Sustainable cities
Sustainable cities

How Sceaux fosters a cycling-first culture - without cycle lanes

by Harry Maxwell, on November 23, 2021

4 MIN READ

Patrice Pattée, former vice-president of Autolib’ (Paris’ car sharing service) and current Deputy Mayor of Sceaux, speaks to us about how his city’s cyclists and motorists live in harmony.

The number one reason why people don’t cycle is fear - fear of sharing the road with cars. Cycling lanes put distance between riders and motorists, and are proven to make cycling safer.

If you want to get people to cycle, you need to build cycle lanes.

However, not all cities have the financial means to build cycling infrastructure city-wide, nor can they implement cycle lanes quickly enough to divert people away from using cars.

With this in mind, are cycling lanes imperative for a strong, and safe, cycling culture?

Roads are for everyone

Patrice Pattée, the Deputy Mayor of Sceaux (a city just outside of Paris), is a big cycling advocate. Since 2008, has been on the board of directors of the ‘Club des villes et territoires cyclables’ (Cycling Cities Club), with the goal of turning his personal convictions on active mobility into genuine, transformative local policy.

Pattée and Sceaux are challenging the traditional outlook on cycling infrastructure. He believes that segregating modes of transport can be divisive, and counter-productive when trying to form a healthy, inclusive community:

We do understand why associations ask for bike lanes, but these ‘bicycle pipes’ don’t seem suitable because they compartmentalise everyone into a role….roads are for everyone and should be shared peacefully”.

- Patrice Pattée

The streets of Sceaux.

Safety first

Instead of putting up barriers between bikes and cars, we should be encouraging them to mix. But, of course, there is still the need to make roads safer for cyclists.

“The introduction of a 30 km/h speed limit for the entire municipal road network was a decisive starting point for establishing the role of active mobility in the city”, says Pattée. In some places, they have lowered it to 20 km/h.

By forcing motorists to reduce their speed, they have increased the perceived safety of cycling and have encouraged the peaceful cohabitation of different transport means. Crucially, speed restrictions may also deter the use of cars in the city center.

Although motorists found these measures difficult to accept initially, we are now reaping the benefits. Mentalities are changing and motorists themselves are now seeing the value of the bike, for daily travel over short to medium distances, due to its manoeuvrability and speed”.
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Giving priority to cyclists

There is also a lot a city can do to facilitate the use of bikes, just by reorganizing the flow of traffic.

Sceaux have achieved this with 3 key measures:

  1. Two-way cycling in one-way streets with 30 km/h speed limits. Travelling against the flow of traffic can be a nerve-racking activity for cyclists, but by decreasing the speed limit and allowing bi-directional travel on one way roads, cyclists felt more at ease.

  2. Red lights that can be passed by cyclists at certain crossroads. With ‘M12’ signposts (pictured below), Sceaux were able to remove the obligation for cyclists to stop at red lights, and replace this rule with a yield sign (for the 3 movements: right, straight ahead, and left).

  3. Visual reinforcement. Bicycle pictograms painted in public spaces legitimises the place of cyclists on the streets, and underlines that roads are for all modes of transport - and not just four-wheelers.


'M12' signposts are found at every junction.

By giving this priority to cyclists, it became beneficial to take a bike over a car for short and medium length trips - and cycling uptake increased.

Sceaux are also now considering 'Dutch junctions' to protect cyclists from cars turning right, as well as forcing cyclists to move out of the blind spots of drivers beside them. Two or three potential junctions have already been identified.

Encouraging a cycling culture

Lowering speed limits and adjusting the rules of the road won’t magically create new demand for cycling.

That’s why it was so important for Sceaux to kick on from that point and continue to educate people about the highway code and empower them to pick up a bike and to start cycling.

For Sceaux, social policy is key:

We have set up a programme to teach people how to ride, both to adults who are often the furthest from cycling, such as residents of working-class neighbourhoods, and to children in our schools”.

- Patrice Pattée

Changing the way the people think about the roads is just as important as the changes to the rules of the road. With these schemes, Sceaux has seen cycling spike, and it’s not uncommon to see children cycling around town, with or without their parents.

It worked for Sceaux… but what about for my city?

Having no cycle lanes isn’t necessarily a suitable option for all cities. As Pattée admits, Sceaux was not primarily built around cars and it was much easier to change the way traffic moved around than to invest in cycle lanes. However, the message that ‘roads are for everyone’ is one that should be heard all over.

Just as cycle lanes have been proven to increase confidence amongst cyclists, so might shifting your citizens’ thinking towards Pattée’s beliefs.

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