Category Archives: transport

How green will the future “Grand Paris” be?

equipe Castro Denisoff Casi/La Courneuve Manhattan

equipe Castro Denisoff Casi/La Courneuve Manhattan

Nicholas Sarkozy, like most recent French presidents, is mindful of his legacy and accordingly launched in 2007 a call for architects’ submissions for the “Grand Paris” of the 21st century. The results of that consultation can be seen at the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patriomine: ten booths showcasing the visions of superstar architects such as Jean Nouvel, Richard Rogers and Christian Portzamparc. These teams will take part in a working group which will try to define the guiding principles of a sustainable Paris. The aim is for work to begin in 2012, but we’re basically looking at Paris circa 2030

The most outstanding vision for me was that of Antoine Grumbach, who envisaged the extension of Paris via the Seine through Rouen to Le Havre.

He talks a bit about some aspects of his project , including a floating university on the Seine.

The themes which dominate all 10 projects are those of the current zeitgeist:

mobility and transportation, green spaces, housing, rivers, employment nodes etc. A better summary of the themes which ran through all of the projects is Adam Greenfield’s list of the 14 elements of networked urbanism. Somehow all of the abstractions and architectural gobbledy-gook contained in the exhibition can be boiled down to these transformations: for instance moving from held to shared, from constant to variable, from vehicle to mobility from consumer to constituent.

John Thackara at Doors of Perception zeroed in on the metaphor of Italian architects Bernardo Secchi and Paola Vigano of Paris as a “porous sponge” in which waterways are given pride of place. However, he argues that “a better approach would be to turn the peripherique itself into a garden, and thereby avoid the implausible and costly scenario of building “green spaces and networks above them”. His ideas echo those of Denis Baupin, deputy of the Green Party and driving force behind the popular Vélib bikeshare system.

Take a look at the (“Reclaim the Street”) operation he backed last year. His main idea is to transform the péripherique ring road that encircles Paris into an urban boulevard with transit, cars, pedestrians and trees.

Critics of the Grand Paris project are plentiful (for instance, Sarkozy is said to have a soft spot for monumental towers and the modernity of the Blair-ite London skyline) , but the importance of this initiative is that it makes a clean break with the way Paris has been administered and planned up until now by re-visioning the historical separation between Paris and the suburbs.

Historically, the city has passed through three phases:

1. The capital re-vamped by Napoleon III and Haussmann to meet the needs of industrialization and the 20th century.

2. 1973 – the completion of the ring road, or boulevard péripherique, which encircled the city physically and precluded the political possibility of any modification.

3. Grandiose projects undertaken inside Paris by a series of presidents – Musée d’Orsay (Giscard d’Estaing), Grand Louvre to the Grande Arche de la Défense (Mitterrand) and the Musée du Quai Branly (Chirac).


What’s left of the Grenelle?

Eighteen months after the Grenelle de l’Environnement, it’s worth taking a look at what’s left of the promises made by President Sarkozy and Jean-Louis Borloo in October 2007. At the time, the meeting was welcomed as innovative and participatory because it brought NGOs into the decision-making process.
Since then those same NGOs have been criticized for their endorsement of a process which has been battered, diluted and edited beyond recognition.

Grenelle I, a broad, big picture text which lays the groundwork for the major reforms envisaged in the Grenelle, was voted in unanimously in October 2008 and appeared to signal a new consensus on the environment among the mainly right-wing deputies. But NGOs were quick to point out that a lot had been sacrificed: the pledge to end the “all-road” era is gone; energy descent targets have been watered down; environmental health has been almost entirely abandoned, the nuclear lobby has been strengthened and it is now impossible to ban a dangerous substance if it is allowed by the European Union.

Grenelle II, which will get a first hearing in parliament in the early months of 2009, will present more challenges to as it is not just more controversial, but also highly technical, and lays out – sector by sector- the major reforms to be implemented in a range of areas from urban planning, construction to carbon capture and biodiversity.

The main axes are:
• Construction – improving energy performance of existing buildings
• Urban planning – compete overhaul to take into account new energy/climate targets
• Transport – series of incentives to boost public transportation use
• Energy – mandatory carbon audit for towns with more than 50,000 residents and companies with more than 500 employees
• Ban on advertising of pesticides to individuals; of cellphones for under-12’s; obligatory labeling of phones and wireless boxes to indicate strength of electromagnetic charge; nanoparticles; biodiversity corridors

Disappointment among the Greens, the left and the NGOs can be summed up by this commentary which ran in December’s issue of La Décroissance: “Elimination of the anti-nuclear movement and political ecology, assertion of the primacy of sustainable development and green capitalism, relaunch of car sales and economic growth, skyscraper construction: this was the deal that the Grenelle participants took part in.”

SNCF to roll out own fleet of green taxis

French national railway company SNCF announced this week that it would soon offer its own fleet of electric taxis at train stations in Paris to slash waiting time for travellers and reinforce its image as a leader in green transportation. Anyone who has staggered out of the Eurostar or a train from the south arriving at the Gare de Lyon will know only too well that waits – especially at peak travel times – can be as long as 45 minutes. SNCF has purchased 200 taxi licenses at a total cost of 30 million euros in order to acquire its own fleet of 100 percent electric taxis.

