Automotive-free Paris? It was already a dream in 1790

Automotive-free Paris? It was already a dream in 1790


The talk over the place of vehicles in cities could seem to be a current one, however the truth is was raging properly earlier than the primary vehicle even noticed the sunshine of day.

To raised perceive, allow us to check out the streets of Paris when the French Revolution was in full swing and when all of the “vehicles” had been nonetheless horse-drawn. Even then, rushing carriages in densely packed city areas might be lethal, and so they raised the identical important questions as vehicles do to in the present day – specifically the relative significance of orderly behaviour, site visitors administration, freedom of entry and the suitable of manner.

An anti-car pamphlet

In 1790, an nameless Parisian printed a pamphlet with a shocking trendy title, “A Citizen’s Petition, or A Movement towards Coaches and Cabs”. Passionately written, this 16-page textual content is concurrently an ethical treatise, a police memoir and a legislative movement, because it additionally comprises propositions supposed to be forwarded on the French Nationwide Meeting.

Little is thought of its writer besides that he was most likely a well-to-do citizen – maybe a health care provider – as he declares that he owns “a coach, a cab and 4 horses”. These, nonetheless, he is able to “sacrifice on the altar of the nation”, scandalised as he’s by the brutality of drivers as they cross the town and disgusted by the “idleness and sloth of the wealthy”. Swayed by the concepts of the Enlightenment and praising the contributions of the Revolution, he asks: What’s the value of a free press, spiritual tolerance and the abolition of state prisons if “one can’t go on foot with out being uncovered to perpetual hazard?” Certainly, at a time when common human rights had been being proclaimed, Parisians continued to be killed by vehicles, to the entire indifference of legislators. The pamphlet’s writer due to this fact proposed to “fulfil” the work of the Revolution by prohibiting using coaches in Paris.

In 1790, a yr after the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen”, the political scenario in Paris was in some ways unprecedented. On the roads, nonetheless, the domination exercised by coach drivers over pedestrians remained unchanged.

Congestion in Paris

The wildly speeding car is a literary topos that may be traced again to the congested streets of Paris of the seventeenth and 18th centuries. Featured in works by Paul Scarron and the Abbé Prévost, it can be present in Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux’s well-known satire on a collision between a cart and a coach. In his poem, a nightmarish “embarrassment” is depicted:

A coach’s wheel strikes a cart at a nook,
And, by chance, sends each into stale water.
Too quickly, a mad cab, attempting desperately to hurry previous,
In the identical embarrassment embarrasses not the final,
For promptly, twenty extra coaches quickly come into the lengthy line
Main the primary two, to rapidly grow to be over fourscore and 9.

If such “embarrassments” or “strife” (as site visitors jams was known as) impressed the writers of fiction, it was additionally as a result of they had been a every day actuality of the streets of the Ancien Regime.

Nicolas Guérard, The Pont-Neuf seen from rue Dauphine, engraving, 18th century. This engraving exhibits the various technique of transportation utilized by Parisians throughout the Age of Enlightenment. Within the foreground will be seen two carriages, a sedan chair, riders on horseback, a horse-drawn cart. It’s vital that the artist selected to characterize this congested scene on certainly one of Paris’ most trendy, sidewalk-equipped streets.
Library of the Ornamental Arts/BNF

There are hardly any city chronicles, police memoirs or journey tales that don’t point out showers of mud, clouds of mud, the din of iron-rimmed wheels disturbing the peace of the sick, roads blocked by a coach or a cart manoeuvring a good nook.

The killer automotive

What seems radically new within the writings of the late 18th century, nonetheless, is the theme of the killer automotive. This may be discovered within the work of Louis Sebastien Mercier and Nicolas Restif de la Bretonne, and in addition in one other nameless pamphlet, this from 1789, titled “The Assassins, or A Denunciation of the Tyrannically Abusive Nature of Automobiles”. On this pamphlet, the writer virulently assaults the English-style phaetons, whiskies, devils and different cabs as these lighter autos had been significantly tailored to metropolis site visitors and had been due to this fact “as quick as eagles”.

Engraving of a ‘satan’, illustrating the entry: Sellier-carrossier (

His argument goes that highwaymen, able to kill a traveller for his cash, are the assassins of the highway. However in Paris, the murderer is “the one who, with out ardour and with out want, all of the sudden flings open the doorways of his family, rushes like a madman towards a thousand of his fellow males and presses them, with all his may, with a quick cab and two steeds.” It’s due to this fact the social battle between pedestrians and automotive customers that his texts exemplifies.

