In Obernai, an inconsistent cycle plan in a city designed for the car

The municipality of Obernai has invested eight million euros in a cycling plan that was launched in 2020. Belatedly, this investment is already showing its limits in a municipality that is still thought above all for motorists.

In the center of Obernai, cyclists are rare on the cobblestones of the old town. Pedestrians must be very small to cross certain narrow sidewalks. This Monday, October 10, early in the afternoon, an elderly lady walks forward with an unsteady step with her cane, almost glued to the wall. Here the car monopolizes the space. Around 4,400 vehicles pass through the city center every day. The car also takes up space by parking on the edge of the road, in parking lots, sometimes next to an old carousel, in the middle of restaurants and other businesses. Suffice it to say that in terms of cycling policy, Obernai starts at a distance.

A cycle plan, 4 km track for 8.8 million euros

To observe the first effects of the cycling plan adopted by the municipality of Obernai in 2020, head towards the city exit. Called on the phone, Mayor Bernard Fischer is full of praise for the municipal project with four kilometers of cycle paths for 8.8 million euros. In 2024, the municipality will thus have more than eight kilometers of dedicated cycle paths.

At the head of the city of 12,000 inhabitants since 2001, the former member of the Les Républicains (LR) party, today various right, greets first of all the construction sites that are underway at the level of the departmental roads D422 and D426. Cycle lanes separated from the car lane and the pavement are under construction.

However, in 2017 the two branch roads had undergone work, and the Laure law of 30. December 1996 already mandated the construction of cycle paths for any road that was under construction or creation. “There has been increased attention in recent years. We would not have been ready in 2017”, explains the mayor.

Privileged entrance axes, forgotten streets

While acknowledging the economic effort and utility of these cycle paths, Patrick Viry, president of the Vélobernai association, raises the question of the cost of these infrastructures:

“Very expensive cycle paths are built on axes that were not prioritized. On the D426, the track ends at the end of Obernai. If we continue straight ahead, we arrive at the motorway junction. With the county roads in two by two tracks, it would have been enough to install separators to have almost clear tracks. That would have made it possible to invest in infrastructure elsewhere. »

Rue des Bonne-Gens and rue de la Victoire are five minutes by bike from the heart of the city, both excluded from the cycle plan. “This is the main east-west axis of the city, with no possibility of avoidance, with heavy traffic,” describes a document from the Vélobernai association, a 40-page analysis of the city’s cycling plan. On site, these two streets have no cycle paths, no markings on the ground and motorists regularly exceed the permitted limit.

Rue de la Victoire, the pavement on one side is so narrow that a sign asks pedestrians to cross. “The width of the rue de la Victoire prevents any cycle path,” said the city’s mayor. Bernard Fischer also argues that the street is in a 30 km/h zone, allowing for “calm traffic”. Regarding the rue des Bonnes gens, he believes that it will be integrated into the next cycling plan, from 2025 to 2028.

“A forgotten city center”

The balance of the Vél’Obernai association also evokes “a forgotten city center”, while “the streets are narrow and a large part of the square is sterilized by parking”. In the heart of Obernai, the car actually seems like a queen, despite rejections from the town’s mayor. Some sidewalks don’t even allow one person to walk. Others are impassable for pushchairs or walkers. In the same places, cars have a wide lane and parking spaces… while historical and heritage buildings appear everywhere.

Similarly, the zones limited to 30 km/h do not have the mandatory signage indicating permission to circulate in both directions for cyclists. “Since 2017, we have reported it several times to the mayor. But his answer is always the same, he does not want to put them in place and it was impossible to get more explanations,” indicates the analysis of the Vél’Obernai association.

A city still organized around the car

How to compensate for this delay while the city continues to be built for motorists, including in private projects. At the end of avenue du Général Leclerc, at the Obernai exit, a “Fresh” supermarket has recently opened, as well as its parking lot with about 50 spaces… compared to six spaces to park your bike. The activity area under construction around also includes an additional parking area, topped with a roof of solar panels. Similarly, rue de Bernardswiller was redone in 2019, but without including bike lanes…

Patrick Viry also regrets the construction of two additional parking spaces in the center of Obernai. According to the city’s mayor, a car silo with 212 seats will open on November 7. And right next to it, 265 underground parking spaces are being built. “There are just as many cars that will circulate more in the city centre. For a historic center of a small medieval town, it is huge, blows the president of the Vélobernai association, these parking spaces should have been located at the entrances to the town, not in the heart. »

A goal without clear indicators and promises

Asked about these various points of criticism, Bernard Fischer defends himself: “I don’t intend to chase people out of dogma because they have a car! “The mayor promises a plan to repair the roads in the city center to widen the sidewalks and remove parking spaces: “In 2023/2024, a segment of the rue de Sélestat will be redone and cyclists will have specific corridors with floor markings. “He also promises to indicate the two-way driving allowed in areas limited to 30 km/h, “everything will be done between January and March 2023”. The elected official justifies the construction of parking spaces in the heart of the city “to remove 35 car parks” and “creating two corridors for cyclists with pictograms on the ground”.

Asked about the date on which these decisions were made, the mayor evokes the need for “very broad consultation on these regulatory aspects to be introduced for safety. These measures will first be presented to the city planning and environment committee “soon” with the aim of “implementing at the beginning of 2023”.

Bernard Fischer does not appreciate criticism

For criticizing municipal projects or developments in the municipality, especially those that promote the use of the car, Patrick Viry suffered a series of insults from Bernard Fischer. In a municipal council meeting on 28 June 2021 (see the video recording at 39:12), the mayor of Obernai does not hesitate to describe the president of Vélobernai as an “idiot” and a “delusional fanatic”.

After a Facebook publication about a parking project in a park, the property of the municipality, the elected Alsace also filed a complaint for libel against the chairman of the cyclists’ association. The latter indicates that Patrick Viry has been reminded of the law. False, according to the Saverne prosecutor, the complaint was simply dismissed “for insufficiently characterized offense”. But it had its effect: Now Patrick Viry hesitates to speak publicly, for fear of receiving another call from the gendarmerie. Asked about these calls, the Obernai gendarmerie did not want to comment on the subject.

After being insulted by the mayor in the municipal council in June 2021, Patrick Viry was refused a complaint to the gendarmerie in Obernai. He had to write directly to the Saverne prosecutor to initiate a case of public contempt.

As for the goals and other indicators that make it possible to take stock of the cycling plan, Bernard Fisher is increasingly vague. The intention is indeed “to increase the modal share of cycling”, but the mayor of Obernai admits that he does not have figures on the number of inhabitants of Obernai who use their bicycles every day: “We want to install counters on cycle paths. We know more in ten years. ”

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