One lane less and 70,000 trees planted: in mid-May, back in business after a failed presidential bid, Anne Hidalgo presented her project for the Paris ring road. Once again, the mayor of the capital is attacking cars – which she has already chased from the riverbank lanes during her previous mandate – and triggering virulent opposition. But the socialist is not alone: these mobility overhaul projects with highly controversial potential are also the work of David Belliard, her transport assistant. The former head of the EELV municipal list, rallied to Anne Hidalgo in the between-two-towers, chose this portfolio… which allows him to push his vision of the transformation of the city. Even if it means imposing it on a less radical mayor?
“He could have hidden himself, but he chose these subjects, underlines Frédéric Hocquard, assistant for tourism and nightlife, from Génération • s, who often works with David Belliard. It’s brave because it’s a complicated file in Paris…” The ecologist nods, referring to the letters of insults – sometimes threats – that he regularly receives. “It’s a tough, irritating policy. You have to be a bit tenacious. “It is that the forties inherited the hot files of the mandate. Development of cycle paths, pedestrianization, limited traffic zone in the center of the capital, paid parking for motorized two-wheelers… It is behind most of the major projects that divide Paris.
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“His problem is that he does not have a mobility policy but an anti-car policy”, annoys Pierre Chasseray, general delegate of the association 40 Million motorists. Same story on the side of the LR group at the Council of Paris, whose spokesperson, Aurélien Véron, accuses David Belliard of plunging Paris into “general chaos” with an “anti-car plan”. An elected official at war with the automobile? The green assistant likes to remember that the first thing he did the day after he turned 18 was to get his license. He would even like it to be free.
He who grew up in Haute-Saône knows that the car can be vital. He remembers his bricklayer father and his caregiver mother having to own two to go to work, in an area without a bus and whose station was closed. “The car is both autonomy and assignment. We have to stop with this story of freedom that I am often brandished, it’s completely bullshit. When my father has to spend 200 euros to change his tyres, 80 euros to fill up, crossing his fingers to avoid repairs… That’s not being free. »
The car corresponds to needs, of course, but it is not always useful, argues the chosen one. And Paris not being the Haut-Saônoise countryside, there are alternatives. “We are rethinking this issue of freedom. Getting around is fundamental, but in Paris, it doesn’t necessarily go by car. And to ensure that the development of cycle paths, public transport or pedestrian spaces offers even more freedom than the all-car model. It remains to ensure that this possibility is retained for those who can hardly do without it, such as professionals or people with reduced mobility.
Listening to David Belliard, we have no choice but to change software. “We are in a model that does not think the limit. But our world is limited! In Paris, the car encounters a limit of space – “even elsewhere, when you overtake a national, you nibble on agricultural land” -, an ecological limit and a social limit with fuel prices soaring, not to mention vehicle maintenance expenses. The deputy insists: it is the poorest who suffer the most from pollution and noise nuisance. “The rich don’t live near the ring road…”
The ecologist therefore wants to review the sharing of public space to make it fairer, forcing the car to give way. But wouldn’t he be going too far? Anne Hidalgo does not go out of her way when it comes to transforming the capital, but some suspect David Belliard of being the little green devil on the shoulder of the city councilor who pushes her to be even more radical. “Emmanuel Grégoire [the first deputy, editor’s note] is not reassured by the Belliard method, understands Aurélien Véron, the spokesperson for the Parisian LR elected officials. But between his political fragility and the absence of Anne Hidalgo who was occupied by the presidential election, there is no counter-power against him! »
“We are not in this relationship of blackmail fantasized by some, demines Emmanuel Grégoire, but in co-construction. Frédéric Hocquard smiled: “How do you expect Anne Hidalgo to be a hostage?” The EELV group has only 23 elected officials, that of the mayor, twice that. The transportation assistant gets along pretty well with the mayor: on sharing public spaces, they’re pretty much on the same page. But unlike his predecessor Christophe Najdowski, absorbed by the socialist majority, David Belliard has been able to maintain independence with his environmental group, which pushes him to go further… And to clearly make his disagreements known, as on the project to reorganize the Gare du Nord or the one around the Eiffel Tower.
He doesn’t like big show-off projects and prefers to focus on less spectacular files, but much more effective according to him. His political group and his 10.8% in the municipal elections – before the alliance in the second round with Anne Hidalgo – offer him a balance of power which he knows how to take advantage of. “When you get 250 million euros on the bike plan when the budget is limited, when you can speed up on the streets at schools [pedestrianization of the surroundings of schools, editor’s note], it’s because the findings are shared, but also by the influence that one exerts on the majority. “He carries this political identity, and helps to make it credible, acceptable and less radical,” greets Emmanuel Grégoire. It is a facilitating element. »
His political opponents also accuse him of a lack of consultation and a certain dogmatism, like Pierre Chasseray who regrets that there is “no possible discussion” on mobility in Paris. “He’s someone who is very closed, not conciliatory or very attentive”, charges Aurélien Véron, who describes a deputy “quite amateur in his methods”. “It’s the apprentice in the shorts who wants to change Paris!” »
Reproaches that make David Belliard laugh gently. “When I hear elected officials say to the Council of Paris that we have no consultation when we had a meeting together the week before… We must not confuse “not to discuss” and “not to to agree”. “Others also consider that they are rather well listened to, like the Paris en selle association, which however criticizes “the slow deployment of the bicycle plan” and “not optimal political management”.
The deputy recognizes that it is always possible to do better in consultation, but ensures to stick to the project acclaimed by the voters in 2020. He is comforted by noting that the projects sometimes strongly criticized are well received once delivered. But the right does not budge: “There is no method, he is freewheeling!” “They no longer have a point of attachment so they attack us on the method, points out David Belliard. Rather, they have an interest in caricaturing me as an awful ideologue. The problem is that the people who vote for them are also getting on their bikes…”