Urban planning and mobility: "We've been rolling out the red carpet for a long time"

Urban planning and mobility: “We’ve been rolling out the red carpet for a long time”

Laurent Chaplon is Professor of Geography at Université Paul Valéry Montpellier 3, specializing in transport issues related to land use planning. He has been teaching spatial analysis for over 15 years. He submits to Medi Libre his analysis of the evolution of public policies.

Laurent Chaplon, teacher at Paul Valéry University Montpellier 3.

As a specialist in transport issues related to regional planning, have you noticed a paradigm shift in the work of local authorities?

Since the beginning of the 1980s, there has been an awareness of the consequences of car use in terms of the pollution and congestion it causes. However, for years we have known very careful public policies, because we know the contribution that the car makes. Recently, with improved knowledge about climate change, and the fact that we acknowledge that our commuting has a direct impact, there has been an awareness of actions to match the challenges in major cities.

However, the delay seems significant…

We’ve been rolling out the automobile red carpet for far too long, adapting cities to make traffic more fluid. Faced with the problem of congestion, other road infrastructures were constructed, but this created a new call for traffic. This is how the car has established itself as the main mode of travel with a typical participation of 76-78%. We are now offering more efficient alternatives, especially in congested areas because it is easier to deploy a less expensive public transport offer there, and we are developing car sharing in more rural areas…but there are many things that need to be done again.

Hasn’t urban planning since the 1960s and 1970s, with its suburban boom, also contributed to this dependence on cars?

clearly. Thanks to automobiles and better infrastructures, it was possible to maintain a similar travel time by living in the suburbs. We are paying the price for this addiction, so it is difficult to tell people to change their behavior because they are contributing to pollution and crowding. Solutions such as carpooling are starting to emerge, and we are using the car but in a smarter way.

Could the tram bus, proposed by the Métropole de Montpellier to provide a solution for public transportation even in semi-urban areas, be a good solution?

The car is generally efficient, you can access the services easily, without respecting timetables, with a very dense network. To encourage behavior change, public transport must offer a sufficiently high level of performance, i.e. on its own route, with a guaranteed journey time and a high frequency of 5-7 minutes. This is the bus’s promise of a high level of service, like the tram, it goes in the right direction.

And what about the upcoming free public transportation?

The typical share of public transportation is not increasing fast enough, it is still at 9% in 2019 as in 1994. There was no shock. The idea is that there is matter that needs to be turned over. Free, worth testing and learning from.

However, road projects remain. Le Lien and Com Ouest in Montpellier, the western passage in Nîmes also …

The problem is not to stop investing on the road at all, but to invest smartly. Mobility policies must be adapted to each province. Big cities like Nîmes or Montpellier have an interest in forcing the car into the dense and central parts, by developing public transport, multimedia with the possibility of leaving your car in the center of interchanges … but they should also promote overtaking for transit traffic and encourage people to leave their cars in Multimedia hubs in good places. It is not shocking that you complete this detour network so that you do not enter the city through traffic. But you have to deal with it in moderation.

What do you think missing today?

trainers. They will be used more as performance increases. The problem today is that they are stuck with school trips and take middle and high school students as close to their homes as possible with travel times twice as long. It should be circulated to strategic axes, and it is up to people to return to it. And to take advantage of their own positions at the entrance to the city, even if it means less vehicular traffic.

The bike is gaining ground…

Covid and its famous “corapistes” have been a way for communities to speed up their bicycle policy. There is a cycling dynamism in the big cities, but we must go further by redistributing public spaces in favor of an electric bike that can be picked up from home to work for a distance of up to 10 kilometers.

ZFE, which wants to fend off the most polluting cars from downtown Montpellier and soon Nîmes, is it a good or bad idea?

This is a good summary of the difficulty of implementing a sustainable mobility policy. Everyone agrees to look better, but socially the price to pay remains complicated because not everyone is willing to step out of a car’s reflection.

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