could be the setting for the ultimate promenade or boulevard, an actively programmed pedestrian paradise that provides access to the many destinations located near the river. Some of the city's main attractions, including the Louvre, Notre Dame, and the Musée d'Orsay, would be well-served by a more walkable riverfront. But the way things stand now, only the city's bridges provide comfortable, direct pedestrian access to the river. Why? Because most of the space along the river itself has been ceded to the automobile.

The roads have become highways within the city: Streetlights phased for high-speed traffic encourage aggressive driving, and vehicles move at too high a speed even for passengers to take in the scenery.

It doesn't have to be this way. Streetlights could be phased to reduce speed; more pedestrian crosswalks could be added; the number of moving lanes could be reduced to create a better "boulevard effect."

Most cities now realize the error of bringing highways into the central city, and Paris seems to be coming around too. Each of the last two summers, the city has staged a short, wonderful experiment along the Seine called Paris Plage (Paris Beach). This incredibly innovative program closes off one section of road to create a miniature beach environment by the banks of the river, complete with sand, beach chairs, umbrellas, and games. The same section is also closed on Sundays the rest of the year, but without the intense programming.

These steps are just a small taste of what is really necessary. Taking permanent measures to reclaim the riverfront for pedestrians and transit should be the next bold move for a city that thrives on such gestures to retain its position as the best in the world.

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