Lyon: a bold mobility transition

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This article traces the major links between the global context, the most important findings on mobility and the various solutions provided to effectively make the mobility transition.

Context: background air pollution; climate emergency; multiple public health issues

Observations: the impact of noise and pollution on human health; the increasing sedentary nature of our lifestyles; accidents with serious consequences; transport as the main contributor to GHG emissions; a decline in car ownership; a majority of car journeys of less than 10 km and with only one passenger; many cars not used for daily journeys; a multi-year increase in mobility insecurity; public spaces largely devoted to cars (traffic and parking)

Faced with this, a whole range of alternatives to the car should be developed, with pricing that helps targeted groups, and the place of the car in public space should be lowered to reduce its use and to encourage other more inclusive uses. For distances of less than 10 km, the objective is that as many journeys as possible can be made on foot, by bicycle or by various forms of public transport. To this end, facilities and services (pedestrianisation, maintenance strategy, signposting, Voies Lyonnaises, repair workshops, etc.) for walking and cycling will be strongly developed for greater comfort and safety. Public transport will be the subject of an unprecedented 6-year plan for the deployment of new tram and bus lines, and in the longer term also of daily rail and metros. Targeted solidarity pricing (for people on low incomes, students, etc.) will be introduced for public transport, as well as for other mobility services. Occasional car journeys (weekends, heavy loads, etc.) will be able to be made with car-sharing vehicles, which will be greatly developed. Public spaces will be better shared between the different modes of transport, but also for many other uses (vegetation, playgrounds, bio-waste collection, etc.). Long-distance travel will be encouraged as much as possible by collective modes or carpooling. Carpooling will also be encouraged and developed (areas, reserved lanes) for daily trips for people who need their car on a daily basis. Thus, a majority of short-distance journeys and part of long-distance journeys will be made using the least polluting and impactful modes. This allows for the desirable transformation of public space and mobility by car for those who still need it, from or to the centre of the Metropolis. The generalisation of the 30 km/h speed limit and the implementation of an ambitious low-emission zone will make it possible to respond to the issues of air pollution, noise and accidents. In this way, Lyon is working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve health and quality of life in Lyon and its Metropolis.

Mobility is at the heart of our lifestyles in 2021. In an urban area like Lyon, it is very diverse in its uses. The needs are not the same for each population. There is commuting, but also many other daily journeys, for example compulsory journeys related to household tasks. Beyond these aspects, mobility is also a matter of leisure, for walks or to get out of the urban area for an afternoon, a day, a weekend or more. To meet these needs, while integrating them into the major challenges of our time, public policies must be adapted as closely as possible to current and short-term realities, while looking to the more distant future.

I would like to make it clear that this article will only concern the mobility of people and not the transport of goods. A recent article already addresses this subject in part. It is not intended to be exhaustive on the approaches and geographies of mobility and will not go into detail on all the tools used to initiate this transition. Finally, it may evolve over time and answer certain questions in the form of a FAQ at the end of the article.

An essential context

It is impossible to discuss mobility without talking about the major issues of our time, including climate change and air pollution. Nationally, the transport sector accounts for over 30% of greenhouse gas emissions [1]. The majority of emissions are linked to the combustion of fuel in thermal vehicles or aircraft. This combustion emits significant quantities of CO2.

Graph of GHG emissions of the transport sector in France and trajectory as stated by the national low carbon strategy (SNBC1)
Split of emissions by sector – Climate Air Energy plan of the Metropole of Lyon

In Lyon, as in other major cities around the world, the transport sector is the main emitter of greenhouse gases, along with the building sector [2]. As shown in the graph above, in the Metropolis of Lyon in 2015, 29% of emissions were linked to road transport. It should be noted that these emissions analyses correspond, as is often the case, only to the scopes 1 and 2. This means that emissions linked to the production of vehicles and other embodied energies are not taken into account. The territorial calculation of aviation emissions can also be challenged.

What is important to understand is that we need to massively reduce our transport-related GHG emissions, in the order of 90% overall by 2050 according to the UN. This corresponds to a stronger and faster reduction in the large cities, which have easier opportunities to develop alternatives to the car.

The graph on the left shows the trajectory defined by the National Low Carbon Strategy (SNBC), particularly in its first version, which is aligned with the objectives defined by the Paris climate accord in 2015. The revised version is a clear step back from the ambitions. It is noticeable that the transport sector has struggled to reduce its emissions in recent years. This is particularly due to increasing use and a rebound effect that cancels out the efforts made in terms of technological innovation. Thus, in order to return to a trajectory compatible with a climate change well below +2°C and aiming for +1.5°C, we must reduce our GHG emissions from transport by 30% until 2026. This will put us back on track and will require similar efforts in the following years to fully make mobility carbon-free.

The other major issue for urban areas is air pollution. This is a combination of different types of pollutants: nitrogen oxides NOx, fine and very fine particles PM10-PM2.5-PM1, ozone O3, volatile organic compounds VOCnm and others.

Lyon is one of eight French cities subject to litigation by the French State Council, in particular for exceeding the regulatory thresholds for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine particles. In August 2021, it ordered the French State to pay a penalty of 10 million euros [3]. It is also the subject of a European Commission procedure for exceeding the thresholds for fine particles and has been ordered to act quickly [4].

A public health issue

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has defined thresholds for each pollutant that should not be exceeded to ensure the health of the population [5]. These thresholds were updated in autumn 2021 following a new scientific review of the impacts of air pollution on human health. The findings are alarming: all populations in urban areas suffer negative impacts on their health. Thus, the WHO has announced that it is lowering its recommended thresholds, sometimes by a factor of three or more. There is a threshold not to be exceeded on an annual average and another for short-term exposure over 8 or 24 hours.

ATMO Auvergne Rhône Alpes shows in its 2019 report [6] that the trend of air pollution reduction is good over the last years.

