Are downtown shops dependent on the car?

[Lille (Nord) 234 500 hab.] What impact does the car have on the commercial dynamics of city centers? “The topic is hyper-controversial, with on the one hand local residents who have a strong appetite for a rebalancing of public space and elected officials who are committed to an election program; on the other hand, merchants were determined that many of their customers would come by car. But it is not based on objective studies “, points out Mathieu Chassignet, engineer” mobility and air quality “at the Agency for Ecological Transition (Ademe). He therefore decided to investigate the Lille case.

In October 2021, during the week and at the weekend, 220 people were questioned about how they had traveled to three districts in the city center. The questions were prepared with the independent trade association of the European metropolis Lille (ficomel). The results show that people who have used the car are ultimately few in number (21%), fewer than those who have taken public transport (28%) and much fewer than pedestrians (42%). Two thirds of the interviewees came from Lille or less than 5 kilometers around.

Communicating vessels

In addition, almost nine out of ten people who came by car sometimes use other means of transport to reach the city center, whether it is public transport (58%), on foot (16%) or cycling (13%). Seven out of ten admit that if they had not been able to use the car that day, they would still have gone to the center, but otherwise.

“It surprised us a little,” points out Mathieu Chassignet. But according to him, these are communicating vessels: if more space is given to the car tomorrow, there will of course be more motorists, but also fewer pedestrians or users of public transport. And if it is easier to get into the city by car, it will also be easier to leave for, for example, the nearby shopping center. »

While the traffic plan, implemented in 2019, is criticized for having complicated access and parking in the city center, motorists consider them fairly easy. Finally, more than three-quarters of respondents are in favor of strengthening alternative mobility, limiting speeds to 30 kilometers per hour and walking pedestrians in the hypercentre on Saturdays.

First kilometer challenge

These results “did not really surprise” Jacques Richir, elected official in charge of mobility: they confirm his “intuition” about the importance of walking. According to him, the turnover of the merchants suffers more from competition from supermarkets and e-commerce than from the traffic plan.

Hélène Natier, chairman of Ficomel, says on the contrary that 66% of her customers no longer come because of the new traffic plan. People over 50 with high purchasing power and who do not take public transport, she adds. “Not surprised” either by the results of the survey, she relativizes its scope: the age of the respondents was not collected, and above all, the people who no longer visit the city center were not questioned.

She acknowledges that the pedestrian zone in the city center on Saturday brings a new public, younger, but whose shopping basket is lower than at the customers who are no longer seen. “Society is changing … these people are consuming differently. It is up to us to adapt,” she notes fatalistically. For Jacques Richir, it is a matter of “adopting strategies on the first mile”, such as picking up goods, delivering and deposit near parking spaces on the outskirts of products purchased in the store.

Leave a Comment