As part of his Master’s project at EPFL’s Urban Sociology Laboratory (LASUR), Felix Boesch conducted a survey on the combined use of bicycles and trains in the Lausanne and Nyon urban agglomerations. Based on the assumption that supply creates demand, Boesch has formulated several proposals for boosting the modal share of this type of transportation, which is still underused in the region.
Studies have clearly shown that transportation – which accounts for a quarter of the world’s CO2 emissions from energy use – is a major contributor to global warming. The main culprit, including in Switzerland, is still private cars. Although there is growing awareness of the need for more sustainable means of transportation, the process is far too slow and governments should promote alternative solutions.
One such solution is bike-and-ride, which is the combined use of bicycles and public transportation. It has great promise in Switzerland, which boasts one of the world’s most efficient rail networks. For his Master’s project in civil engineering, Boesch examined this topic with a focus on the Lake Geneva region. The modal share of trips that combine cycling and public transportation is still very low here compared with elsewhere in Switzerland (particularly the German-speaking part) and northern European countries, so Boesch wanted to identify ways in which it could be increased.
The first step entailed pinpointing the existing issues with public transportation in this densely populated, fast-growing area. Boesch developed a quantitative survey in the form of a questionnaire, which he then sent out in association with several towns in the Lausanne-Morges and Nyon urban agglomerations. “I was surprised by how many municipalities showed an interest. I had nearly 250 responses to the questionnaire in those two zones,” he says.
Boesch found that it’s the bicycle portion of the trip that is seen as problematic due to comfort and safety issues. Bikes are expensive – especially electric ones – and people are worried that they might be stolen while parked at a train station. Thanks to his survey, Boesch was able to prioritize the problems related to cycling infrastructure.
Updating existing infrastructure
The second part of his survey looked at practices in three cities where bike-and-ride is much more widespread: Amsterdam, the bicycle capital of the world; Oakland-Berkeley in the United States; and Bern in Switzerland.
The aim was not so much to draw comparisons with the Lake Geneva region, but rather to seek inspiration and see what cycling infrastructure these cities have built, like the bicycle stations that have been so successful in Amsterdam. I wanted to examine these factors to better understand what the problems are in the Lake Geneva region. For example, is safe parking an issue? If so, could bike stations be a possible answer? These kinds of solutions would have to be adapted to make them realistic, but they are viable
Only by updating our existing infrastructure would it be possible to expand the use of bike-and-ride, based on the assumption that supply creates demand. An interesting comparison can be made with Bern, which, like Lausanne, has terrain that is not particularly conducive to cycling. “However, by providing appropriate facilities, the local government has succeeded in increasing bike-and-ride’s modal share,” says Boesch, whose survey lists Geneva’s introduction of cycling amenities such as a staggered left turn and red-colored cycle lanes at key points around the city.
“A lack of public policy”
Boesch’s research, which received high marks, was praised by Vincent Kaufmann, head of LASUR and his Master’s project supervisor. As an expert in urban transportation systems, he takes his former student’s conclusions a step further.
Combining bicycle use with public transportation is an attractive option only if the public transportation system in question is efficient. Yet there is a lack of public policy on this issue. We need to develop reliable bus and train lines that can get riders to a city center quickly, with cycling itineraries and convenient feeder routes to train stations. This is an excellent call for policymakers to develop intermodal transportation systems as an alternative to private cars
The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown brought with them an abrupt awakening among commuters and a shift in commuting habits in French-speaking Switzerland, which were reflected in Boesch’s Master’s project. “Things here are changing very quickly. There has been a massive shift towards cycling and many temporary amenities have been introduced that are now set to become permanent. We’re already at a stage where municipalities and even entire cantons are recognizing that bicycles are a reliable means of urban transportation,” says Kaufmann.