However, it also shows that in the vicinity of road traffic, the (both old and new) WHO thresholds are still exceeded for NO2 and PM10 and that fine particles PM2.5 are still above the (both old and new) WHO threshold on an annual average (graph below; with old WHO thresholds). It should be noted that the ATMO monitoring indicator has recently evolved to take better account of fine particles. It is also important to know that for some pollutants, the regulatory limit values in France and Europe are not aligned with the WHO recommendations.

Annual report ATMO AURA 2019
Annual report ATMO AURA 2019

Of course, road traffic is not the only cause of these pollutants. Depending on the type of pollutant, heating (oil, wood), industry and continental weather conditions also contribute significantly.

Air pollution is therefore a major public health issue. According to Santé Publique France and a report by the Senate’s investigative committee [7], at national level, 40 to 60,000 premature deaths per year are linked to air pollution, with an associated public health cost of around €100 billion. In the Lyon metropolitan area, the number of premature deaths per year should be several hundred.

The transport sector thus has a role to play in improving the health of the population. We see that the reduction linked to the renewal of the car fleet is there, but insufficient if we wish to resolve this health threat quickly. The Low Emission Zone (LEZ) tool, based on the Crit’air stickers [8], will allow us to accelerate the reduction of air pollution. Following the introduction of the LEZ for professionals under the previous mandate, it is now time to gradually apply it to private individuals, corresponding to hundreds of thousands of vehicles. The objective is to phase out diesel by 2026 in a central area, in order to improve air quality for a large part of the population. We have planned a wide-ranging consultation to define the sequencing and the desirable accompanying measures for this transition. The LEZ is also an opportunity for the transition of mobility, because it allows us to reshuffle the deck and offer everyone a moment to reflect on their mobility, their needs and the most appropriate solutions. A mobility agency, as exists elsewhere, could provide personalised assistance.

Thus, in order to achieve our climate objectives, the 1:1 replacement of a polluting vehicle by a less polluting vehicle is not desirable. The metals and other materials required, as well as the energy and GHG emissions associated with the manufacture of vehicles, do not allow for a coherent ecological transition.

This is especially true as recent studies [9] indicate that the creation of fine particles is also significantly linked to the wear of brake pads and tyres. This is accentuated by the gradual increase in the weight of vehicles, to which we will return later. A scenario of total replacement of thermal vehicles by (heavier) electric vehicles could also lead to an increase in PM2.5 emissions with cardiovascular, respiratory and other health consequences. It should be noted that, despite the greater weight compared to a thermal vehicle of the same size, an electric car puts less strain on the brake pads, thanks to regenerative braking [10].

The mobility transition must therefore be considered on the scale of a package of solutions and alternatives to the individual car in order to offer everyone a suitable mobility solution that respects the urban and global environment. However, the health implications of this transition do not end there. Every year, between 20 and 30 fatal accidents occur in the Lyon Metropolitan Area as a result of road accidents [11]. At the same time, more than 300 people are hospitalised following an accident. Accidentology is one of those subjects that is rarely discussed, but which corresponds to the daily life of the inhabitants of cities.

Pedestrians knocked down in Lyon in 2019 – ONISR

This threat to human health is not acceptable, and even less so when it comes to serious injury or death. Other cities such as Helsinki and Oslo have adopted a Vision Zero roadmap and are reaping the first fruits. In 2019, none of them had a pedestrian fatality – among the most vulnerable in public space. Cities like Montreal have decided to build action plans [12] to reduce road deaths to zero. The aim is to provide Lyon with such a roadmap so that these tragedies no longer occur.

Firstly, it is a question of improving the sharing of roads to rebalance their use according to the different modes of transport. When 60-75% of the roadway is dedicated to the car, it is a question of public space, but also of safety. Our aim is therefore to make active modes of transport safer and more comfortable. Preferably, these are facilities that are accessible to all and separate from other traffic.

It is also a question of increasing visibility and making crossings safer at junctions to avoid a pedestrian suddenly appearing behind a parked car and being brushed or mown down by a moving vehicle. The law helps us in this respect. The Loi d’Orientation des Mobilités (LOM) obliges local authorities to progressively remove parking spaces that are located 5 metres in front of pedestrian crossings, in order to increase co-visibility. These spaces will only be used for bicycle racks, e-scooter parking, low vegetation or other devices that do not interfere. It should be noted that this has the added benefit of improving the legibility of the locations of the bicycle racks, mainly at the next junction.

Finally, the aim is to reduce the speeds practised in the city by reversing the logic. All roads will be regulated at 30 km/h except for a few major roads which will be maintained at 50 or 70 km/h. Indeed, at 30 km/h, the potential seriousness of an accident between a car and a pedestrian drops significantly. We must not be naïve, there will always be accidents, but if we can reduce their impact, that is crucial! Another advantage of the « 30 km/h city » is the reduction of background noise in the city [13]. Most of the noise is traffic related and not engine related. It is related to acceleration and speed, so lower maximum speeds, leading to lower acceleration, are beneficial for noise. According to the WHO, noise is a factor that worsens health, particularly in terms of cardiovascular risk [14].

From sedentary to active mobility

Finally, our health also depends on our physical activity. In a world of cars and public transport, more office jobs than in the past, our daily physical activity is limited. The importance of regular sport is immense, and is a source of leisure and social interaction, but physical activity can also be practised on a daily basis by walking or cycling. The study published in the British Medical Journal [15] in 2017 indicates, for example, that between the ages of 40 and 60, cycling to work reduces the risk of cancer by 45% and the risk of premature death by 40%, all causes combined. Thus, public policies should further encourage cycling and walking, including in daily life.

