Cycle paths in the Alps (or the lack of them)

This post is also available in: Français (French)

#See the note at the bottom, it seems the council has been listening to my dreams!

I’m not talking about mountain bike tracks here. I’m talking about transport. At the moment cyclists mostly share the alpine roads with motor vehicles. On the mountain cols that can work OK. Unfortunately, as the valley roads get busier and busier tensions between the two communities rise. And before I polarise this discussion, it should be remembered that almost all the cyclists drive cars too! And some of the drivers ride bikes. So these two communities are really one community.

Between Morzine and Les Gets, my dream, nothing more at the moment © Please do not reproduce this image!

We see all the new investment being spent on skiing, on snowmaking, ski-lifts, new pistes. Not forgetting the new buildings, chalets and apartments. It’s easy to see the link between investment and return. This is not a criticism, I understand the business. We are used to seeing money being spent on new tarmac, new roads, bridges, tunnels. We don’t question this necessity. But I think we are missing a trick.

Between Morzine and Les Gets, the solid blue line exists as a gravel track. The rest is just a suggestion.

We all rely on the mountains to “provide”, we know that they offer more than just skiing. I came here 20 years ago looking for mountains (not skiing). Skiing provided the industry to pay the bills. At that time I was in the minority. Now it’s normal. Now the majority come to these valleys for the mountains. They might ski but they will also bike, run, swim, climb…the list is long. There needs to be a change of emphasis in investment to reflect this.

Cycle paths

I don’t need to state that more people are cycling on the alpine roads. It’s obvious. Many, many times more than 20 years ago. And now we have e-bikes too. Yet another explosion, and this is just the start. All across Europe, there is fantastic cycling infrastructure being created. If you have never been to the Netherlands on a bike, I recommend it. It’s another world. Even closer to home, just the other side of Lac Leman you never have to ride on a busy road. Almost no expense has been spared to keep powered and non-powered transport separate.

Wooden cycle bridge
Pont Rotary on route 5 in Switzerland, for walkers, bikes, roller skis or skates!

But it’s not just in Switzerland. France is catching up too. Near us is the mighty ViaRhona, 815km from Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) to the Mediterranean. There is still work to do around Lac Léman, but the section I rode this summer from Geneva to Lyon was either on smooth cycle tracks like the one pictured below or quiet side roads.

Pont du Lit au Roi on the Via Rhona cyle track, pretty much the “middle of nowhere”.

The bridge in the next image is due to be finished by the end of the year. Again, on the ViaRhona, it’s an investment of 1.8m€ so the cyclists can avoid a busy road. More information here https://www.savoie.fr/entre-la-balme-et-virignin and a reportage here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bXCBQJwI9DI

A 170m bridge being constructed on the Via Rhona

At a departmental level there is progress being made. From Chamonix to Geneva the Véloroute Léman Mont-Blanc is progressing well. The Tour du Lac d’Annecy and Annecy to Thones too. There is more information on this dedicated website. http://veloenhautesavoie.com/plan-departemental-74-velo-voies-vertes/

The cycle tracks under construction in the Haute Savoie.

It’s not just national infrastructure either. In the Abondance valley the local municipalities have got together and linked the quiet roads from one end of the valley to the other. 20km in all. An excellent job.

Le Chemin des Bords de Dranse

It wasn’t all easy. This section of raised route clings to the side of the river valley, to avoid the main road on the other side. Unfortunately, it is not a route that is likely to attract the dedicated road cyclist. To do that it would have to have a smoother surface.

However, it is at the Municipal level that progress is much slower. There is so much more work to be done, and some very particular “pinch points”. One of the worst is from Morzine to Les Gets. Two villages only separated by 5km, but if you are a cyclist it’s a very unpleasant section. People even try and walk it, sometimes with tragic consequences. The first two pictures in this blog illustrate what could be done. It should not have to be a dream. It should be a priority. There are plenty of others. Morzine to St Jean d’Aulps, Samoens to Taninges, I could go on.

This sort of thing should not be an afterthought anymore. Cycle provision should be a priority. It does pay too. If the local municipalities prioritise this sort of infrastructure the visitors will appreciate it as much as the local inhabitants. And that is good business!

# It looks like Morzine and Les Gets municipal councils have mobilised to create something ambitious. Excellent! Have a look at this article for more information! https://c.ledauphine.com/culture-loisirs/2020/10/08/une-voie-verte-pour-securiser-les-cyclistes-entre-les-gets-et-morzine

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