The New York Post
August 9, 2016
This weekend, New Yorkers enjoyed their first of three Summer Streets weekends. Saturday, the city closed Park Avenue to cars, letting walkers and bikers take over. Paris, though, canceled its own summer streets on the Champs-Elysées Sunday.
The retreat is a victory for the thugs who have terrorized France for a year and a half — and it shows other potential murderers that they, too, can change the world with a knife or a truck.
In February, Paris officials said they would close the famed avenue to motor traffic once a month during the summer. “I wanted . . . to re-appropriate an avenue like this one so that people could walk around, stroll with their families and ride bikes,” said Mayor Anne Hidalgo in May.
Tens of thousands of people enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime view of the Arc de Triomphe from the middle of the cobblestoned thoroughfare. Business owners, too, said the strolling would help sales.
Such a boost is badly needed: Tourist numbers and spending have fallen sharply after terrorists killed 130 people last November.
But after an ISIS sympathizer with a truck killed 85 people on a pedestrian waterfront in Nice on July 14, Paris canceled the August event.
Paris and other cities and towns, on the French government’s advice, have canceled other festivals, including concerts, sports, open-air movies and star-gazing. In northern France, the city of Lille canceled a massive September flea market that it has hosted since the Middle Ages — and that it hasn’t canceled since 1944.
Paris might cancel its “techno parade,” too, in September — a nearly two-decade-old event that fills the streets with music freaks from around the world.
Why such an extreme reaction? First, manpower. Officials note the “fatigue of the police” as they’ve fortified targets like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and train stations with more officers with long guns.
“We are in a situation of war,” said the defense minister about the cancellations. “We must forbid activities” if they can’t be secured.
The government has to pick what it most wants to protect — the big tourist sites, but also its Paris Plages, artificial beaches along the Seine where locals who can’t get out of the city can sunbathe.
And, two weeks after two 19-year-olds, also claiming solidarity with ISIS, killed a priest as he held Mass at a Normandy church, more guards have been stationed at churches, too.
In a narrow sense, France’s government may be right. Responsibility for public safety is a heavy burden. And defying killers would backfire if they did mow down dozens on the Champs-Elysées — sending visitor numbers plummeting even further.
But we shouldn’t pretend that the closing of the avenue is a minor concession to the times. Events like this are fun — but fun that serves a purpose.
For more than a decade, Paris has been changing its approach to the streets — taking space for walkers and bicycles and away from cars and trucks. These changes have often started with temporary events — closing a road along the Seine as an experiment, and then keeping it closed after people can see that it has cut pollution and noise.
Paris’ re-engineering of the streets has saved dozens of people from dying in car crashes over the years. In fact, Paris’ pioneering work has helped save hundreds of lives worldwide.
New York took many of its own “traffic-calming” ideas, like pedestrian plazas and bike lanes, from Paris, sharply cutting crash deaths. (Paris also had bikeshare nearly a decade before New York did.)
London, too, now has summer-streets closures. A “free cycle” bike ride two weeks ago attracted so many people that bicyclists caused congestion for each other.
Control of the streets is also symbolic. Hitler made a show of marching down the Champs-Elysées — as, later, did Charles de Gaulle.
Ceding the streets now because Paris needs fast-moving cars and trucks as a buffer between walkers and killers, then, is an ominous development, not just for Paris, but for the world.
And, in the long term, it won’t work: Cities depend on crowds of people on foot. Lose crowds, whether by decree or because more attacks keep even more people away, and the terrorists really have won.
So, whether you like summer-streets festivals or you sit in traffic stewing about them, you should feel dismay at this summer’s Champs-Elysées surrender.
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