In order to encourage walking, it is essential to have continuous and good quality pedestrian routes. In a 2000 year old city with an urban design largely inherited from other eras, this is not an easy task. Many of the pavements are narrow, even if they comply with the regulatory threshold of 1.40 metres in width. Although some pavements will be widened, this cannot be done in general. It is therefore essential to keep existing pavements in good condition and to keep them free of obstacles, particularly those that are inconvenient for people with reduced mobility. Thus, the sanctuary of pavements will be progressively achieved during the term of office by limiting the presence of signs, various street furniture, parked bicycles or e-scooters, etc. On this last point, the development of dedicated parking areas will make it possible to avoid parking on the pavement. The right of way of terraces on the pavement will also be looked at.

Map of pedestrian walking durations – Piéton – Onlymoov

However, many streets lend themselves to other arrangements to give pedestrians more space more quickly. These are areas in the heart of neighbourhoods or around schools or other establishments that are particularly busy and would benefit from being completely pedestrianised for the comfort of all. These are areas with a high density of shops, cultural offerings or public services. It is also a question of creating new meeting zones with consistent urbanism to limit conflicts between pedestrians and other traffic, while giving more space on the road and priority to pedestrians. Despite this, in the middle of high-rise buildings, we are sometimes quite lost in the city. It is difficult to realise that business district Part-Dieu station is only 15 minutes’ walk from the Rhône. There is therefore a lot to be done to improve « walkability » in the city by creating pedestrian markers in public spaces. Signs to indicate to passers-by the walking times to this or that point of interest in the city, well beyond the tourist signs that sometimes exist. Finally, to combat this sedentary lifestyle, we need to develop cycling with comfortable cycling facilities and associated services. We will come back to the bicycle constellation a little later.

Decarbonising transport

Before continuing, we need to clarify the diagnosis of the transport-related climate issue. It was only partially addressed in the introduction.

I do not think it is useful to go back to the trajectory defined by the National Low Carbon Strategy, of the order of -30% by 2026. However, it may be useful to point out that this reduction was imagined at the end of 2015 compared to 2014, but GHG emissions from the transport sector have almost stagnated until 2019… Similar to other areas, it is always regrettable that a transition is not started as soon as possible, as this forces us to accelerate with potentially more difficult support and social adherence.

Let’s take a look at Aurélien Bigo’s excellent thesis from the end of 2020 entitled « Transport facing the challenge of the energy transition » [16]. The first particularly interesting finding (left-hand graph below) is that emissions did increase in parallel with the increase in speed (especially cars and planes) and demand, driven by the increase in population and the rebound effect associated with the increase in speed. Technological advances in energy efficiency will have mainly served to offset the growth in demand. Bigo also notes that, while journey times have remained relatively stable, distances have increased sharply (see graph on the right), driven by the growth of the car and more recently of national and international air travels.

Contrary to many studies (for example, household travel studies by local authorities), it would therefore be interesting to count modal shares not only in terms of travel time, but also in terms of distance. Indeed, it is the distance that is proportional to the many negative externalities. Aurélien Bigo’s work shows that, given the total withdrawal of fossil fuels from transport by 2050 at the latest, the energy transition on the one hand, but above all sobriety on the other, will be at the heart of the mobility transition. Thus, his thesis states that « sobriety, which concerns the factors of demand, modal shift, filling, and in part efficiency (weight, speed), would make it possible to go about half way compared to a trend scenario, facilitating in return the decarbonisation of energy« , before continuing: « If the technology presents risks of rebound effects, limited resources, indirect environmental impacts and significant costs, sobriety makes it possible to limit these risks. However, the obstacles to be overcome for sobriety are behavioural changes, acceptability and possible impacts on employment« .

A. Bigo, thesis Ecole Polytechnique Paris, décembre 2020

Among the opportunities mentioned in terms of efficiency, we find the weight of the vehicle. Indeed, weight is a good indicator of the environmental impact of a vehicle. A car is mainly made of metal and plastic and more recently of the various components of an electric battery. The heavier the car, the more heavy materials are used, which is the result of significant resource extraction (especially metals) and energy-intensive processing (plastic, batteries, chassis, etc.). Weight is also a good indicator of pollution during vehicle use. The heavier a vehicle is, the more energy it needs to move. It consumes more fuel and thus emits more CO2, or electricity and requires a battery with a higher capacity, thus increasing the need for resources. As seen above, air pollution comes to a significant extent from tyres and brake pads. Thus, a heavier car degrades these elements more quickly. Finally, it needs more time/distance to brake and can have more dramatic consequences in case of an accident [17].

Unfortunately, it is clear that there is a long-term trend towards heavier cars [18]. This is linked to the safety standards that have been set in recent decades and, more recently, to the trend towards larger SUVs (Sport Utility Vehicles). The French Citizen Climate Convention, made up of 150 citizens chosen at random to make concrete proposals on France’s climate trajectory, has pushed an idea of a bonus-malus for vehicle purchases depending on the weight of the vehicle [19]. This is a system that could be designed to be incentive-based and financially neutral, with the malus financing the bonus. At the local level, we will also work on possible incentives for the use of lighter cars, when their use is necessary.

Many people criticise the advent of the electric car, particularly because of the battery. They are right, these are limited metal resources and their extraction raises environmental (and social depending on the location) issues. This is why a replacement of all combustion vehicles by electric vehicles is not desirable – anywhere. This is an opportune moment for the citizens and public authorities of this world to rethink mobility and usage in the city and countryside. However, for those who need a car, this replacement has clear benefits in terms of CO2. This depends on a number of assumptions (electricity mix, battery composition and manufacture, car mileage, etc.) and there are many analyses by researchers on life cycle analyses. This site [20] allows you to vary the different parameters and comparators for thermal and electric cars. In most scenarios, over the whole life cycle, an electric car avoids many tonnes of CO2.

Focus on long-distance journeys

As we have seen, pollution from combustion engines is largely a function of the distance travelled. As a tourist city and one of the most popular European destinations for a « city trip » weekend, Lyon must also do its part on long-distance journeys. Above all, we need to develop a position of advocacy to encourage all stakeholders to decarbonise long-distance journeys.

