For the last week, haze has been enveloping Paris, which usually enjoys relatively clean air. People are warned to avoid even moderate exercise. Schools have been instructed to keep children in classrooms and limit sports activities.
On Monday, in an attempt to improve air quality, authorities passed a bill for a 24-hour restriction on cars with even-numbered license plates, halving the number of cars entering the city and surrounding areas.
On Wednesday, when the air was at its worst, haze masked the city’s most famous landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower. Walking on the streets and the squares -- Bastille, Opera, Republique, pedestrians could smell and taste the smog. On Friday, a vendor offered passersby cheap cardboard spectacles through which to see a solar eclipse. Most people laughed and walked on; the light yellow gray cloud covering the city meant Parisians would see nothing of the extraordinary event.
Experts say the problem is caused by vehicle emissions, an absence of wind to disperse the pollutants and other meteorological conditions, including sunshine. These have combined to create an unmoving cover of warm air over Paris.
In addition to banning cars with even-numbered plates, Paris ordered drivers to adhere to a speed limit of just over 12 mph. About 750 police officers were posted on busy intersections to ensure that drivers stuck to the rules, $30 fines for those who didn’t. At the same time, all public transport in and around the city was free, as was residential parking.
In the United States, the cities of Denver and Phoenix have implemented voluntary no-drive-day campaigns during the winter months when air quality is at its worst, and these have been credited with reducing emissions. Rome, Athens, Mexico City, Santiago, Seoul and Singapore have also used driving restrictions, based on alternative odd and even license plates.
Ariane Etienne, 25, a Parisian waitress, said she had escaped to the countryside over the weekend and found she could breathe properly for the first time “in ages.” “I can’t really notice much of a difference even though there is less traffic,” she said. “One day of half traffic isn’t enough. It needs to be done regularly, like in Rome.”