Pedestrians and coach-riders in Paris

In a palpable manner, this second textual content confronts two opposing developments that ran all through the entire 18th century.

One was the prodigious improve within the amount of horse-drawn site visitors inside Paris, linked to the inhabitants’s ever-increasing want for meals and merchandise. With its 700,000 inhabitants, it already had very hungry stomach… As Daniel Roche signifies, nonetheless, the rise in site visitors can be defined by the rise in passenger circulation. In the course of the seventeenth century, the carriages in circulation had been practically completely the coaches utilized by royalty and the Aristocracy. Later, the rising center lessons of retailers, officers, bankers but additionally master-artisans and clergymen, who all beforehand travelled on foot, by mule, and at greatest on horseback, started to make use of the lighter and quicker cabs.

The coach was in the beginning a royal car. Right here, a ‘trendy’ coach from the 1680s, with an ornately carved and gilded physique, pulled by six horses. It was utilized by Louis XIV and Marie-Thérèse for his or her entry into the town of Douai in 1667. Portray by Adam François Van der Meulen, circa 1690.
Château de Versailles

Proudly owning a automotive, in 1789, in Paris, remained the privilege of the nobles and the richer burghers. It meant maintaining a coachman or lackey, proudly owning a steady for the horses and a shed to retailer hay, straw, water and oats. The event of employed coaches and cabs, the ancestors of in the present day’s taxis, that might be rented by the day or by the hour, step by step broadened the utilization of passenger vehicles.

Based on believable estimates, in Paris the variety of vehicles surged throughout the 18th and nineteenth centuries, rising from solely 300 at the start of the 18th century to greater than 20,000 by the French Revolution – a rise of seven,000 %. Lengthy earlier than the mass manufacturing of the car, the automotive had due to this fact already grow to be a commonplace characteristic of Paris’ streets.

An opposing growth inside enlightened circles was to journey by foot, just like the humbler Parisians. The thought was not a lot to go from one place to a different, however to promenade. Due to this fact, the elites step by step stepped out of their coaches, carriages and cabs to stroll alongside the tree-lined boulevards and thru the parks and gardens. For the philosophers of the Enlightenment, together with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, strolling was a advantage that stood in distinction to the sloth of those that travelled by coach. In the course of the Revolution, the pedestrian even turned a significant political determine and was embodied within the sans-culotte.

Automobiles: a main supply of insecurity for Parisians

Allow us to now think about a scene typically depicted by the Parisians of the day. You might be quietly strolling alongside the haut du pavé (the upper a part of the road) of a slim and crowded highway. On one facet is a vendor’s stall, on the opposite, leftover rubble attributable to roadworks, a bit of additional on is an open-air forge encroaching on the highway, above is the shop-sign of a cabaret forcing passing coachmen to dangerously swerve their autos. All of a sudden, powered by two spirited horses, a cabriolet, weighing practically 700 kg and devoid of any efficient braking system, engages into the road at full pace. The driving force, pressed by the proprietor of the car, cracks his whip whereas shouting “Apart! Apart!”. What then? The way to escape the wheels of the automotive when there may be neither curb nor sidewalk?

In his Scenes of Paris, Jean-Sebastien Mercier narrates how, on three events, he was the sufferer of such homicidal vehicles. The nameless citizen within the “Movement towards Coaches and Cabs” gives chilling statistics: yearly, greater than 300 folks had been both killed immediately or suffered deadly accidents due to vehicles. The writer doesn’t, nonetheless, rely all of the pedestrians who had been crippled or misplaced a hand, arm or leg. Nor does he communicate of the hundreds of pedestrians completely scarred by the whips from offended coachmen.

Better pace, extra crashes

But had been the crashes extra quite a few on the finish of the century than at its begin when the Parisians, now all Residents, felt freer to take to their pens and denounce the excesses of the drivers of horse-drawn vehicles? What is for certain is that the pace of the autos elevated dramatically throughout the Age of Enlightenment. This was first for technical causes: the newly launched cabs had been lighter and extra manoeuvrable than the heavy coaches and will attain speeds of as much as 30 km/h on main roads. Second, the multiplication of driveways, the alignment of the facades and the creation of huge boulevards and thoroughfares enabled new heights of pace hitherto unimaginable to achieve on the town, even when the motive force ignored the restrictions fastened by the police.

Thus, not solely did vehicles mark the our bodies of Parisians, additionally they durably remodeled the face of the town itself. This course of continued and accelerated, with pedestrians even being excluded totally from excluded totally from sure roads. In recent times the town has pushed again, and even banned vehicles the place pedestrians had been as soon as banned, on the proper financial institution of the Seine.

