VIDEOS. Too many cars in the city… 50 years ago, avant-garde Besançon started an urban revolution.

From the mid-1960s, Besançon experienced a daily increase in traffic from the city center. Individual city trips as well as heavy transit traffic are gradually suffocating the prefecture of Doubs. On January 26, 1973, its municipality approved a comprehensive and innovative traffic regulation plan to alleviate its traffic. A new transport plan will see the light of day and the city center will become pedestrianized. A visionary project, a first in France.

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Like most French cities, Besançon experienced a significant demographic expansion between the end of World War II and the late 1960s. This is the result of the baby boom. The population of the Franche-Comté capital almost doubled in 20 years from 63,500 in 1946. 113,200 people in 1968. The agglomeration of Besançon develops from the city center to further peripheral areas such as Planoise.

During the same period, France’s standard of living rose with economic growth and full employment. They can buy capital goods, household appliances, and also personal vehicles. We are in the heart of 30 Glorieuses.

This is the era of mass consumption, the car is becoming more democratized, and the car park is constantly increasing, which leads to an increase in the traffic flow in city centers.

In Besançon, as everywhere, the car is king. The level of private car ownership is even higher than the national average: In the late 1960s, Besançon households owned an average of 80 vehicles per 100 families, compared to just 66 on the national average. Rejecting public transport, the residents of Besançon prefer to use their cars to go to work, but also to shop in the Loop.

There is much more if we add transit traffic, i.e. vehicles forced to use the city center lanes due to the lack of road infrastructure to bypass Franche-Comté. 80,000 journeys per day downtown in the early 1970s.

An anarchic flow of vehicles paralyzes the city, clogs arteries, Besançon suffers during rush hour. Life inside the city is also in decline, the level of atmospheric pollution reaches record levels, the facades of stone buildings are darkening. In particular, the safety of pedestrians and cyclists, as well as drivers, is a concern.

If you want to see more photos from when the car was king in Besançon, Besançon’s municipal archive has created a special file on its Mémoire Vive website dedicated to the city’s pre-pedestrian use.

We need to save the city’s historic center, restore its function as a commercial and cultural space protected from the ravages of overcrowded urban traffic. Besançon can no longer accommodate these increased traffic flows. Simple improvements will not eliminate congestion in the city, we need to rethink the overall transport model given the geographical limitations of a city surrounded by hills and separated from its hypercentre by the bend of the Doubs.

It is from this observation that the municipality of Besançon will begin a project of deep restructuring of the urban plan. Besançon pioneers urban revolution. It will adopt an innovative and comprehensive traffic plan, a first in France. And Andrew ReganiDeputy Mayor Jean MinjozIn charge of transport from 1965 to 1977, he undertook this project.

Back in 1968, he took measures to eliminate congestion in the city center: the first change in the direction of traffic, installation of parking meters and ban on parking in central streets.

Traffic is prohibited on several axes, including part of the Grande Rue. Pedestrians are king and can easily enjoy the shops. The experience is definitive, the municipality already plans to maintain this event in the long term with improvements.

Andrew Regani then participates in conferences on urban transport and its implications for urban planning, travel Looking for locally transferable experience abroad, mainly in the US and Sweden, with traffic engineer Jean-Luc Boyer.
In 1972, the capital of Franche-Cotagne was chosen as a pilot city by the Ministry of Transport A large-scale project that wants to experiment with a global reflection in terms of transportation.

Besançon has been chosen as a pilot city by the Ministry of Transport to carry out research there. The results may have national implications.

Andre Regani

November 1972

Then, studies are conducted on the psycho-sociological behavior of the residents, a new traffic plan is drawn up, as well as the restructuring of the public transport network, and for the first time a part of the circuit is intended to be reserved for pedestrians.

Pedestrianism, fountains, roundabouts, traffic direction, Besançon adopts new transport plan

January 26, 1973, Andrew Regani submits the transportation plan to the City Council, adopted unanimously with one abstention.

VS’ is an integral plan expressed in several stages:

  • Traffic development within the loop: the traffic directions are rearranged, the central axes, namely rue de la République, rue des Granges, part of Grande Rue and rue de la Prefecture are accessible only to buses, ambulances, residents and cyclists.
  • Creation of peripheral bypasses to avoid transit traffic at the roundabout and thereby relieve congestion in the center
  • Development of pedestrian routes in the city center: first the Grande Rue between the Batant bridge and the Place 8 September, including the renovation of the Place Pasteur, which will become a center of activity in the pedestrian area, then the rue Bersot between the Rue des Granges and the Rue Proudhon.
    To improve the living environment, fountains will be installed on Place du 8 Sept and Place Pasteur. in parallel such as car parks Chamars was created to provide residents with easy access to the new economic center of the city.
  • Reconstruction of the public transport network to ensure the mobility of residents: regular lines more reducing the frequency of crossings on multiple and individual lines, establishing night services and creating a network of minibuses. electricity designed to serve the city center and outlying car parks.

In order to contribute more actively to the fight against pollution, it is also planned to buy electric buses in the future.

The total cost of the transport plan is 43.9 million francs and, due to the pilot nature of the plan, slightly more than 1/4 is supported by the state. Public transport alone accounts for 26.6 million francs. The development of the pedestrian street is estimated at 6 million francs.

The project does not have the support of pro-car associations, including merchants who see the pedestrianization of the city center and new access restrictions as a brake on their operations.

But Andrew Regani assumes:

It is a matter of knowing whether there is a desire to move to a certain city or, on the contrary, to prepare its future. Besançon chose to prepare for his future.

Work began in February 1974 with the development of roads, the one-way planning of certain streets and the construction of ring roads. In July 1974, the development of the future pedestrian Grande Rue began.
Besançon on May 24, 1975, two years after the city relocation was announced was opened officially on September 8th, the fountain at the Place du marks the completion of the first part of the pedestrian spaces and the launch of its transport plan.
The squares in the city center are changing their appearance:

Redesigned Place Pasteur with its unevenness and fountain designed by architect Michel Demenge

Place du 8 Sentembre and its fountain, also by Michel Demengen

In 1975, this great transformation of the city was very positively evaluated:

  • Car traffic on the roundabout has halved
  • Reduced air and noise pollution
  • 75% increase in the use of public transport
  • The number of pedestrians in the pedestrian area is multiplied by 2: 11,300 pedestrians per hour on Saturday afternoon compared to 5,500 pedestrians previously
  • 20% increase in turnover for loop merchants

The bet wins No longer breathing avant-garde, Besançon has become a city that has managed to reclaim its city center and where life is good. His experience will be replicated in many French cities, such as Clermont-Ferrand, Amiens or Bourg-en-Bresse..

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