Paris to curb cars in its most beautiful square

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THE PLACE de la Concorde claims, with some reason, to be the most beautiful square in the world. For tourists and pedestrians it is a nightmare - an automotive Jacuzzi separating the Champs Elyseesfrom the Tuileries gardens and the Louvre.

To reach the Egyptian obelisk in the centre, roughly marking the spot where Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and Robespierre were executed, you have to run the gauntlet of acres of snarling, colour-blind traffic.

Now the old square is to undergo another revolution. The Mayor of Paris, Jean Tiberi, will present plans tomorrow to banish cars to two narrow lanes across the square and a loop around the northern side. Half the Place de la Concorde, at 17 acres one of the biggest squares in the world, would be reserved for pedestrians.

An even more radical plan, giving pedestrians 80 per cent of the square, and banning all but buses, taxis and bicycles, will also be presented but this seems unlikely to be adopted. The Place de la Concorde carries more traffic at rush-hour than any other thoroughfare in the French capital: 10,000 cars an hour, which is more than the busiest section of the Boulevard Peripherique encircling the city.

The square is a vital link in the main east-west vehicle route on the right bank of Paris, connecting the Rue de Rivoli with the Champs Elysees. Since it is is jammed every morning and evening, how could it be closed, or even restricted, without reducing the city centre to permanent gridlock?

Officials at the Paris town hall say drivers would soon discover other routes. There would be a slight increase in existing jams, they say, but so what? The policy of the city is to reduce traffic by up to 10 per cent in the early years of the new century, and blocking part of the Concorde would help to encourage commuters to take the Metro or the bus.

Under the less radical of the two schemes, costed at about pounds 15m, the square would gain seven or eight new large, grassy areas and an ugly car park on the Tuileries side would be abolished. Traffic would be restricted to narrow lanes heading north and south across the square to and from the river and to a loop around the northern side, connecting the Rue de Rivoli and the Champs Elysees.