Paris

Go outside and take a long, deep breath. Do your lungs feel suitably refreshed? If you’re in any one of a growing number of cities, the answer to that question may well be ‘no’. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a staggering 98% of large cities (those with more than 100,000 inhabitants) in low- and middle-income countries do not meet minimum air quality guidelines. The situation is better in high-income countries, but still, less than half of cities are up to standard.

Paris is notorious for snarled-up traffic and cranky drivers - but cars are gradually being edged out as the city steps up a life-or-death battle to cut pollution.

A stroll along the French capital's grandest boulevard, the Champs-Elysees, has just become possible without choking on exhaust fumes - from May cars are banned on the famous avenue one Sunday every month.

Pedestrians have already reclaimed part of the picturesque Left Bank of the River Seine, where traffic has been permanently banned, allowing restaurants, cafes and art exhibits to spring up.

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Just one year after the introduction of the reduction of the speed limit from 80 km/h to 70 km/h on the Paris ring road, reports from the City Hall paint a positive picture of the results of this controversial measure.

Accidents on the ring road are said to have reduced by 15.5 per cent, from 742 in 2013 to 627 in 2014, while the number of injuries has reduced from 908 in 2013 to 776 in 2014.

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The Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, wants to ban diesel cars in the French capital by 2020 and create pedestrianised areas in the city centre to tackle pollution.

In an interview with the Journal du Dimanche, Ms Hidalgo also hinted of  a ‘very ambitious’ € 100m cross-city cycling network that would double the amount of bicycle lanes and integrate electric bikes into the city bike rental scheme.

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