First of all, this plea is aimed at the people of Lyon. Whether it is for weekend trips or holidays, favouring the train, buses, carpooling or even cycling directly allows us to significantly reduce the climate impact. We often have the impression that the impact of an occasional trip is low, because it is punctual, but it is the distance that determines whether its CO2 impact is significant or not. In particular, the TGV, TER or intercity trains or international bus services are particularly well developed in Lyon, so it is rather easy to avoid the car or plane. Given its very strong impact, the latter should naturally be limited as much as possible. As a reminder, a round trip between Lyon and Lisbon by plane emits a total of nearly one tonne of CO2, i.e. 50% of the target of 2 tonnes per year and per person by 2050.

An alternative solution is trains, as well as international coaches which also run at night for long journeys. Lyon will also take a stand on the subject of night trains, which have regained public interest and allow people to travel further in Europe for holidays or business trips, while avoiding the plane

We have already set up a page on to highlight sites and blogs that encourage car-free travel to visit places around Lyon (Alps, nearby mediaval cities, etc.).

It is therefore a question of rethinking people’s mobility on a more global scale, of reducing the distances travelled by thermal vehicles and, more generally, journeys by private car. The good news is that 56% of trips of 2-3 km and 62% of trips of 3-7 km in Lyon-Villeurbanne (graph below from the Urbain mobility plan PDU [21]) are currently made by car, whereas public transport and cycling are particularly suitable and competitive over these distances. There are time, economic, ecological and health efficiency dimensions here.

SYTRAL. Ten Year Mobility Survey 2015

For example, a journey from the city hall to the Musée des Confluences is about 4.5 km by bike, a journey from Valmy to the Part-Dieu station is 6.3 km by bike. These distances are accessible to everyone, and the development of transport and bicycle networks will help to develop these modes for journeys of up to 10 km. It is therefore a question of making these two modes of travel comfortable, accessible, safe and of high quality.

Buses, trams, metros, funiculars: diversity, efficiency, accessibility

The TCL transport network is one of the best in France in terms of quality of service, coverage and competitiveness of the various modes. Today, the network managed by SYTRAL includes buses of all types, trams, funiculars and metros.

Like other cities, Lyon is facing saturation of public transport at peak times. Lyon’s network is efficient and the capacities of buses, trams and metros will continue to increase over the next few years, but the saturation is there. Was there. In fact, faced with this observation, we wanted to carry out a supply shock at the very beginning of the mandate to improve the frequency, capacity or services on the bus lines, but the COVID-19 health crisis has arrived. The use of public transport fell sharply during this period, even if a recovery was visible at the start of the 2021 school year.

Buses offer the greatest flexibility in serving the territory, as well as in introducing a new service or adapting an existing one. With the development of pop-up bike lanes, including many new bus&bike lanes, buses have been able to benefit from significant improvements in journey times or schedule stability. This was the case for the C6 or C4 buses. On certain bus corridors, we would like to go even further, not only by developing exclusive lanes, but also by working on priorities at traffic lights and black spots. This is how buses can improve the image of this mode of transport, which is lacking in confidence. With additional road improvements and the associated bus shelter and ticketing services, we can create High Service Level Buses. In short, « trams on wheels », which are faster and less expensive to implement. A new route of this type is planned between Part-Dieu and eastern Lyon.

Of course, the tramway has even greater frequency and capacity. This is why we are also planning a major tram network. It is now a question of going beyond the star network and building a spider web network, which connects the suburbs together. Examples are the second part of the T6 project and the start of a major ring road with the T9 and T10 projects, which link major centres of attraction and urban policy districts (QPV) such as Mas du Taureau or Saint-Fons. As the PDU indicates, there is a real challenge in terms of peripheral to peripheral journeys (in 2015, 7% of journeys, and growing strongly [op. cit.]).

Faced with the increasing distance between home and office, public transport journeys must be able to meet expectations, so as not to leave the increase in distances to thermal vehicles, which are harmful to the climate. This is also an issue on the wider scale of the conurbation, but also with a radial aspect for commuting from nearby cities like Saint Etienne, Bourgoin Jallieu, Bourg-en-Bresse, Villefranche-sur-Saône, Vienne etc. and their surrounding towns.

That is why we have to talk about public transport as a whole. It is therefore also a question of discussing the importance of buses, regional trains (TER) and tram-trains. Faced with this, our ambition is to build what we call an « RER à la lyonnaise », referencing the local express train system from Paris, i.e. an efficient rail network that can respond to daily trips and volumes, especially from the second or third ring around Lyon. A unified fare system between the TCL and TER will go in this direction, as well as investments that could be partly carried by the SYTRAL (if the AURA Region accepts, as it is the one that has the competence for local railways). With existing infrastructures and French expertise on the subject, this network of trains and tram-trains for everyday use would be an effective solution for public action. It would also make it possible to respond to the challenge of intermodality, particularly for the daily transport of bicycles, as is intensively practised in Germany or Denmark.

The community is also there to think about the long term of travel. The « RER à la lyonnaise » is part of this, along with the problems associated with the Lyon railway junction, as are developments in the metro network. A new metro project requires about 15 years and a few billion euros of public money to be built. Today, no new project would see the light of day before 2033. This is why we are organising a major consultation on the subject [22]. First, to ask the question of four metro projects and their potential alternatives. The idea is to start from needs and uses and to try to prioritise these projects or their alternatives. This will make it possible to establish a long-term roadmap. Secondly, it is also to ask the question of the development of « heavy transport » in the metropolis, because a commitment to such projects requires a significant mobilisation of project managers, technicians and, of course, financial resources. It also requires long construction sites with significant carbon impacts depending on the works required. This also raises the question of the projection of mobility over 15 years and what the launch of a new major infrastructure entails. Although it is not easy to carry out a consultation that requires inhabitants to project themselves in the long term and to adopt a metropolitan (and not personal) vision, it is nevertheless an interesting and above all relevant exercise given the challenges of the next two decades (lifestyles, finance, transport, etc.).

