Christophe Najdovski is trained as an environmental economist at the Sorbonne. Since 2014, he has been deputy mayor of Paris, responsible for transport and public spaces. Before the visit to Mobility and Behavior in Karlstad on March 6, he describes his work in an exclusive interview for the Green Motorists.
Monsieur Najdovski, you are at the heart of a major transformation of the Parisian transport system. What are your strategies for the ongoing process? What additional changes are to be expected?
We are now working to make Paris more accessible to pedestrians and cyclists. In several of the main squares, such as Place de la Bastille, we are now avoiding heavy car traffic to create more space for other types of traffic and for other activities. We are also investing heavily in the very successful Cycle Express network of cycle paths, which will facilitate daily cycling trips in Greater Paris.
Once we’ve made those changes, we want to wait and see how they’re received. Human behavior changes at its own pace and an embedded culture does not disappear overnight. But in the long term, I would like to see a Paris with one hundred percent pedestrians, or next door. We have to experience this during our annual car-free days and in some of our neighborhoods (district) we are currently making radical changes that go a bit in the right direction.
My method is quite simple, continues Christophe Najdovski. It is based on a good consensus with organizations that exploit different interests: cyclists, public transport passengers, taxi drivers and organizations for people with disabilities. Even citizens who do not belong to any particular organization are welcome in the dialogue. We develop policies and projects that we can agree on. The strategy is unequivocal: we want a lot with us in the transition to sustainable mobility.
Sustainable mobility in the city is based on a balance between active mobility and the transport of cars and trucks, which is still necessary. How does this balance work in a city like Paris?
Car traffic in Paris represents only 12% of all journeys, but occupies 50% of the street space. So yes, we still have to weigh the different modes of transport against each other. For example, when we build a bike lane on a street, we also create a lane for buses and clear loading areas. We do not exclude car traffic, but wish to limit it to gain surface areas and reduce pollution. More than a thousand new charging stations for electric cars prove that car traffic will definitely not be banned.
In a presentation published on Youtube, you insist on ”active mobility”, that is to say walking and cycling. How good are the arguments for increased public health with respect to emissions and urban development?
The city of Paris is responsible for the well-being of its inhabitants. This makes public health issues the main reasons for more active mobility. Consider that in France, we expect 48,000 premature deaths each year due to bad air in our cities. So it can’t go on!
When we plan for more active mobility, we start from a long-term vision of the type of city we want in the future. We can say that as decision-makers, we produce urbanity and the question then becomes what type of urbanity we want to create.
I see how cycling is a great complement to walking and public transport. It has all the features a growing city needs: it’s fast, it doesn’t mess and takes up little room in the street room. I am also convinced that the cycle will play an increasingly important role also in the local transport of goods.
What arguments do you prefer to use in contact with Parisians?
As I said, in France, the city and its mayor have a legal responsibility for public health. Unlike individuals or lobby groups, we have a responsibility to run the whole city well. What I generally emphasize is that we need to create a new balance between the modes of circulation in Paris, so that as many people as possible feel good and comfortable in the city. And since seventy percent of city transportation is on foot, it’s also only reasonable that the needs of pedestrians come first. Furthermore, it is of course important that Paris is a healthy and attractive city for residents, businesses and tourists. Of course, the urgent need to act on climate change – measures that make demands on all of us of course will.
What are you most proud of so far and why?
On October 25, 2018, a court gave us the right to open the beaches of the Seine to pedestrians, in areas where traffic had already taken place. This made me proud, because the decision had been preceded by a long debate, especially in court.
Although changes to the shape of the Seine beaches as UNESCO World Heritage Sites have also had support, it is a complicated change, with, as I said, many protests . Today we see how many people use the surfaces for walking, picnicking and jogging. The change is a good example of how we want to achieve the ambitions of a Paris where you can breathe.
What do you expect from your visit to Sweden?
I am very happy to participate in Mobility & Behavior 2019. It will be exciting to take part in the work on mobility in Sweden. Your country is often described as an example! Personally, I would like to know more about the initiatives, experiences and good practices that can help us in continuing the work in Paris. At the same time, I hope to share our experiences and inspire others in the same way.
Interview by Fredrik Holm