After Spending a Car-Free Day in Paris, a Student Envisions the Same in NYC

Imagine strolling down the center of Jay Street or Flatbush Avenue without having to dodge traffic. What if you could cross West Fourth Street or Fifth Avenue without fearing being mowed down by a delivery truck?

Sagari Datta, a Sustainable Urban Environment student, would like to make that happen—at least for a day.

Datta traveled to Paris to participate in its 2015 Day without Cars (Journée sans voiture), which was held on September 27 and which saw large portions of the city—including the Left Bank and the area around the Eiffel Tower—closed to almost all traffic except emergency vehicles. Mayor Anne Hidalgo had promised: “Paris will be completely transformed for a day. This is an opportunity for Parisians and tourists to enjoy the city without noise, pollution and therefore without stress.”

That vision was realized, as Datta attests. “I was able to look down the entire Champs-Élysées, from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe, right after the barricades were erected—before pedestrians even began filtering in. Seeing such an iconic street totally devoid of vehicles and people was an experience I’ll never forget.”

Datta embarked on her adventure—which excitingly included a meeting with Hidalgo and other city officials—at the suggestion of Richard Wener, a professor of environmental psychology in the Department of Technology, Culture and Society. Wener personally knew Delphine Grinberg of Paris Sans Voiture, the group that organized the event, and was even able to arrange for Datta, a sophomore, to stay at the activist’s home during her visit.

“The Paris 'Journee' was initiated by a group of citizen environmentalists who had a vision for their city that the mayor supported,” Wener explains. “Their vision is not limited to Paris, though, and they were thrilled to host Sagari in the hope of seeing a Day without Cars spread to New York City. And Sagari is just the kind of bright, idealistic student who might be able to make this happen."

Datta returned from the trip wholly inspired. “I definitely think that a similar initiative could be spearheaded in New York,” she asserts. “Delphine gave me a lot of practical advice about how to start writing letters and interacting with government officials. The best thing is that the Parisian officials with whom I spoke would like to help in New York any way they can and have told me to keep in touch with them.”

The Day without Cars in Paris resulted in significantly less pollution according to Airparif, a non-profit organization accredited by the Ministry of Environment to monitor the air quality there. Levels of nitrogen dioxide dropped by up to 40% in parts of the city, according to the group.

Datta—who intends to apply for an NYU Green Grant to see her project to fruition—would be thrilled to achieve similar results on her home turf. “I originally thought of focusing efforts on Brooklyn, right around the School of Engineering,” she says. “But Delphine encouraged me to dream big! Why not Manhattan too?”

Helping Students Dream Big

Datta was able to travel to Paris thanks to financial help from the Office of Student Affairs. "I was delighted to offer financial support for Sagari to attend this important event, with the understanding that she would return to take the lead in connecting with officials to initiate 'A Day without Cars' here,” Anita Farrington, the dean of Student Affairs, says.

Dean Farrington explains that she welcomes inquiries from other students with exciting and innovative ideas who may need a little funding to get them off the ground. “This year, I am very pleased that we have launched the Student Affairs Conference Fund, which supports student attendance at local, regional, national, and international conferences, seminars, and symposiums,” she says.

Applicants to the Conference Fund must be in good academic standing and involved with a NYU Tandon School of Engineering student organization or club. Students are selected based on their ability to articulate how their attendance will benefit their personal and professional development as well as the benefit to the NYU Tandon School of Engineering community. Students are eligible for funding once per academic year, and funds can cover lodging, transportation, and registration fees as well as incidental costs. Those interested can contact the Office of Student Affairs at 646-997-3918 for more information.