The value of a life

Within the 18th century, the victims of automotive accidents within the capital had been largely the kids enjoying on the street, the aged or impaired, porters bearing heavy masses and, usually talking, any inattentive or distracted pedestrian.

When an crash came about, witnesses and police commissioners needed to decide duty. If the sufferer was crushed the carriage’s rear wheels, it was merely laborious luck. In the event that they had been been caught by the small entrance wheels, nonetheless, compensation might be claimed – often a small sum of cash was given on the spot to settle the affair. What then was the value of a pauper’s crushed leg? More often than not, neither the coachman nor the proprietor bothered to cease however merely continued on. It was this profound inhumanity that angered the authors of the pamphlets.

As we speak, fewer persons are killed by vehicles in Paris yearly than on the finish of the 18th century – about 30 deaths in 2017. There are nonetheless many extra accidents, together with an rising variety of cyclists. In Paris, that is largely seen as an issue of public well being and safety as air air pollution – a good portion of that are emitted by autos – trigger as much as 7 million deaths per yr, in keeping with World Well being Organisation. However even when vehicles emitted no pollution, they’d stay lethal for pedestrians.

Banning vehicles from the capital

It’s within the type of a possible decree, comprising 10 articles, that the primary nameless citizen formulates his proposal towards coaches and cabs. For him, vehicles ought to be tolerated inside metropolis limits provided that undertaken by a single rider on horseback, by a coach getting into or exiting the town, or for these with medical emergencies. It is usually proposed that coaches and cabs ought to be changed by a enough variety of sedans stationed at key junctions, with their fares clearly displayed.

The sedan chair really useful by the nameless citizen was additionally a privilege of the the Aristocracy throughout the Ancien Regime. Right here is an instance of a finely adorned mannequin (circa 1730), adorned with designs of sailors and sailboats.
Château de Versailles

The writer of the pamphlet is absolutely conscious of the implications of his pamphlet, “You’ll object that I’ll break a lot of Residents.” Limiting the person utilization of horse-drawn vehicles would essentially have an effect on an entire part of the city economic system: the “wheelwrights, painters, leather-workers, saddlers, coachbuilders and farriers” but additionally “these renting out carriages, the coachmen […] and servants ”. He argues that by multiplying the variety of sedan chairs, many new jobs can be created. Extra porters and craftsmen able to manufacturing sedans can be wanted. Financial savings would even be made by these having to pay for the meals, care and stabling of horses. The stables themselves, occupying a lot of the liveable floor flooring area of the capital, might be changed by housing for “all our inhabitants dwelling in mediocrity”. As to the courtyards, the pamphleteer means that their cobbles be eliminated and get replaced by garden, vegetable gardens and orchards. Already, the car-free metropolis pointed to a different utopia, that of a leafier, greener metropolis.

The invention of the sidewalk

The nameless citizen – who was additionally an anglophile – additional proposed to generalise the development of sidewalks, as these existed in London. He known as for every new avenue to incorporate a “sidewalk not be lower than 4 toes extensive”, about 130cm. As a result of the proposal was perceived as tough to implement economically and politically, and doubtlessly socially explosive, it was by no means mentioned within the Nationwide Meeting.

This concept fared higher in historical past, nonetheless, and means that the selection to develop cities by separating the flows of vehicles and pedestrians, and by reserving for the latter a portion of the road, was favoured very early by city governance insurance policies.

Underneath the Romans, for instance, sidewalks existed, however step by step disappeared throughout the Center Ages, as their structure was thought of too restrictive for medieval cities. London and the bigger English cities had been the primary in Europe to switch the medieval highway stones and ramparts with sidewalks throughout the finish the seventeenth century. In Mexico Metropolis, about 10 km of sidewalk had been constructed within the 1790s.

View of a newly constructed avenue of Mexico Metropolis. Color map drawn in 1794 and saved on the Common Archives of the Nation (Mexico). The sidewalks are designated on the picture as _banquetas_.

On the time that the “Movement towards Coaches and Cabs” got here into print, sidewalks had been virtually completely absent from Paris, and existed solely alongside the Pont Neuf, the Pont Royal and the Odeon. In the course of the nineteenth century, they turned extra quite a few, particularly within the metropolis centre. The suburbs had been severe under-equipped till the early twentieth century,

Since their generalisation, sidewalks have saved the lives of thousands and thousands of metropolis dwellers all through the world. Nevertheless, the total historical past of the connection between pedestrians and vehicles within the metropolis stays to be written.

The textual content was translated from the unique French by Stephan Kraitsowits.


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December 2022