Safe, sustainable… but depoliticized and uneven – A critical view of urban transport policies in France

Abstract : This article offers a critical view of the contemporary urban policies undertaken in France in the name of safe, sustainable urban transport strategies. It seeks to show how a spatially and socially selective ordering is under way in French transport planning and policies by presenting an overview of research and empirical results dealing with the narratives and the implementation of these policies. Firstly, urban transport policies were analysed as narratives. Stressing users' individual responsibility and their capacity to adopt economically rational behaviours, and conveying moral injunctions for them to adopt the 'right', safe, healthy, sustainable mobility behaviours, a depoliticized framing of issues characterizes these public policies. Referring to theoretical frameworks related to neoliberalisation as a rationality, our hypothesis is that a neoliberal rationality feeds these policies by ignoring a certain number of macrosocial determinants. Moreover, the use of morality works as a powerful democratic anaesthetic that dissolves any objection. Secondly, we studied how these policies, legitimated by 'noble causes' and depoliticized, influence the organization of traffic in the city, and to what extent they lead to a selective and uneven treatment of urban spaces. While sustainable mobility is frequently presented as a major objective in the field of urban planning for transport and travel, contemporary policies do not seek to reduce polluting modes of travel overall. They rather seek to direct them onto bypass road infrastructures to reduce their negative impacts on the city's main sites. 'Sustainable' policies oppose the car only in certain spaces and for certain uses. With reference to theoretical frameworks related to the entrepreneurial mutation of urban policies, our interpretation is that these policies are part of urban marketing strategies of cities engaged in inter-urban competition processes. These policies lead to an increase in the value and attractiveness of strategic areas of the city, and tend to displace problems (cars, noise, pollution…, and deprived populations) to other parts of the urban territory.
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Hélène Reigner, Thierry Brenac. Safe, sustainable… but depoliticized and uneven – A critical view of urban transport policies in France. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, 2019, 121, pp.218-234. ⟨10.1016/j.tra.2019.01.023⟩. ⟨hal-02164053⟩

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