Having said that, infrastructure is not everything, we also need to make public transport more accessible, because for many people the car is a relatively cheap means of travel.

However, given the urgency of the climate and the development of public transport that is still needed, generalised free-of-charge transport will not be effective in generating a modal shift from private cars to less polluting modes. We need to develop alternatives and improve the service conditions of existing offers. On the other hand, establishing a generalized free service would have a strong impact on the operating budget, which is essential to offer a quality service, frequency and so on. The example of the city of Dunkerque, which is regularly cited in France, is not one of them, because the the city size is not the same and also because the modal shift observed is eventually not so positive [23].

For this reason, we favour targeted free or reduced tariffs. They are essential to respond to the economic constraints of households generating « mobility insecurity ». Lowering subscription rates for people on the lowest incomes is therefore an obvious step and we have already been able to implement it with the introduction of a « free solidarity » subscription and the reduction of the « reduced solidarity » subscription to €10 per month [24]. It is also essential for students, for whom we have been able to lower the price of the subscription, and even to integrate the most precarious among them into the « solidarity » schemes. We can clearly see the advantages of offering a less expensive and more efficient mobility solution to a significant part of the population through these targeted measures. This applies to public transport, as well as to other mobility solutions offered by the community, such as bicycles (the vélo’v solidarity tariff or the Free vélo’v offer with 10,000 reconditioned bicycles that will be loaned free of charge to young people with low resources).

The issue of « mobility insecurity » is important to understand, particularly in its socio-economic dimension. Indeed, the phenomenon of suburbanisation has led to longer distances. Housing prices, especially for home ownership, have exploded in recent decades. For the most modest families, moving to Lyon and renting a flat is becoming increasingly difficult, as is the desire to buy a home [25]. It is therefore above all « the most modest households [that] have to bear the highest transport costs, not only in relative terms (as a proportion of their income), but also in absolute terms » [POPSU Publication 2021; 26]. This raises the issue of housing construction. Faced with this observation of urban precariousness, the preferential development of social housing (65% of French people are eligible for social housing [27]) should be implemented in order to keep all populations close to their activities and jobs.

Finally, there is also the issue of transport accessibility for disabled people. While all trams and metros and their stations are now adapted for the disabled, bus stops are « only » 70% accessible [28]. The buses themselves are designed to be inclusive. There is still a lot of work to be done, including the maintenance of lifts and escalators, which are sometimes unavailable. Finally, the network has an efficient « Optibus » system offering transport on demand for registered users, i.e. more than 2000 people.

Cycling at the centre of the transition

Travelling at reduced costs compared to the private car is an important issue in the mobility transition. On many subjects, a green transition can bring both environmental and financial benefits for households. It is a sort of 13th month.

The development of cycleability in urban areas is an important part of this. Using or owning a bicycle is much cheaper than any other motorised mode. The difference is clear in terms of purchase costs, but especially maintenance costs. In addition, it meets the challenges of efficiency, physical activity and ecological transition.

The idea is to develop the whole « bicycle system » to create a new major transport system, accessible to all, practical, efficient, user-friendly and activity-oriented. It is not only a question of developing the infrastructure, which we will come back to, but also the services around it. We need to contribute to building a constellation of public, private and associative players who will provide these different services.

These include short or long term rental, rental for tourist purposes, or rental of accessories for a special occasion or a trial run of a few days (panniers, child seats, etc.). Repair and self-repair workshops of all types are essential. They should be as well established as possible in business and residential areas. Some of them can also be the subject of mixed concepts, including, as in other European cities, cafés, showrooms, coworking spaces or others.

Companies are not excluded from this transformation. Firstly, with regard to the advent of an important cyclologistics sector for a more city-friendly supply of certain products [Previous article, French]. Secondly, through the organisation of company challenges, or the introduction of service bicycles, the installation of showers and secure boxes, trials for craft companies, etc. In short, it is a whole culture around cycling that needs to be created, or even recreated, in order to get away from any clichés and see cycling as one of the most efficient and positive means of travel for the first ten kilometres.

This cycling culture will also involve education in cycling. This starts at school with the « know how to ride » programmes [29]. It is essential and largely underused. The objective should be that by the time they enter secondary school, each pupil should be able to ride independently to school. To achieve this, learning sessions are needed on the roads in real conditions around the school and elsewhere. The participation of parents is essential, too, in order to remove not only the children’s fears, but also those of the parents. Learning the rules and good practices will result in adults who are aware of the rules and the use of bicycles for short distances. Moreover, with the boom in cycling in the past and in the future, more and more adults are getting back into the saddle. In Lyon, the Maison du vélo offers training to get back in the saddle for adults, which is very useful and should be generalised. The same applies to the education that needs to be expanded for everyone concerning, for example, the M12 signs, which are rarely studied when taking the driving test.

Source :

Although Lyon is far from being the worst city in France in terms of cycling facilities, there is still a lot of work to be done, particularly in terms of creating cycle paths that are physically separated from other traffic flows in order to guarantee comfort and safety. It is in this way, and particularly given the distances travelled by car, that we can accelerate the adoption of cycling and extend the distances travelled. Up to 10 km, there should be more journeys by bicycle and public transport than by private car. The rise of electric and cargo bikes is a step in this direction, as they make it possible to travel with less effort, particularly on slopes, and thus encourage the use of bicycles.

This is why we have planned the creation of a new major transport network, a « bicycle express network » called « Les Voies Lyonnaises« , which will make it possible to link up all cities in the metropolitan area and thus cross the hypercentre and also connect the suburbs. They will also make it possible to link up with the train stations to improve train-bike intermodality, which is still under-exploited compared to other European regions.

