In Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, France the local community is developing a network of bicycle lanes to facilitate the travel of its inhabitants. And this is not easy in a largely rural and hilly territory.
The boom in the electric-assisted bicycles (e-bikes) is not just for large cities. In areas with rural dominance, too, one is interested in this trend to better connect the communes with each other. And the major goal: to provide a solution to those for whom regular public transport is too far away or travel may be too expensive.
In the East of France, in Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, such a project is already underway. This young community, created only in 2017, with atypical profile – 78,000 inhabitants spread over 77 communes – responded to a government “French Mobility” projects. The commune now is one of the twenty-six finalists.
In this hilly area, we want to promote the “active mobility” concept. “It’s all about traveling to work and leisure, which is not the car: cycling, walking, and school buses,” says Vincent Benoît, vice-president of the community, in charge of Sustainable Mobility.
“We have a territory that is at once urban, semi-urban and very rural, with the landscape that is impractical for mobility. There is a central valley – that is of the Meurthe – that crosses the whole territory, plus other small valleys that are not connected with each other, other than via the large valley,” explains Vincent Benoît.
Bring the population closer to jobs
About 80% of the inhabitants of the territory also work there. Hence the challenge – to offer mobility solutions to those who live far from larger cities and cannot afford to travel. The lack of mobility, one of the first hurdles to find a job.
“The price of fuel affects the purchasing power of the population and a city like Saint-Die is very quickly congested during rush hours, especially because everyone is alone in a car, Vincent Benoît deplores. Our agglomeration is not the best geographically, so job seekers have difficulty finding jobs. It’s up to us to offer what we can as a means of inexpensive travel. “
This is where electric bikes start playing a role. Even though prices for e-bikes are still high (from 500 euros for the most basic models, on average). And the question of financial aid with the purchase is not yet been decided. What is already visible for the “mobility” manager of the city council, “is that we see people cycling in the flat areas of the territory. We talk about this because we see bicycles riding around”.
No less than thirty-five kilometers of cycle tracks will be built in the next, maximum, eight years. Budget: between six and eight million euros, financed by various stakeholders (commune, state, region …). Objective: to better connect the municipalities with each other and to open up those, poorly served by public transport.
Riding the hills by bike? “With the progress that we’ve made with electric bikes, they are becoming easy to use and we think it will be possible to climb hills by using e-bikes, which was not happening before. That’s why previously, people did not ride their traditional bikes more often, “says Vincent Benoît.
Festival of mobility … and Tour de France
In the next two years, multimodal exchanges will be created in Saint-Dié and Raon-l’Etape. This will include secure garages for bicycles and charging stations for e-bikes. This will, hopefully, facilitate the bicycle trips between home and railway stations.
However, electric bicycles are not the only sustainable mode of travel considered. The community is working on developing charging stations for electric cars. The rise of transport on demand is taking place and the implementation of a local carpooling app is under study (two new areas are under construction, and nine are already active).
The objective for this year: “To build the section of cycle lane between Saint-Dié and Saint-Léonard. This will continue the greenway that already exists and that goes up the Meurthe Valley for about fifteen kilometers”, reported the community representative.
It will also be necessary to recruit an “ambassador of mobility”, who will study the typical routes on the territory. This information will contribute to the connection between the greenways of the territory and, perhaps, to the extension of the network in the years to come.
As a symbol of the upcoming changes, on June 8 this year, Saint-Dié will host its first Festival of active mobility, where associations and other actors will propose to the public to discover “the means of the mobility of which people do not think yet or do not yet have access to”, says Vincent Benoît.
For the first time this year also, Saint-Dié-des-Vosges will host one of the rides of the Tour de France (Saint-Dié / Colmar, July 10). And this is yet another symbol of the changing times.
This post was translated from French. The original version was published on Le Parisien. Photo credit – public domain.