The vehicles, which will be rented to independent drivers, will be coordinated through a reservations hub which will help connect both inbound and outbound travellers with taxis.

In a related move, SNCF will offer from next year an experimental train plus car rental deal out of Strasbourg and Rennes featuring the forthcoming electric Bolloré Blue Car.

via Le Parisien



What’s the real impact of the Grenelle after one year?

One year after the Grenelle on the Environment, what’s the real impact of changes which were decided in an unprecedented coming together of stakeholders across the board from NGOs and unions to business and industry to local authorities. Well, we lost some proposals, such as the carbon tax and the freeze on building new highways. A total of 19 billion euros have been earmarked for 2009-2011 to finance what’s left. The two main items which have come into force already are the “bonus-malus” on cars whereby consumers buying a new car which emits more than 160 g of CO2 per kilometer are penalized with a tax ranging from 200 euros to 2600 euros. Those who own or purchase a car which emits less than 130 g of CO2 per kilometre get a rebate of between 200 and 1000 euros. On the plus side, this has led to 40 percent increase in sales of smaller, lower carbon vehicles, but it has left the state out of pocket by 140 million euros. The law on GM crops was voted in May, but it failed to clarify the crucial issue of what is an acceptable threshold of dissemination of GM crops which could contaminate non-GM crops.

The law on the Grenelle comes up for debate in parliament on October 6, and barring a disaster, these are the things expected to get through: 

– Tighening of entry criteria for the “bonus-malus” – only vehicles emitting less than 125 g of CO2 per kilometre will qualify. The tax on polluting vehicles could be extended to become an annual tax.

– A 15 percent decrease in the volume of non-recycled household waste by 2012

– From 2009, a zero interest loan of up to 30,000 euros for eco-renovation

– Increased emphasis on train transport: By 2030, an additional 4,500 kilometres of high-speed train lines are envisaged. Public transport in cities will get 2.5 billion for development.

– Tax on lorry transport – All lorries of 12 tonnes or more from 2009 will have to pay a tax calculated on the basis of kilometres driven.

– Reduction by 50 percent of pesticide use within the next 10 years. 53 molecules will be withdrawn from the market between now and 2010.

via Le Parisien


Paris gets new electric motor-taxi service

Citybird has as just launched the first motorized taxi service using 100 pct electric vehicles, dubbed Electri-city. The electric maxi-scooters are manufactured by Vectrix. Citybird, created in 2003 by three friends, already has a fleet of low CO2 emission scooters operating in Paris – which suffers from a dearth of taxis – and hopes to capture 20 percent of urban traffic by the end of 2008, which would contribute to a significant improvement in air quality.

via Cardisiac


Aviation deathwatch: Latest links

courtesy of queenie13 via Flickr

Air France mulls tie-up with Veolia to cut fuel costs by shifting some routes to high-speed rail. 

European Union approves deal to make airlines pay for CO2 emissions.

Paris tests commuter ferry service

courtesy of tofz4u via Flickr

Continuing in a riverine vein, Paris has inaugurated a commuter ferry service along the Seine called Voguéo, which links Gare de l’Austerlitz to Maisons-Alfort in the east of Paris. Fully integrated into the RATP Parisian public transportation network, the service provides a six-stop, half-hour journey with departures every 20 minutes during rush hour. This is the first public transport initiative involving the Seine (until now the monopoly has belonged to the tourist-oriented Bateaux Mouches) and is part of the city’s ongoing search for more ecological public tranportation solutions. If successful, the current fleet of blue and green catamarans – with a passenger capacity of 75 – will be extended to the west of Paris in 2010.

via STIF

French supermarket giants shifting to river transport

Six giants of the French supermarket and mass retail sector – Auchan, Casino, Carrefour, Conforama, Ikea and Leroy Merlin – have signed a deal to significantly increase river transport along the Rhone-Saone axis. Over the next two years, the six firms will shift around 81,600 tonnes of merchandise from road to river transport. This represents a 50 percent increase in river transport for the six, as well as a cut in CO2 emissions of 1,469 tonnes. Of the six, Auchan and Conforama have been pioneers in the field.

Leandre Boulez, Director General for import-export at Auchan, said: “We have been using river transport since 1995 for imported merchandise arriving at Fos, Le Havre and Anvers. For the past three years, it has accounted for two-thirds of our volume and it is stable. The costs are more or less identical to other modes of transport, and, with good planning, the time taken is scarcely any longer.” The initiative is part of a wider push to develop the Rhone river, which will receive 216 million euros in earmarked government funds through state-regional budgets for 2007-2013.

