France's bicycle promotion plan: good news for the car industry

The future of the car?
On Friday in Angers, France's government presented its "cycling plan" (1), which aims to ensure that the "modal share" of this means of transport will triple in the coming years: 3% of journeys are now made by bicycle; the public authorities consider that, like some of our neighbours and some French cities, it would be possible to reach 9% by 2024.
Indeed, as indicated by the FUB (Fédération Française des Usages de la Bicyclette) on its website:
"France, with its 2 to 3% share of bicycle modal share, is pale compared to our neighbours. For example, in the Netherlands, 29% of urban travel is by bicycle. And in Germany, 10%. Despite a much harsher climate than ours, Danes appreciate this mode so much that in Copenhagen, some 50% of commuting is by bicycle. In Amsterdam, it is more than 40%, in Basel, 25%, in Bologna and Florence (as in Tokyo and Munich), 20%! (2)
In France, the most proactive cities in this area have obtained results that make the government's objective credible: Strasbourg, the French cycling champion, has 16% in the city centre and 8% in the conurbation; equivalent figures would be achieved in Bordeaux, where the latest household survey on cycling puts the share of cycling at 15% in the city and 7.7% in the urban area "double the figure recorded in 2009". Grenoble has reached close figures. Then, according to the ranking established by INSEE on the basis of the census, the bicycle score drops by 5 points:
Rennes (fourth) is given at 7.3% and Angers (tenth) at 5.9%, Tours, Toulouse, Nantes, Montpellier and Lyon occupying places 5 to 9.
As Olivier Razemon noted when commenting on these results:
"All these cities have implemented, in a more or less assumed way, a cycling policy. Nantes has made tons of them (...) with a finally mixed result: barely 0.3 points more than its discreet neighbour Angers. Toulouse was at the forefront in the 2000s, but now tends to favour motorised transport. Rennes remains quite road-focused, but several of its elected representatives have integrated cycling as a solution to traffic jams." (3)
Indeed, this week the Rennes metropolitan area published the results of the travel survey (4) carried out this year and noted that "the share of bicycle use in total travel is stable in Rennes, and slightly decreasing in the metropolitan area, as in other metropolitan areas such as Nantes". However, it noted that the distances covered by bicycles had increased significantly (by 34% compared to 2007) and that - probably thanks to electric assistance - the number of bicycle trips over the distances of 3 to 10 km had doubled.
These difficulties in increasing the modal share of cycling can be interpreted as a sign of the vanity of voluntary measures. They may also indicate that much remains to be done to make the two-wheel alternative more credible. This is the government's bet, considering that it is possible to reduce the dangerousness of bicycle journeys, limit theft and facilitate their parking on the road, at home or at work. In fact, when we consider a case like the one in Paris, we can see that users do not rush to the bicycles. This is what Simon Labouret, the representative of a society called "Paris en selle" ("Paris in the saddle"), notes:
"The main obstacle to cycling in Paris is a very hostile urban environment: omnipresent cars and scooters, a lot of traffic, little cycling infrastructure and very few peaceful streets. We are quickly in an urban context that looks like a hell of asphalt and engines."  Moreover, the road safety figures for August published these days show it: "Mortality has fallen for motorists, but has increased for cyclists. Some 24 cyclists lost their lives, the worst figure in the last five years." (5)
There is undeniably a problem of "living together" on the road and in the streets and getting down to it seriously can be done for the benefit of all at a relatively low cost. Indeed, if we consider the objective of a 9% modal share as well as the growth of this modal share (+6 points) and the sums devoted (350 million over 7 years or 50 million per year), we must bear in mind what it costs to finance public transport and what the efforts made to develop it manage to achieve in terms of "modal shift". The latest Bordeaux travel survey, for example, puts the modal share of public transport in the urban area at 12% compared to 11% in 2009 (6). The Rennes study published this week shows that CTs reach 13%, up 1.3 points over 10 years (7). When we know the efforts made around the tramway in Bordeaux and the metro in Rennes, these results are certainly important, but they also indicate that investing in the bike is more than judicious if we want to free cities from some of the cars.
This is what Simon Labouret emphasizes again:
"The bike has the defect of its qualities - it is not expensive! As a result, it is paradoxically not taken seriously. The public authorities have no problem spending millions or even billions of euros on completely absurd projects, such as this HST station on the countryside near Montpellier, which costs 150 million euros to receive for four trains a day, or this rail-project to connect Roissy airport to Gare de l'Est by a "Charles-de-Gaulle Express" projected at more than one billion euros. However, there is no investment in bicycle infrastructure. Even in the leading cities, such as Grenoble and Strasbourg, the amounts allocated remain modest! (8)
In a context where local pollution (particles and NOx) motivates a large part of the problematic measures for the car industry, in particular the prohibition of diesel, which increases CO2 emissions, it is in the interest of car professionals to support these measures and accept the price to be paid by motorists (low-speed streets, better road sharing...): it is their well understood interest to limit the influence of cars and their modal share in the densest areas. Don't they worry: as soon as densities drop, neither cycling nor public transport can claim to cover most of the mobility needs. However, the work of the Commissariat Général à l’Egalité des territoires (a government body to reduce territorial inequality) is unambiguous in this respect, "dense, highly connected spaces lose population for the benefit of all other territories"; "peri-urban spaces continue to attract massive numbers of people from urban centres, causing a phenomenon of urban sprawl that has not stopped since the late 1960s". (9).
Mobility needs tend to increase and continue to generate globally growing automotive needs.


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Translated with, amendments by Géry Deffontaines

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