Anne Hidalgo was elected mayor of Paris last year with 55 percent of the vote. She’s the city’s first female mayor, and also an immigrant, having come to France as a 14-year-old from Spain. She’s also a Socialist, a fervent opponent of Scientology, and a die-hard green who loves car- and bike-sharing, which explains her controversial push to rid smoggy Paris of diesel smoke.

More than 60 percent of the cars on the road in France are diesels, thanks to French tax policies. "We're in a difficult situation," Hidalgo says. By this summer, she wants to get the dirtiest diesel vehicles off the streets. By 2020, she's pushing for Paris, which suffers from high levels of air pollution (picture the Eiffel Tower shrouded in smog), to have no pre-2011 diesels on the road.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo sits in her office“We are determined to act quickly,” she said, pointing out that particulate matter from diesels, mostly from buses and trucks, kills around 42,000 people a year in France. To ease the sting, the city will subsidize businesses that want to buy cleaner trucks with up to 50 percent of the purchase price.

Moves like this aren’t as shocking in Europe as they’d be in the U.S. There are already 200 European cities that have created low-emission zones. London imposes a congestion charge on cars (except electric ones) entering the city during the workday. Madrid bans most traffic from some city streets, a zone that’s expanding to more than a square mile.

Helsinki, Finland is doing so much to encourage transit, walking and biking that it hopes within 10 years to make car ownership completely unnecessary. Milan offers free public transportation vouchers for people who leave their cars in the garage. Copenhagen already has more than half its population biking to work every day — nine times as many as bike-crazed Portland, Oregon. Car-free zones are everywhere.

And Paris isn’t just banning diesels. Earlier in March, in response to reports that its air quality had temporarily been worse than Shanghai’s, it banned cars and trucks with even-numbered license plates (exempted were electrics and vehicles carrying three people or more) from driving for a day. Scofflaws were slapped with $24 fines. This was the second time the experiment was tried, the first being last year.

More than half of Copenhagen commuters bike to work.

More than half of Copenhagen commuters bike to work. (Photo: City Clock Magazine/flickr)

The week before the one-day traffic experiment, Paris also temporarily reduced speed limits by 12 miles per hour, made all public transit gratis, and offered no-cost short-term subscriptions to its Vélib bike-sharing and Autolib car-sharing services.

Hidalgo said the license plate scheme had cut traffic by 40 percent. Other cities that have tried this form of “road space rationing” include Santiago, Chile, Mexico City; Sao Paolo, Brazil; and San Jose, Costa Rica. London has also looked at banning diesels, reports this video, but it's not taking any action against them as current policy:

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Anne Hidalgo photo: Parti Socialiste/flickr

Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.