The port of Marseilles has forged strong links with the port of Lyons, which has become the biggest French port in the interior, with 59,000 containers using the rivier in 2007, up exponentially from 2,000 containers in 2000.

via Les Echos

Renault rolls out a new SUV: Greenpeace calls it a “climate WMD”

At a time when U.S. car manufacturers like Ford and General Motors are cutting production of large SUV’s and closing down truck and SUV plants across North America, France’s Renault has just rolled out a brand new iteration of the genre called the Koleos. Greenpeace was quick to denounce the vehicle as a “weapon of mass destruction of climate”. The NGO points out in a press release that this car – Renault’s first offering in the S.U.V. category – comes at a particularly unfortunate time in the current context of rising petrol prices – and notes that the average CO2 emissions of this vehicle is 209 grams/kilometer.

“The Koleos is the perfect example of what not to do,” said Anne Valette, head of the climate campaign at Greenpeace France. France and Germany struck a deal on June 9 to back the European Union’s ambition to limit CO2 emissions of all new cars to 120 g/km by 2012. 

Here’s an interesting letter from a reader published in this month’s issue of La Decroissance: hats off to the gentleman in question for walking the talk!

“I’m 52 years old and on April 11th I resigned from the multinational Michelin of my own free will. I was involved in the manufacturing of a part of the tyres for automobile racing, including Formula 1, which generates huge amounts of waste. For a firm which supports sustainable development, is it vital for humanity to take a car, to go around in circles on a circuit, to waste petrol and raw materials to come first and to gain a few seconds? My naturalist philosophy and my sense of morals have stopped me from continuing to be complicit in the destruction of life on Earth. 

I am proud, happy to have taken this decision, I am a free man, I am responsible for my decision. I love profoundly my Puy de Dome, the birds, life in all its forms, I will confront my destiny. I know the end of my story. Philippe Avel, Blanzat (Puy-de-Dome)”

George Monbiot in his book “Heat” puts it best: “The speed and acceleration of our cars is a form of profligacy at which all future generations will goggle.”



Update on the Grenelle

Six months after the Grenelle de l’Environnement, its conclusions have finally been translated into a legislative bill which was unveiled in parliament on April 30. The text has been welcomed by NGOs as a more or less faithful rendition of the spirit and the letter of the Grenelle but there is concern about how to finance the stated goal of “making France the most carbon-efficient economy in the European Union” by 2020. The bill will be presented to the Council of Ministers at the end of May, and then go before parliament before the summer.

The first law to go before a parliamentary vote concerns construction and transportation. The second, which concerns agriculture and governance, will be heard in the autumn. The bill consists of 47 articles grouped under five headings – climate change, biodiversity, health and environmental risks, the state and legislation which is specific to the overseas territories.

The biggest concern is over funding. Les Echos reported that earlier versions of the bill gave precise figures such as 24 billion euros for the renovation of state-owned buildings, but such figures were excised for the final text. Similarly for the goal of building 2,000 kilometres of high-speed train lines – an earlier estimate of 69 billion euros was also struck from the final text.

Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo, for his part, has said that the state will finance 16 of the 69 billion euros earmarked for high-speed train lines, as well as more than one billion of the 4.5 billion needed for a wide canal which will link the Seine with northern Europe.

Environmental NGOS are also concerned that the bill will be significantly watered down during its passage through parliament. On the plus side, they applauded the fact that the text contained a strong commitment to biodiversity, and the government’s decision to drop the European Union target of shifting to 10 percent biofueld by 2020.

Highlighs of the bill:

1. Tax policy

the state will study the creation of a carbon tax, with the caveat that this new tax “will be strictly compensated by reductions on other obligatory taxes to preserve householding spending power and competitiveness of enterprise.”

From 2011, all trucks which are not on highways will be taxed.

2. Construction

New buildings will have to respect a “low energy consumption” norm starting from the end of 2012. From 2020 onwards this will become a “positive energy” norm

The state has set a goal of cutting energy consumption of its buildings by 38 pct by 2020

3. Housing

Renovation and insulation of 800,000 low cost housing units by end-2020

4. Town planning

Regions, departments and communes with more than 50,000 inhabitants will have to craft climate-energy plans before 2021

5. Transport of merchandise

The state will allocated up to 400 million euros per year to improve the upkeep of the railroads

Launch of three auto-highways, development of “sea highways” and the launch of a wide canal Seine-North Europe

6. Travel

Conatruction of 2000 kms of high-speed train lines before 2020

7. Biodiversity

creation of three new national parks, acquisition of 20,000 hectares of wetlands

8. Water

Ban on phosphates in all detergent products starting from 2012, and starting from 2015 for industrial usage

9. Agriculture

Doubling of tax credits from 2009 in favour of organic agriculture – goal is to increase cultivated land for organic agriculture to 20 pct by 2020. Cut by half pesticide use. Set up emergency plan to safeguard bees in 2009.

10. Health and environment

Reinforcement of the follow-up on the professional exposure to dangerous substances. Reinforcement of efforts on improving air quality, and the policy on reducing waste. Launch before April 2009 of a public debate on nanomaterials.


 via Les Echos and official website of the Grenelle