Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Cycling and the French

In this month of July when French television is dominated for three weeks by daily live coverage of Le Tour, it is interesting to note how France fares in the league table of cyclists compare with other European countries.

Surprisingly, the answer is not too well. Latest estimates suggest that as few as 2% of the overall population are regular cycle users - either for pleasure or normal daily use (riding to work for example), compared with Britain (4%), and the three northern countries dominated by Holland (an asronishing 43%), Denmark (30%) and Finland (28%).

On closer examination however, the numbers rise dramatically when individual cities make a special effort to encourage more people to use bicycles. The undoubted leader in France is the  city of Strasbourg which has created nearly 600 kms of cycle ways, together with Bordeaux and Grenoble where the mileage is consierably less but well above the average.

In Britain also certain cities dominate - including Cambridge (39%) and Oxford (19%), due to their high level of students and tourist cities such as York with an estimated 14%.

As well as building safe routes, pioneer cycle cities in France and elsewhere also provide 'cycle training' and encourage cycling events to help popularise cycling as a healthy sport, as well as planning out-of-town cycle routes for leisure/family use and offering bikes for hire.

Analysts trying to find out what puts people off cycling compared to other means of transport (particularly when travelling to work) found that they include fear of bad weather, accident risks, distances too long, route 'too difficult', worry about stolen bicycles, having to wear 'special clothing', arriving 'hot and sweaty' at work, difficuly storing/parking a bike either at home or at work.

Even in the exemplary case of Strasbourg, its dedicated cycle network fails to reach some of the poorer outer suburbs compare with other more attractive areas.

Finally it is surprising to note that despite all the efforts to encourange cycling, bicycles still account for no more than 1% of all road traffic!

* Some figures taken from an article by Antoine de Ravignan, Alternatives Economiques,
July/August 2017.

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