Int’l Perspective: French bicycling cities moving fast

French_Bicycling_Cities.pngFrance is the third country in the world in terms of bicycle sales, behind the Netherlands and Germany. Last month, the French Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy published “Promoting Sustainable Mobility Cycling,” a report on the development of bicycling in France (also available in French here). The report focuses on three topics: infrastructure, usage and innovation, with several successful case studies from cities like Bordeaux, Paris and Strasbourg.

2015 Velo-City Host

One city in particular is catching our attention. Nantes has recently increased bicycling mode share to 4.5 percent. The city will be hosting the European Cyclists’ Federation’s Velo-City conference next year and has been making tremendous efforts developing both transportation and recreational cycling. For instance, since 1997, the Vélocampus association has been lending bicycles to students and teaching them bicycle repair basics. Nantes was also the first French city to authorize bicyclists to make right turns on red lights, back in 2011. Since then, many other programs have been put in place to improve bicycling conditions, including the following. 

  • A bike-sharing system, Bicloo has been created.
  • Safe, protected bicycle parking has been built at park-and-ride transit stations.
  • Safe, protected bicycle parking has been built at the central train station.
  • Financial incentives have been created covering 25 percent of the cost of electric bikes and cargobikes.
  • The city has developed a primary and secondary finely-meshed bicycle network connecting the downtown area to the suburbs and beyond.
  • Nantes is located at the intersection of three major leisure routes and investments have been made in La Loire à Vélo and EuroVelo routes 1 and 6 and increasing connectivity among them.


More improvements ahead

The agglomeration continues to raise the bar and has recently set a goal of reaching 15 percent mode share by 2030. To achieve this target, Nantes is undertaking several projects, including the following.

  • This summer, a wide bidirectional East-West bicycle corridor increasing accessibility, connectivity, reliability and safety will be completed.
  • To increase visibility of bicyclists, angled parking will be eliminated, and as a result, the number of car parking spaces will be reduced. 
  • By 2019, a retrofit of the central train station will better accommodate cyclists, pedestrians and transit users.
  • The implementation of bicycle boulevards – a.k.a. chaucidou (CHAUssée pour la CIrculation DOUce, i.e. roadways for soft transport modes) in France, and fietsstraat (i.e. bicycle street) in the Netherlands – for traffic calming and bicycle safety.

A complete bicycling city?

This all sounds perfect, right? Wait, there is something else to improve: intersections! Nantes is planning to implement many more advanced stop lines – a.k.a. bike boxes – at intersections. This solution indeed makes left-turns for cyclists much easier and safer when compared to untreated intersections, but is not as safe as separated infrastructure, which is common in The Netherlands. Safety is maximized when cyclists can cross a street at a 90-degree angle during a green phase similar to that of pedestrians. For this, the bicycle lane can be set back to the right to create an extra space for cyclists to wait for the intersecting road’s green light. This video by Mobycon consultant Dick van Veen and blogger Mark Wagenbuur depicts that type of intersection, as well as a variety of even safer, more efficient options.


To learn more about Nantes’ transportation and mobility advancements, visit the agglomeration’s website in French or English. More documents – some in English – on sustainable transportation in France can be found on the Ministry’s website. The report was published following up the March publication of a 25-Measure Action Plan for Active Mobility (Plan d’action en faveur des mobilités actives – PAMA) in France, which firmly supports bicycling. For more about French bicycling or comparative perspectives, contact our French consultant Quentin Dumont-Freixo. Quentin is a civil engineer who earned his bachelor’s degree from McGill University in Montreal and currently works in Mobycon’s Delft office. 



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