Guest Post: In Reply to the “Integrated Public Transport – A Study From France and Lessons for Auckland” post

Naaba N’Be critiques Nantes’ (France) Integrated Transport and Urban Development System

Last week in my Integrated Public Transport – A Study From France and Lessons for Auckland post I looked at if Nantes – France could offer lessons to Auckland particularly Southern Auckland in rolling out Light Rail AND quality urban development. 

In response Naaba N’Be from Nantes – France itself penned this critique of Nantes’ transit and urban development system. This is the critique:

Nante’s development is a subject which I am interested in. I was born in Nantes. I Left 15 years ago and then lived in Rome, Madrid, and London, so I have experienced different European ways of living in big cities. I went back to Nantes two years ago.

Nantes Métropole also has the competence for all aspects of organizing public transport.

That’s true.

It has helped to Nantes to some extent manage the growth of private car use, whilst retain a

Nantes has a high level of mobility for its citizens and preserve their quality of life.

I don’t agree with this. Yes a lot of stuff has been done (e.g. the number of bike lanes, some nice pedestrian parts in the city centre) but I will try to detail some elements to depict an other picture.

It is important to recall also that 20 years ago there were almost no traffic problems in thecity of Nantes.

Population of Nantes metropole is around 630,000, over the past 25 years the metropolis gained 5000 people every year (of which almost 2000 in the city of Nantes itself). This is the maximum boom of the city where the fast train TGV from Paris has helped the development. In 2018 there is concurrence on this aspect as Bordeaux and Rennes have fast train too. The increase of population is I think larger than the increase of cars so let’s say that there are 15% more cars than 20 years ago, does that justify an increase of traffic as the one has observed? I personally think no.

Transit system

The transit system has been designed to connect everywhere to everywhere without the consideration of speed. The idea is that every bus or tram path is designed to pass through every point of interest

along the roads. It all started when they did a change on Line 1 which originally was straight (see left part of the picture below).

Line 1 (Light Rail), Nantes – France. Source: Supplied by writer

In the last 15 years all roads have been reduced and they have not kept any main axes relatively fast and straight without roundabouts, zigzags, one ways etc. so even the buses are slow, and sometimes uncomfortable with the high number of bumps and curves. The fast buses stop every 300 m, that’s too many bus stops. I compute an average speed between 15 and 20km/h for the “chrono” buses which are the ones that are supposed to make us give up the car.

The whole idea is then “in order to make public transport competitive let’s slowdown the cars”. And this is to me absurd. If you take as example where public transportation works well such as London or Madrid, the whole point is that you go faster by public transport than by car. If you do the opposite you are only degrading the quality of life of your city.

All trams are going to the city centre; in a city of this size you need to have circular links – this is absolutely not the current case. The way for people from outside of the ring that have to work 15km from their home is to:

  • Park car close to the tram,
  • go city center
  • take other tram
  • then bus

This is not practically doable. Why go to live in a city like Nantes if you have to do 1h,30 of public transportation every day? If you are living in most cities inside Nantes Métropole you are obliged to have a car. There are massive traffic jams, also on the outer ring. People will tend to avoid to go in where they are trapped (or perceived to be trapped) and congest all the first suburbs (inner suburbs) almost every day.

The only breakout solution would be to use more rail, on ground and underground. Perhaps anticipating autonomous more silent vehicles would be important. Presently at least increase car/scooter/bike sharing until outside of the city centre.

When you bet everything on bikes, trams, and buses but you cannot bring a bike on the bus or on the tram, you can see an issue.


On the question on intensifying

In the case of Nantes it is not bringing any good. They are basically building more to keep up in the attractivity ranking. Put one classic (sometimes nicely looking) Nantes home of the 50s, build a square cheaply looking 3 floors building, make the business go. The city is losing some of its past. It’s a shame they don’t understand that trace of the past is what makes Europe special with respect to some other places and this has value.

The quality of life in Nantes is also in the low density of homes. Individual homes also in the suburbs. That’s good, why does this need to change? Their target is something like 75,000 inhabitants more by 2030 (they were talking even more at a certain point – how ridiculous). 6,000 new homes a year is the target (more homes a year than the observed population growth)!! That’s basically a free pass for the builders, the oldest recipe for the city. The new stadium project “Yellow Park” is really a symbol of this, and is indeed fought against by residents and others. It was not even in the mayor program, and consists in building 1,500 homes where there is presently a park and build a new stadium on the parking lot of the old one.

Having a normal rate of building new houses would be enough. In Nantes all investments are done in a circle of 5kms. They even had the brilliant idea to project the new hospital on an island. Very hard to reach by car from north due to their circulation plans that aimed to let the car out of the city centre . It is necessary to develop secondary centres, with services and nice social places. Suburbs like St Herblain with 45,000 inhabitants have no nice place to gather at night – thus all dormitory. You want to go have dinner and be back without car you can’t from most part of the suburbs.

Good thing that Uber came along because they were no taxi, it’s offering a possibility.

Nantes is a city where online take away and decentralised services are not really considered still by the population. In the suburbs a lot of local shops have closed in the pad. Everybody stayed home and cooked.

In the article it is said that Nantes is building communities I don’t see where.

In their communication they are all about green, nature etc. but at the end they still want only to bring more people in to maintain the capitalist wheels ongoing. There is nothing modern in that approach.

My thanks to  Naaba N’Be for the guest post. If you would like to contribute a guest post on Urban Geography, Planning and/or Transport issues feel free to contact me and we’ll work something through.