In Marseille, the simple and unprecedented joy of a car-free coastline

“We weren’t glued to cars once”: in Marseille, pedestrians and cyclists on Sunday managed to recapture the end of a ledge overlooking the sea, a test that must be repeated in the metropolis far behind the theme.

The picture may seem banal in Lyon or Paris, where downtown areas are regularly closed to traffic on weekends.

In Marseille, former LR mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin once a month launched a similar operation on the famous Canebière. But by the sea, Operation La Voie est libre, which dedicated Sunday to a four-kilometer day on Kennedy’s Wreath and in L’Estaque, in the north, is unprecedented in the second largest city in France.

“I feel good, we are the kings of the world!” Cried three women on bicycles as they passed. “It allows you to rediscover a landscape that is magnificent” with the Frioul Islands in the background, also enjoyed by Sandrine and Gilles, who take care of their father in a wheelchair.

Scooters slalom at full speed between families with wheelchairs. Food trucks stop driving, terraces are full. Self-service electric bicycles also appeared. Usually on Sundays this asphalt lane is very busy, with frequent traffic jams.

Walkers on Corniche Road in Marseille on May 23, 2021 (AFP – Nicolas TUCAT)

“This is a great initiative, a great educational operation that will show the people of Marseille that it is possible to move differently,” said Stéphane Coppey, cycling officer at the Bicycles in the City collective.

“If we want to run here, we don’t breathe anymore. It opens up there and better distributes the population, reducing streams,” Tanguy Valery also judges.

With friends, in the association “Pour que Marseille vive!”, For this occasion they opened a magnificent castle on the cornice, borrowed from the sea thermal baths owned by it, for a free exhibition of young people. Local photographers.

– Make public space available to residents –

Walkers or cyclists on the Corniche road in Marseille on May 23, 2021 (AFP - Nicolas TUCAT)

Walkers or cyclists on the Corniche road in Marseille on May 23, 2021 (AFP – Nicolas TUCAT)

“We are making a public space for the people of Marseille and Marseillais (…). It is very important that this city can breathe. That there is soft mobility, that we walk around, look at mines, people, children,” rejoices PS Mayor Benoît Payan, whose list of Printemps Marseillais, a huge coalition of left-wing parties and environmentalists, succeeded Jean-Claude Gaudin last summer.

For the elect, who took a walk on the ledge on Sunday morning, the stakes are high as his voters on the subject await him in a city “which has long been made just for the car”.

“It’s hard to have numbers, but there are very few bike paths in Marseille: less than 10cm per capita or 4 to 10 times less than other metropolises in France,” illustrates Stéphane Coppey.

And for pedestrians, often cramped sidewalks and regularly crowded with cars, the city sometimes tries. The old majority took the first step by making the bottom of the Canebière pedestrian from several other adjacent streets.

On Sunday, Benoît Payan officially noted that part of the Old Port will also be pedestrianized for the summer season despite a logistical headache to manage traffic flows.

Police mounted in a patrol on the Corniche road in Marseille on May 23, 2021 (AFP - Nicolas TUCAT)

Police mounted in a patrol on the Corniche road in Marseille on May 23, 2021 (AFP – Nicolas TUCAT)

And open the cornice every Sunday? “We will make a report tonight and we will do it again,” he promised. “We will continue in other districts of Marseille (…) We will talk to elected officials, citizens, residents, in consultation, so that we have a few days a year and then a few days a month for the places where we will walk.”

At the heart of these issues: the agreement between the town hall and the metropolis of Aix-Marseille-Provence, chaired by Martine Vassal (LR), an unsuccessful candidate for successor to Jean-Claude Gaudin. If the municipality can act on a regulatory framework or with its own police, most of the road infrastructure is in the hands of the metropolis, and the two communities sometimes fight walking hand in hand.

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