PARIS — The French, it would seem, have fallen out of love with the Champs-Elysées. It won’t stop them from calling it the most beautiful avenue in the world — that unique, straight shot through the center of the capital, sloped just-so for a perfect view of the Arc de Triomphe — but pollution, traffic and neglected gardens at its base are stifling its potential.
So went the message from the Comité Champs-Elysées, a lobby group of businesses invested in the avenue, in a presentation Wednesday of the results of a months-long study that identified shortcomings and offered a range of ideas for rejuvenating the world-famous destination.
Coming ahead of the local elections next year, the presentation added pressure on political candidates to commit to revitalizing the district — this is how one local official saw it, anyway — pushing for urban renewal before the Paris Olympic Games in 2024, a major event that offers a window of opportunity for infrastructure investments.
“We think that the Champs-Elysées deserves a big project,” said Jean-Noël Reinhardt, president of the Comité Champs-Elysées.
Listing the number of cars charging through the avenue each day — 64,000 — as well as high levels of pollution — often more than the highway that circles the French capital — as well as noise, Reinhardt said the avenue needs to be reconfigured for the current century.
“We want to reinvent the values that the Champs-Elysées should embody,” he said.
The avenue fetches some of the highest rents in the world.
While foot traffic is high, with 100,000 people on a normal day — although not when there are yellow-vest protests — 70 percent of the traffic comes from tourists, according to a study conducted by the French polling research firm IFOP, conducted in February. Parisians prefer other neighborhoods, like the Marais or the Left Bank’s Latin Quarters, and 94 percent of French people polled have a negative view of the avenue, the study showed.
Proposals centered around adding vegetation, widening zones for foot traffic and doing away with the curb, repaving the street and sidewalk in a uniform manner — inspired by Exhibition Road in London.
Reducing traffic lanes to two each direction instead of four would add considerable room to install extra rows of vegetation, reducing the broad space used for military parades, the results of the study showed.
“If the road is reduced it will be difficult for the tanks to go by — it will be a political decision to take,” to forego the traditional parade, noted Jeanne d’Hauteserre, mayor of the 8th arrondissement of Paris, referring to the annual July 14 Bastille Day event.
“Each year when the tanks pass through, they uproot the paving stones,” she added.
The paving stones themselves were singled out as a form of nuisance, noisy to drive over, even in the case of electric cars, explained Philippe Chiambaretta, an architect from the firm PCA-Stream, who led the study. It involved a broad range of contributors and experts ranging from real estate experts to traffic specialists and urban planners.
“The Champs beats all records for noise,” said Chiambaretta, suggesting it would make sense to opt for a less noisy pavement to drive over.
Extending the study to the Arc de Triomphe, other ideas included shutting the famous roundabout to car traffic on occasion, turning it into an ice rink in the winter or adding sand and fountains in the summer. The Place de la Concorde could similarly be shut to traffic on occasion, and host food carts for a street food festival. Temporary pop-up shops were another idea, set on a widened sidewalk.
Green spaces were considered, with the idea of adding educational garden spaces near the Place de la Concorde, as well as introducing running paths. And why not a floating outdoor pool on the River Seine in front of the Grand Palais — a building that is undergoing a major overhaul, funded by Chanel to the tune of 25 million euros.
“The project is magnificent, innovative…now we need the financing,” said d’Hauteserre.