Lyon’s 2km car-free tunnel encourages urban cycling

13th December, 2013 by Roger East

’Le Tube’ provides a car-free route beneath the city centre for cyclists, pedestrians and buses.

Cycle-friendly innovation is back in style in Lyon. France’s second city’s Vélo’v bikeshare scheme blazed the trail for Vélib in Paris, London’s ‘Boris bikes’ and a host of other public cycle hire initiatives. Now Le Tube, a new tunnel, gives cyclists, pedestrians and buses their own 2 km carfree route beneath the city centre.

This is no dark, drab or dingy underpass: far from it. Le Tube is a kind of continuous art experience, with sound effects and projected images combining to create a fantasy realm of light. It accommodates three lanes of traffic – a two-way cycle track and sidewalk for pedestrians, as well as a bus lane separated from foot and bike traffic. However, its green sheen is slightly tarnished by exhaust from diesel buses, with potential hybrid replacements still only at the trial stage.

The ancillary tunnel that has been developed into Le Tube had to be built due to regulations introduced after the 1999 Mont Blanc tunnel fire; the Croix Rousse road tunnel, which runs parallel, was opened in 1952 and didn’t meet with the new safety requirements. The Greater Lyon area had the option to build a tube which would serve solely as an escape route from the existing tunnel, but decided to see it as an opportunity to create an innovative new piece of urban infrastructure. It claims it is the longest tunnel in the world dedicated to ‘soft’ modes of transport.

Le Tube cost a total of €282.8 million to build, and was opened to the public on 5 December 2013. “This is a world first, and just like with the Festival of Lights [a long-standing annual event, also held in December], we will soon be imitated”, Lyon mayor Gérard Collomb told the assembled French media.

It’s not quite the first tunnel of its kind, however: the Tyne Cyclist and Pedestrian Tunnel, which runs for 270m under the River Tyne, opened in 1951. Now Grade II-listed, it’s closed for refurbishment until August 2014, so cyclists seeking an underground ride better head to Lyon for the time being. – Roger East

Photo credit: Clement Saunier/Flickr

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