The Voies Lyonnaises is a network of almost 400 km of cycle routes by 2030. The 13 lines will criss-cross the territory to allow the extension of distances mentioned above. In order to meet the challenges of personal comfort and safety, the target gauge is 4 metres wide (bi-directional) with physical separation from other traffic. This will make it possible to accommodate more children with their parents or alone, as well as other people who are not yet comfortable with cycles. Particular attention will be paid to the management of junctions, as continuity and legibility at junctions can make the difference between a satisfactory network and one that is ready to welcome all publics, of all ages, as is the case in the Netherlands, for example. Signage will be used to improve legibility, with line names and colours to help with orientation, particularly at line crossings. Finally, where possible, this network will be accompanied by low and high vegetation to improve the living environment, sometimes to accentuate the separation of other flows or to participate in the effort to permeabilise the urban soil.

Thus, Les Voies Lyonnaises will be able to accommodate not only commuting, but also the home-to-school journeys of now autonomous children, so-called obligatory journeys during the day (mainly made by women), as well as leisure outings with the family with a lane size that allows them to ride side by side without hindering traffic.

Sometimes the obstacles to cycling are elsewhere. We heard this in Brussels, for example, where a survey showed that some people had simply never thought of using a bicycle on their journeys (legibility, personal culture, lack of emphasis in route planners, etc.). At a time when we have electric bikes, cargo bikes, folding bikes or simply good quality bikes, parking and above all secure parking is becoming an issue. Bicycle racks, deployed just about everywhere, make it possible to meet the needs of all types of activity centres, less so for long-term storage, overnight or over several days. Today, the supply of secure parking is seriously lagging behind in Lyon, with a thousand spaces in LPA car parks and a few hundred in SNCF car parks near stations or shared private garages. The challenge is to significantly increase the number of secure parking spaces, whether in public car parks, on-street boxes or in former shops. For the most recent buildings, there are also bicycle rooms which aim to be generalised and improved. This is why we will modify the urbanism scheme to increase the thresholds and criteria for secure parking in new constructions. On this subject, like so many others, it is indeed a multitude of solutions and places that will make it possible to meet this growing need. There is already a significant need in the vicinity of multimodal hubs, such as Part-Dieu and Perrache stations. As part of the associated urban projects, we will create larger bicycle stations to meet the needs of local uses and daily train-bike intermodality. These bike stations will be of the order of hundreds or thousands of spaces, given the flows.

What developments for car parking?

But what about car parking? First of all, it is important to remember the different uses of parking, on the one hand by occasional visitors, and on the other hand by daily commuters, home service professionals and residents. Until now, the policy has been to bury the car as much as possible so that it is less visible, whether in traffic (hoppers and tunnels) or in underground car parks (public or private). This would allow a minimum of parking space to be reclaimed for other uses, but we will come back to this in a later chapter.

Given the urgency of climate change and air pollution, we need to adopt a more pragmatic strategy. The fact is that parking and parking conditions induce more or less use of the private car [30]. Thus, in order to accompany the demotorisation of households and in parallel with the development of the alternatives mentioned in this publication, we must aim to reduce parking in the city. As with traffic, the transition of mobility works through a development+constraint duo, in order to encourage modal shift and changes in behaviour.

Prospective evolution of parking supply in Lyon between 2015 and 2030 in comparison with the evolution of demography and household motorisation

The graph above describes the prospective evolution of the parking supply between 2015 and 2030. The observation we can make today is that there is a very large supply of parking compared to the number of cars owned by the people of Lyon, allowing not only for the parking of all vehicles, but also for a good number of vehicles coming from outside the city. It should be noted, however, that the private car parks of companies are not included in the above graph, but do accommodate a significant proportion of vehicles coming from outside Lyon.

The trend scenario is already for a decrease in the motorisation of households in Lyon (and this is also the case for certain cities in the inner suburbs). This is despite the increase in population, driven by births and the attractiveness of Lyon. Thus, in the years to come, the supply of parking in Lyon will be much greater than the needs. The need to accelerate demotorisation also leads to a consistent need to reduce the supply of parking. Firstly, in the public space, in order to return the surface to the inhabitants. This is the most important source, coupled with other issues that we will see next.

The potential for reduction in public car parks is limited, although the development of secure bicycle parking and reserved areas will reduce the number of spaces. However, these car parks – all of which are located in the city’s hypercentre – are intended to accommodate residents or very regular visitors, as well as motorised tourists, in the short term.

As for the private supply in housing, it will hardly change. This is simply because underground parking pockets will not disappear. Some spaces are used for storage or could be imagined for other uses, but this reduction is marginal. Also, the reality is that part of the constructions of the early 2020s will still be able to and will have to build parking slicks, according to the Local Plan for Urbanism and Habitat (PLU-h) in force in the Metropolis of Lyon [31]. Our objective, through a modification of the PLU-h, will be to lower as much as possible and make the minimum requirements of the administration consistent with the number of dwellings. This is done by zones, in coherence with the accessibility to different zones of heavy public transport (metro, tramway and structuring bus lines). One could imagine taking into account other mobility offers, but this is the reality at the moment.

This being said, not all private parking (indicated in black) in the residences is accessible. Today, there are several companies that have developed a service for optimising and sharing these spaces. Each condominium may decide to rent a dozen spaces for use by residents of a building 100 metres away, without any car parking solution. These companies then manage these spaces and find interested parties. This opens up more spaces to the public and has the advantage of optimising the overall costs of these spaces, which are particularly expensive when built underground (heavy work including groundwater management). We are going to work with all of these players to share parking issues by neighbourhood, in line with urban development projects or the development of public transport. This mutualisation reduces the need for local authorities to create more parking spaces.

