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Infrastructure blog

How France’s agile approach to transport planning is boosting sustainability

19 January 2024

This case study outlines how France repurposed its road network during the Covid-19 pandemic to meet its changing infrastructure needs.

How France’s agile approach to transport planning is boosting sustainability
France created temporary ‘Covid cycle lanes’ to boost bike use during the pandemic. Image credit: Shutterstock

During the Covid-19 pandemic, France repurposed its road network, creating ‘Covid cycle lanes’.

The result was an alternative option to public transport that helped curb car use during the pandemic.

In doing so, France embodied principle 3 of the Enabling Better Infrastructure guidance.

Principle 3 highlights the value of drawing on a wide range of infrastructure options, including no or low-build solutions.

These solutions allow governments to meet infrastructure needs without always needing to build new assets.

How Covid-19 impacted France’s infrastructure planning

France faced severe social and economic challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Its healthcare system was put under pressure, and its decision-making processes fell short of offering it short-term stability due to a lack of consideration for local realities.

The collapse of France’s healthcare system caused a strain on public finances, which slowed development across other sectors, including infrastructure.

With less public finance available, government investment in infrastructure rapidly declined.

This stunted the country’s progress toward addressing long-term societal needs, including strengthening road connectivity and maintenance.

Using agility to address challenges

Before the pandemic, France’s public transport network received a high number of passengers daily.

Following the onset of Covid-19, this changed. People no longer saw public transport as an option due to the associated risk of infection.

The French government predicted a rapid rise in car reliance, which would jeopardise its environmental goals by increasing emissions.

To address this, in 2020 the French government introduced a €120 million budget set of financial incentives, known as the ‘coup de pouce vélo’, to boost bike use.

The main outcome of this budget was the creation of temporary ‘Covid cycle lanes’ in four cities: Grenoble, Lyon, Montpellier, and Rennes.

Covid cycle lanes re-purposed road space to make walking and cycling safer and more accessible.

The government also helped individuals service their bikes by providing a €50 bike repair voucher.

It also set up a training course on urban cycling known as ‘getting back in the saddle’.

From temporary measures to sustainable long-term outcomes

Bike use in France increased immediately following the rollout of its Covid cycle lanes.

Nearly 600 people started riding bikes and more than 1.7 million bikes were repaired. This prevented a spike in car reliance during the pandemic.

Moreover, the measures taken have helped speed up long-term sustainable development.

Bike use has continued to increase in the years following the pandemic.

Not only has this enhanced quality of life by encouraging more people to exercise regularly, but it has also contributed to reduced transport-related carbon emissions.

Understanding the shift to increased cycling

To increase bike use further, France can consider improving its data quality to enhance decision making.

Setting up open and accessible databases that compare bike use across French cities could help policymakers better understand where to focus government resources to ensure nationwide progress toward sustainability.

Principle 8 of the Enabling Better Infrastructure guidance draws on the importance of improved data and digitalisation. It highlights how knowledge sharing through data can enhance strategic planning.

To learn more about enhancing data quality, read our Enabling Better Infrastructure report.

  • Adina Nembhardt, EBI programme researcher at ICE