Postcard from... Paris


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The Independent Online


The “périph” is a road to nowhere, often jammed and always scary. Like the mega-roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe, it is a microcosm of French life. Half the people break the rules; half respect them. It probably would not work in any other way.

Now the périph – the  Boulevard Périphérique – is about to get slower, in theory. At present, the maximum speed on the Paris ring road is 80kph (50mph). From the end of January, it will be reduced to 70kph.

Cynics might ask: “Why bother?” The périph fluctuates, like a devilish online driving game, between two and five lanes on either side. When it is not jammed, many drivers break the speed limit.

The official reason for the reduced limit is to cut pollution, both noise and atmospheric. Paris, which sits in natural bowl, has a serious air pollution problem. The official limits are being exceeded day after day.

The French Automobile Association says the reduced speed will cut toxic emissions from cars on the périph by only 1 per cent. It says the constant embouteillages (“bottlings”) mean that the actual average speed is already only 37kph. Why, the association asks, annoy drivers for 1 per cent less lung-destroying filth?

Bertrand Delanoe, the great and good Mayor of Paris and grandfather of the “Boris Bike” (who retires in three months’ time), says the reduced speed is a “great advance”. Delanoe is surely right. Remember the ancient Chinese proverb beloved of Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson: If you must drive in circles, don’t drive too fast.