Mobility: Pedestrian areas: why can’t Geneva get there?


MobilityPedestrian zones: why can’t Geneva get there?

The city of Calvin is struggling to create genuine car-free spaces, while other cities in Switzerland and Europe have been developing them for years.

About fifty people demonstrated for more pedestrian space in Saint-Gervais.


Irony of the calendar: while Carouge opened the expansion of its pedestrian zone on Saturday, around fifty people demonstrated between the Saint-Gervais district and the Quai des Bergues, in the city of Geneva, to demand fewer cars. “We ask for the complete pedestrianization of the quay and the closure to car traffic in the district”, explains Laura Sanchez, a member of the Saint-Gervais inhabitants collective.

Complete pedestrianization during the summer

The question of access by car to Saint-Gervais and Bergues has been on the grid for many years. The renovation of the pier should initially have led to its complete pedestrianization. However, fierce opposition from traders resulted in 2019 in a mixed regime. In other words, a meeting area: pedestrians, bicycles and cars jostle today in this paved space in the form of a giant slalom. “It’s a disaster,” exclaims Laura Sanchez. An opinion more or less shared by Frédérique Perler, administrative councilor in charge of urban planning.

“The claims of the inhabitants are legitimate”, judge Frédérique Perler, who announced Friday in the “Mail” that a full phase of pedestrianization testing will be carried out this summer on the infrastructure. And this time with the consent of the majority of traders, contrary to what had happened during the initial project, indicates the diary. But the will of the chosen does not stop at the zone. She points to the Old Town. The perimeter, closed to traffic by retractable terminals, sees, however, many vehicles circulating there. “We are going to review the system’s opening hours and truck delivery times”, reveals Frédérique Perler.

Free choice of means of transport

The Bergues and the Old Town, two symbols of Geneva’s inability to have large pedestrian areas like many European cities? Luca Pattaroni, head of the EPFL’s Urban Sociology Laboratory, agrees. “Geneva is an exception in this area. She is one of the bad students, stresses the researcher. Elsewhere in Switzerland, and more generally in Europe, many cities have large pedestrian perimeters, which the lake end lacks.

Two explanations for this. Firstly, there is the geographical situation “in a dead end at the end of Lake Geneva, which makes it difficult to manage flows”. Added to this physical limitation, according to Luca Pattaroni, is the inclusion in the Geneva constitution of the free choice of means of transport. “We start from the idea that all modes are the same, while the car takes up much more space. This complicates the establishment of car-free zones.” To this, the researcher adds the legal obligation to compensate for parking spaces eliminated on the surface. “The de-motorization of part of the city’s population resulted, in fact, in the availability of thousands of parking spaces for passengers in the city center”.

“There is no miracle”

But things are changing. In Carouge, there was strong opposition from traders to the establishment of the first pedestrian zone. “It took eight years for that to happen,” recalls Sonja Molinari, management consultant. She notes that the perimeter extension did not raise the same concerns. “Traders note it’s a success, she continues. So much so that today a petition is circulating to make it even bigger. But before getting there, it will have been necessary to discuss a lot, underlines Sonja Molinari. “There is no miracle.”

In Geneva too, the lines are moving. “There is an opening for traders, thanks to which I want to offer tests, then perpetuate developments”, observes Frédérique Perler, who advocates “tactical city planning”. The magistrate aims “a city of short distances. The ideal would be for the entire city to be pedestrianized”, he concludes.

Manor’s prickly parking lot

The highly urbanized Saint-Gervais district is made up of alleys “borrowed by traffic,” laments Yoann, a resident. Drivers avoid main roads and run along unsuitable streets. Another point of tension, the entrance to the Solar’s parking lot, in the heart of the neighborhood, which drains thousands of cars a day in small axes. “Outside of opening hours, we want it to be closed and the adjacent streets”, says Laura Sanchez, remembering that in January, 400 people have already given a voice to achieve the same goals.

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