Bloomberg’s City Lab recently highlighted the “ban” on through traffic in Paris, France. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s plan would restrict vehicular access through the city center in the next two years. The plan would permit some vehicles from entering the area: those serving people with disabilities, servicing public transit vehicles and deliveries. The primary justification? Pass-through traffic. It’s likely Paris officials want to see traffic – not intended for downtown – to be diverted elsewhere.

 “The new rules would nonetheless make it illegal to drive across the city center without stopping. That would cover about 55% of total traffic — more than 100,000 cars — passing through this zone on average per day, the city says.”

We decided to look at other downtown areas, both in Europe and the United States, to see how those cities fared compared to Paris.  We’ve highlighted the dramatic impact on central business districts throughout COVID-19, and discovered  downtown trips are still down significantly from pre-COVID levels – especially when compared to the region surrounding it.

Interestingly, Paris at 55% has a similar passthrough percentage to Seattle and Munich, DE; and Seattle has also been in discussion about restricting access to downtown through tolling.

The City of London has a cordon toll, which plays large role in the low passthrough rate (27%). Yet New York, also discussing a cordon tolling program, and Berlin have similar passthrough rates, but without a tolling program in place.

Atlanta and Birmingham, UK, have the largest percentage of passthrough trips, in addition to the lowest share of trips within downtown.

Though London has the most restrictive program to limit cars into downtown out of the cities analyzed, Madrid implemented one of the most aggressive car restrictions in the EU, but that was cancelled in July, per Bloomberg.

Talk of limiting access to cities comes at a time when trips to city cores are down considerably. As of early this year, trips to Portland, OR’s downtown was down 66% from pre-COVID level. Trips to downtown San Francisco, Detroit and Washington DC were also similarly depressed. Downtown regions are likely the last areas to re-emerge from COVID-19, as working from home and other gatherings continue on into the summer months. Restricting traffic may further push back a return to normalcy, which has spurred many city officials to ‘reimagine’ downtowns that operate differently than in the past.