Lyon (AFP)

Everyone on a bike? Not that easy. Election campaign and health crisis boosted the rating of the "little queen" but its development in the city center masks significant social and territorial disparities.

In recent months, the constraints linked to the coronavirus have led many city dwellers to ride a bicycle to go to work.

And a number of municipal candidates have praised the environmental virtues of this mode of transport. Without a "bicycle plan", mixed with "tactical town planning" since the deconfinement, it is impossible to campaign in big cities ...

Reaching your workplace by pedaling remains a "very urban" phenomenon: in 2015, nationally, it concerned only 1.9% of working people in employment, according to INSEE. Against 6% in Lyon and from 12% to 16% in Bordeaux, Grenoble or Strasbourg - the most cycling agglomeration in France.

The strong increase in practice in the city center is "a sham that hides a drop almost everywhere else in the past ten years", nuances a vast study on the uses of the bicycle in France, published in April under the aegis of the ADEME and of the General Directorate of Companies

This "major territorial divide" cuts across another social one: "those who remake their bikes are mainly executives and intermediate professions, whereas before they were workers and employees", underlines Francis Papon, researcher at the French Institute of Transport Science and Technology (Ifsttar).

From the 1930s to the post-war period, we could indeed see streams of cyclists leaving factories every day, in the Paris region as in the large provincial cities. Then came the era of the "car".

In 1958, the truck manufacturer Berliet, which employed 12,000 people in Vénissieux, on the outskirts of Lyon, had already reduced its bicycle shelters "by three-quarters" and its boss anticipated "a rapid and considerable extension of the four wheels". He didn't think he said so well.

- "Swarm" -

Sixty years later, a few hectometers away, the Rhone and Lyon Equipment and Development Company (SERL) reindustrialises an 11 hectare wasteland, close to major roads but very well connected to public transport. The perfect opportunity for a site without parking?

The idea appealed ... as long as the companies hosted operated in start-up mode: their managers came by bicycle or electric scooter. "But we had to face the facts: in the production phase, their operators would come from further away by car," says Audrey Delaloy, who is piloting the project.

Beyond the ring roads, cycling facilities are often lacking, especially from suburbs to suburbs. The number of followers is affected: more than 5,500 Lyonnais (or 1.1% of the population) participated in 2019 in the "Barometer of cycling cities", against only about sixty people in Vaulx-en-Velin (0, 1%) for example.

In this town, "important axes remain devoid of any development," says Pierre Crepel, a bicycle activist who has lived there for 30 years. "People say they would get on well but that it is too dangerous and that there are too many thefts. And that the car remains more convenient."

Joseph d'Halluin, secretary general of the French Federation of bicycle users (FUB), wants to believe that "it is not inevitable: by making cycling a subject of municipal elections, we hope that it will spread beyond city ​​hearts ".

The electric assistance allowing to lengthen the distances, "the margins of progression are fabulous in first and second crowns", abounds Nicolas Frasie, administrator of "La Ville à Vélo".

To increase the modal share of the cycle in the agglomeration to 20% in 2030 - compared to 3% in 2015 - this association in Lyon is calling for a "express network" connecting 30 municipalities of the Metropolis and its nerve centers.

Structures offer bike-school sessions on the outskirts to encourage getting into the saddle. Like Janus France, whose local Oullins is located in a neighborhood landlocked by a highway and the Rhone.

From there, only a bridge overloaded with cars, recently equipped with a difficult corridor for cyclists, allows to reach the center of Lyon. "While a dedicated walkway would make people want to go there by bike," said the association's founder, Rodrigue Yao Ogoubi.

© 2020 AFP