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Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo walks on stage as she arrives to launch the Global Citizen Live concert in Paris on September 25.BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images

One of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s crowning achievements – making Rue de Rivoli, the main thoroughfare in the centre of the capital, car-free – was praised by the many Parisians who yearned to live in a greener city full of bike lanes.

On a sunny morning at the end of September, the four-lane road, which extends from the Bastille to the Place de la Concorde, was full of human-powered two-wheelers of every description: delivery bikes zipping by terrified pedestrians, commuters headed to work, young men and women simply out for some fresh air and exercise.

But closing the road was anathema to less affluent, suburban Parisians. They need their cars because public transportation is inadequate where they live.

One of Ms. Hidalgo’s detractors is Urlic Clavié, 43, the commercial director of Gamin Tout Terrain, a child-care products distributor based in the 19th arrondissement, in the city’s northeast corner.

“She is forgetting the millions of inhabitants in the Isle de France [the region that includes Paris] who have to get to Paris by car,” he said. “It’s like she is creating a fortress called Paris.”

His commute, now an hour long, is becoming longer by the month as Paris’s streets become less car-friendly and the speed limit drops – Ms. Hidalgo recently pushed it down to 30 kilometres an hour.

He will not vote for her in next spring’s presidential election.

Ms. Hidalgo, 62, is Paris’s first female mayor – elected in 2014 and re-elected last year. She announced in mid-September that she would be running for the presidency; she is the favoured candidate for the Socialist Party and the standard bearer for party’s green left.

In her first campaign speech, she said of centrist President Emmanuel Macron: “He should resolve social problems and he has aggravated them. He should protect our planet and he has turned his back on environmentalism.”

The polls suggest she is a long-shot candidate and that the second round of the election, as was the case in the most recent one, will pit Mr. Macron against Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right Rassemblement National (National Rally) party.

But French elections are not always predictable. In 2017, it was François Fillon of the Republicans, a former prime minister, who led the early polls. He blew up after the media reported that he employed family members in possibly fictitious jobs. A few years earlier, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then the managing director of the International Monetary Fund and favourite to lead the Socialist Party, was felled by a sex scandal (he was later acquitted of sexual-assault charges).

Many French presidents, including Jacques Chirac, and prime ministers began as local politicians since the creation of the Fifth Republic in 1958. Ms. Hidalgo obviously sees herself as more than a long shot and has always maintained that polls can be wildly inaccurate, as they were when they said she could not win the Paris mayoral race.

And the 2022 presidential contest remains open. Twenty or more candidates are expected to register, and some of their names may not be known before the winter.

Ms. Hidalgo’s challenge is to convince suburban and rural voters, not just city residents, that a green future is in their best interests. She is gambling that the working class will unite behind her social-democratic vision, which includes the potentially unaffordable pledge of doubling teachers’ salaries. But the left is highly fragmented. What worked for her in Paris may not work across France.

She was born in Spain, the daughter of an electrician and a seamstress. They emigrated to France when Anne was a small child. She became a French citizen at 14 (she retained her Spanish citizenship). She has been an elected politician since 2001 and became a deputy mayor of Paris that same year, taking responsibility for town planning.

She won the 2014 mayoral race with the heavy backing of the Green Party, which continues to support and heavily influence her vision of Paris as a bike-friendly city. David Beillard, a former leader of the Green Party in the Council of Paris, is her adjunct mayor for transportation and public space. He and Ms. Hidalgo have formulated a vision of Paris as a “15-minute city,” where all essential services – from dental visits to yoga classes – can be reached within 15 minutes by foot, bike or public transportation.

Her seven years as mayor were highlighted by her green initiatives, which included the transformation of the highway on the right bank of the Seine into a park, eliminating half the city’s 140,000 parking spots, phasing out diesel cars and putting bike lanes on hundreds of streets. In an interview with The Globe and Mail last year, Brent Toderian, Vancouver’s former chief planner, said “Paris is a really important model for other cities,” where the mayor “has entirely rethought vehicle use and movement.”

She also won high praise for her competent handling of the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris and the Gilets Jaunes protests in 2018, as well as the city’s winning bid for the 2024 Olympics. She is undoubtedly one of Europe’s best-known politicians.

But suburban Parisians are, generally speaking, not fans of Ms. Hidalgo. Even some Parisians who live in the city centre and enjoy streets filled with bikes and pedestrians instead of cars are having second thoughts about her.

One is Jacques Hubert-Rodier, a former editorial writer for the French financial news daily Les Echos. He says it is almost impossible today to get a plumber in central Paris because of the ever-tighter driving and parking restrictions. He argues that Ms. Hidalgo is pushing her car-free agenda too fast, with no consultation with suburbanites.

“Her style is authoritarian,” he said. “Nothing is done for the people who have to cross Paris to get to work. The question is whether she is trying to turn Paris into a sort of Disneyland or whether she should slow down and take a more balanced approached to urban planning.”

Charles Kehoe, an Irish-French entrepreneur who distributes outdoor, hygiene and child-care products, says he likes Ms. Hidalgo’s green agenda, as he lives in Paris proper. But he recognizes that her approach is divisive.

“She is playing to a relatively small gallery of people who like the idea of closing of streets,” he said. “The divide she is creating is between the BoBos – the Bourgeois Bohemians – and everyone in the suburbs, who won’t vote for her. I think Macron will win the election.”

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