Also, it should be mentioned that there are particular challenges of increasing the number of so-called reserved parking spaces. These are spaces specific to certain uses, such as delivery areas or spaces dedicated to disabled people. For the latter, parking is generally free (with the corresponding sticker), but reserved spaces exist on request or at key locations (e.g. near health facilities). The reduction in general parking requires a rethink of the place of reserved areas. Similarly, the future increase in electric vehicles for people who still need a car on a daily basis requires charging stations. In the Lyon metropolitan area, the deployment of charging stations has been delayed by the pandemic, but is well underway, in particular with a retrofit of the old Bluely car sharting stations [32]. The network will be extensive and can be adjusted as the « green sticker » fleet evolves.

It is worth mentioning that there is little data on supply/possession or tariff/possession elasticities in the area of parking [33]. During the mandate, we will review the pricing of parking in line with the ecological objectives set and by seeking to implement a solidarity pricing for resident subscribers. Finally, given that Lyon is located in the hypercentre of the metropolis and in order to improve parking conditions for regular users (local residents and others), the number of regulated paying spaces will have to be increased significantly. Today, half of the city is still free, including in high-tension areas, whereas a city like Paris, for example, is entirely paid. Paid parking increases the rate of car rotation in these spaces and thus optimises the use of public space. So-called « sleeping cars », which are not used on a daily basis and sometimes not even on a weekly basis, are thus invited to find another solution. This can lead to a demotorisation, particularly in connection with the existing car-sharing offer, to which we will return.

Urban mobility and public spaces, linked destinies.

We are faced with a situation of optimisation under constraints. It is a question of making this mobility transition in a city with largely fixed urban planning. A better sharing of public space to give more space to active modes and users of public transport is thus desired. However, public space has other needs and challenges than just mobility, and among them, particularly important ones. In a systemic approach, it is important not to carry out urban planning (urban development) without thinking about mobility in a coherent way, and it is also important not to think about mobility without thinking about urban development and its challenges.

Immediately linked to the mobility objectives is the climate issue. Alternatives to thermal cars can contribute to the mitigation of climate change. As climate change is unfortunately well underway, we must now also think about adapting to the various changes to come. In dense urban areas, there are many heat islands. This is due in particular to the pavements used, which act as a « delayed heating » system, accumulating all the sun’s heat during the day and releasing it very slowly. Green spaces are often scarce and do not allow for significant evapotranspiration of plants, which contribute to cooling the air. The challenge is therefore to unclutter the city and make the soil as permeable as possible to facilitate the infiltration of rainwater, as well as to plant on different strata. We have already mentioned the importance of comfort when walking. This comfort is also increased when there are shaded paths, which is also an issue for the Voies Lyonnaises.

These new uses need space and it is in particular the existing parking lot that will make it possible to respond to the search for space. In order to improve the living environment, the road system in the broad sense is also there to provide relaxation areas, children’s playgrounds, composters or biowaste collection bins or simply benches and tables.

What also determines a good living environment is the ability to have satisfactory housing rather close to one’s place of work and in a neighbourhood that meets essential needs. We have already mentioned the question of housing, with the particular challenges of developing social housing, including in the hypercentre, rent control, the deployment of real solidarity leases [34], vigilance regarding changes of use, etc.

The question of nearby shops and public services is also a major issue. This is what the concept of the « quarter-hour city » develops, indicating that within 15 minutes on foot or by bicycle, one can have access to the shops and public services necessary for daily life, but also to rich cultural offerings and commercial diversity. This creates a dynamic neighbourhood life and has a greater potential to create a friendly, safe and supportive neighbourhood. It also has the advantage of reducing the distances to be travelled for everyday needs. On a broader scale, the concept of « polycentrism » should be developed. This is true both within the city of Lyon, with neighbourhood centres other than the peninsula, and in the wider metropolis, with an essential need (and the same at national level) to revitalise the town centres, at least for these everyday needs. The lack of shops and public services in the vicinity increases the need for mobility, but also a form of individualism, far from the necessary ingredients for a united society.

With the reduction chosen to fight against climate change, and undergone in the face of the uncertainties of the oil markets in the years to come, there will be a significant modal shift from the individual thermal car to active modes and public transport. The latter could also encourage the development of this urban polycentrism, in parallel with economic and commercial public policies in this direction, by reducing the competitiveness of the distance for daily travel. The concept of the « minute city » has also recently emerged in Sweden. This involves reclaiming the public spaces immediately around one’s home. This is similar to the « parking day » concept, which was born in California and aims to reclaim parking spaces for a day. In Lyon, certain districts are close to the « minute city » in terms of neighbourhood dynamism, such as the centre of the Croix-Rousse, the streets around Valmy, Vieux-Lyon, the Avenue des Frères Lumière, the Chevreul or Vitton streets, or of course the presqu’île.

Will Lyon become a car-free city?

So will Lyon become a car-free city in just a few years? In short, the answer is no, the use of the car will still be necessary for many years. This primarily concerns craftsmen and other professionals, even if some of them will have been able to make the transition to river-cyclo-logistics. It also concerns the inhabitants of Lyon who work odd hours that are not compatible with public transport and/or in places that are not otherwise accessible. It also concerns the people of Lyon and people from other cities, who may or may not have chosen to work in the centre of the Lyon and live far beyond, without any public transport alternative.

For the latter, there are park-and-ride facilities [35] all around the city of Lyon, allowing people to leave their vehicles and then use public transport to return to the city. Approximately 10,000 spaces are available in the TCL park-and-ride facilities, as well as thousands of others, particularly in the direct vicinity of the Region’s SNCF stations. Concerning the TCL park-and-ride facilities, we are facing a growing need, but with limited capacities and a construction cost of several thousand euros per car parking space. We also see that some park-and-ride facilities attract a majority of people living less than 5 km away. Finally, the car occupancy rate is only slightly higher than elsewhere (1.1 person on average per car). Thus, in theory, 40,000 to 50,000 people living ten kilometres or more from the park-and-ride facilities could benefit from this offer. Clearly, optimisations must be studied and then implemented. These studies could also include opening the P+Rs at night for residents of the Metropolis who have a job that is not accessible by public transport. In short, in connection with the observation of short distances travelled by car, the challenge is to offer an efficient alternative for journeys of less than 10 km, whether by bicycle or by public transport of all types. This will free up space in the most densely populated areas, also for those who need their car the most.

