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Nantes, a model mobility student


A pioneer in public transport, Nantes is taking steps to build a city that is less dependent on automobiles. From car sharing to bicycle systems, Nantes has adopted a new urban transport plan aimed at improving mobility. Below is an overview of the city’s transport projects.

At a time when all other French cities were focused exclusively on bus transport, Nantes’s decision to revive the tramway may have seemed odd. In 1985, long before Bordeaux or Paris, Nantes rediscovered the benefits of the tram in reducing traffic congestion, lowering CO2 emissions and freeing up space in urban areas. Today the city has three tram lines, all of which will be extended under the new transport plan.

Buses of the future

Building tram lines is costly, however. In 2006, after the national government withdrew its support, Nantes developed a more economical solution called the Nantes Busway, one of the first rapid transit bus networks to come into being. Like the tram, the buses mostly run in dedicated lanes, which means service is frequent and punctual. Every day, more than 40,000 people use the Busway to get around Nantes. Electric vehicles will be added to the fleet in September.

Car-free alternatives also exist outside the city centre. Since 2013, residents living on the outskirts of town can reach the city centre via Chronobus, a nine-line, segregated-lane network that operates buses every five to eight minutes during rush hour. Some intersections are even equipped with sensors that activate a green light when a bus approaches. Today, over 300,000 people live within 500 metres of a Chronobus line. Designed to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians as well, certain lines of the 70-kilometre road network are equipped with bike lanes and pedestrian promenades. A mid-sized city built on relatively flat terrain, Nantes is an ideal place for promoting green modes of transport. 

Two bicycle plans totalling €100 million

In the last 15 years, the number of daily bike journeys has risen by 18,000, due to the introduction of two successive bicycle plans (2009-2014 and 2015-2020) costing €50 million each. The city’s goal is to increase cycling’s share of the transport mix to 12% in 2030 from 3% currently. Novel road layouts, such as core traffic lanes, help to lower driving speed and improve cyclist safety. The core traffic lane arrangement features just a single central lane for cars, with wide bicycle lanes on either side. Nantes has also built a cycleway and two main bicycle paths that will be extended in the future. Under the latest bicycle plan, around 50 schools will benefit from measures making it easier and safer for students to cycle to school. In addition, the city will offer a €300 subsidy to support the purchase of a cargo bike or a delivery tricycle. The city’s bicycle-sharing programme, Bicloo, is set to double in size, and bikes can now be rented on a monthly or yearly basis.

A commitment to intermodal transport

To facilitate intermodal travel, the Bicloo system has been linked to the transit fare card. During the course of the year, the car-sharing scheme will also be connected. In this way, users will be able to combine car sharing and public transport on the same journey. Another idea being explored is the creation of car-pooling lanes on major arteries to encourage drivers to change their behaviour. Car sharing is one of the priorities of the urban transport plan adopted at year-end 2018. According to studies, if the number of car-sharing vehicles were to rise from one out of four to one out of two, 300,000 more people – or the equivalent of 1,200 trams – would be able to enter the city centre during peak hour. 

France’s first restricted traffic area

In 2012, Nantes was the first French city to turn the city centre into a restricted traffic zone. Only permit-carrying residents, business professionals and persons with reduced mobility are allowed to drive in the area. Consequently, the number of vehicles in the centre has dropped from 20,000 to less than 5,000 per day.

Thanks to these various mobility-enhancing measures, more and more people are moving to Nantes. Often hailed for its quality of life, the population of Nantes is expected to grow by 165 people per week from now until 2030, according to demographers. The mobility challenge is just beginning.

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