To improve traffic conditions, but also to optimise car-related resources (metals, plastics, fuels) and the occupation of public space, we need to develop carpooling. Not only long-distance carpooling, which is essential and economical for travelling, but also everyday carpooling. Private and public platforms [36] exist, as digital technology has made it much easier to find a soul mate for commuting. Signing up is simple and does not involve any obligation, but it can potentially contribute to a better organisation of regional mobility. As in other French metropolises, the development of carpool lanes on major roads gives a competitive advantage to cars with two or more people. Carpooling areas make it possible to set up meeting points, particularly for more occasional carpooling users.

Finally, a last observation must be made about the occupation of public space by cars. The graph below shows the number of cars present during the course of a day in Lyon-Villeurbanne according to the time of day. It can be seen that the metropolitan centre receives motorists between 7am and 7pm from the close or distant suburbs and that some of the residents leave the centre for their daily journeys. The interesting part are the cars that are stationary on a daily basis, i.e. 120,000 vehicles. Most of these cars are only used occasionally, whether regular or infrequent, trips. This part is an important breeding ground for the development of car-sharing, i.e. the use of a shared car, available in the public or private space, for a given time. Car-sharing is especially interesting for occasional journeys and not for commuting for which owning a vehicle is often more advantageous. We are going to develop car-sharing with a dense network so that every inhabitant has a vehicle available nearby when needed. In this way, we can optimise the space used in the city, both in public and private spaces, while allowing the population to retain the use of the car, for example to do particularly heavy or bulky shopping, or to go away for the weekend to a place that is not accessible by train or bus. Here again, the application of a solidarity-based pricing system seems appropriate, in order to offer an additional solution to as many people as possible.

Source : agence d’urbanisme, « Chiffres clefs du transport » 2019 [37]

Lyon as a car-free city? Not immediately, but… Let’s take a step back and look at the longer term. Firstly, the end of the sale of thermal vehicles on a European scale by 2035. From then on, only existing thermal and electric vehicles (existing or new) will be able to circulate in the EU. Given the oil and mineral capacities and the associated economic and geopolitical stakes, it is easy to project very strong tensions on the production lines. This is what we are already seeing on a small scale in 2021 for many products, including certain metals and microelectronics. This, coupled with trajectories that are probably insufficient on the climate, or even air pollution, could lead to the disappearance of the private car from city centres in the 2030s.


In this article, I have been able to retrace the transition in mobility supported by the greens in Lyon and its metropolis. It is based on a package of alternatives to the individual car, developed with an unprecedented human, financial and organisational effort. This package is constructed in such a way that it responds to a certain number of observations, supported by figures. In particular, we were able to emphasise the significant health aspect of the transition of mobility. It is broken down into several subjects, including of course the major issues of climate change and air pollution.

This transition may seem difficult and too fast, but we can see how essential it is given the underlying health and well-being issues. The Metropolis of Lyon already has many alternative solutions for efficient travel and others will come along during the next five years of this mandate with specific offers for the lowest income groups. For many, these alternatives are also more economical and inclusive, which is a significant factor.

Over the next few years, it will be about encouraging and facilitating decarbonised, more inclusive and more equitable mobility. As with any issue related to climate change, it is about transforming our lifestyles today to ensure a sustainable and desirable future that still guarantees fundamental freedoms as we know them today. The mobility transition is a sum of individual actions and collective commitments to return as quickly as possible to a trajectory aligned with the Paris climate accord on the fight against climate change and to return to pollutant levels below WHO standards. Finally, it means enabling the city to transform itself and adapt to climate change. In short, a transition for better living.


  • What financial means for this transition?
    An unprecedented 2020-2026 plan, double that of previous years for public transport. That is €2.55 billion for investment in new infrastructure. 100 million for the Voies Lyonnaises project, as well as several tens of millions of euros for bicycle lanes, bicycle racks and secure parking. Also, some forty million euros for local developments in public spaces (Ville 30, school streets, etc.). Finally, numerous recruitments in the administration and some increases in the operating budget for better services. In addition, there are other budgets for public spaces (greening, major development projects, public lighting, etc.).

Image de couverture issue du Plan de Mandat 2020-2026 :
[15] British Medical Journal, UK Biobank: Celis-Morales et al., Association between active commuting and incident cardiovascular disease, cancer, and mortality: prospective cohort study. BMJ 2017;357:j1456
[25] La volonté d’accession à la propriété a des raisons de représentation sociale et est inégale entre catégories socio-professionnelles. Même si nous pourrions discuter de la pertinence, il s’agit souvent d’une décision multifactorielle, non seulement liée à la volonté de propriété pour correspondre à un schéma de vie valorisé par la société.
[26] Métropole et éloignement résidentiel, Vivre dans le périurbain lyonnais, Eric Charmes, POPSU 2021
[30] EPLF-CERTU 1996 ; Contraintes de stationnement et pratiques modales, CERTU 2009 ; Les déterminants du choix modal, L’institut Paris Région, 2020
[31] Constructions minimales de stationnement demandées par la collectivité dans le cadre du PLU-h (état 2020) : selon le zonage (A, B, C), les minimas sont à 0,6 , 0,9 ou 1 place par logement. Les normes de construction effectives étaient au-dessus dans certaines zones durant les années passées.
[33] Par élasticité est indiquée la causalité entre deux facteurs, par exemple quel impact aurait une baisse de 10% de l’offre de stationnement sur la possession ou l’usage de la voiture.,leads%20to%20more%2
[36] Par exemple,
[37] Agence d’urbanisme de Lyon, « Chiffres clefs du transport » 2019

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