Switzerland’s worsening commuter nightmare may find some relief with the Federal Council’s decision to grant CHF 2.7 billion this year to improve highways, part of it to be channelled toward the Lake Geneva region’s own heavily populated zones, notably Lausanne and Geneva. While some Swiss are not particularly happy about this emphasis on the “Arc Lemanique”, a further CHF 1 billion will be made available annually to the region over the next 20 years.
Some of these funds will be used toward broadening the highway between Perly and Geneva airport, massively congested during rush hour, while additional monies will be directed toward Vaud, particularly the blocked Crissier and Morges areas. But is simply expanding Switzerland’s road system the way to resolve traffic?
The Canton of Geneva has included a vote on whether to build a tunnel across the lake as a means of alleviating city traffic as part of 28 September referendum. Its construction would enable motorists to avoid driving through town or to take the much longer autoroute bypass in order to reach the other side. To build – or not to build – a tunnel or bridge (there have been various proposals over the years) has been up for discussion for well over a century, so, according to some Genevois, to get this far is quite astounding.
Quite a few Genevans oppose the tunnel project, but the main opposition seems to be coming from the wealthy NIMBY (not in my back yard) communes of Collonges, Cologny and Corsier. With the tunnel exiting in their part of the canton, they fear aggravated traffic. The World Economic Forum is based in Cologny, while many of Switzerland’s discreet rich – some of them famous – have villas or estates on the south side.
Touring Club Suisse had another proposal, namely to expand various road portions within Geneva to make traffic more fluid, but it will not be voted on because somehow it got left out of the initiative mix. But this proposal, once again, seems only to focus on making it easier for cars to operate in town. Despite the enormous cost, the tunnel probably makes sense given that it will alleviate city jams plus cut down on fuel costs and carbon pollution.
To really make a difference, particularly in the long term, the traffic issue should be about developing a broader and more imaginative transport vision for the region. Several Swiss urban and rural development specialists have recently spoken out for the need to encourage greater collaboration between town and country. As one pointed out, the cities want development to happen outside their boundaries, while the villages don’t want to have their rural landscapes turned into built-up suburbs. But this means thinking about joint solutions on all levels, and not just for cars.
The Lake Geneva cantons, but also “la France voisine,” need to work more closely together on improving public transport, bike lanes and even footpaths. Or to build more accessible Park & Ride areas, but with efficient shuttles into the towns, whether by tram, bus or getting on one’s bike. The main objective is to make it easier for commuters – and shoppers – to leave their cars at home, or at least to consider other options with regard to time wasted in jammed traffic.
There also needs to be more innovative thinking when it comes to shopping malls and commercial strips. The last thing Switzerland wants is make the same mistakes as the United States, which has managed to turn so many of its towns into ghost venues. Anyone who wants to go shopping needs to drive into the suburbs or get onto a highway. Etoy and Villeneuve already boast such strips.
The same thing is happening across the border. The French town of Ferney-Voltaire is turning into an empty shell with shops closing because the rents are too high. The town council should have bought up city property and offer incentives for businesses to set up locally.
Other towns, such as Cessy, St Genis, Annecy and Annemasse, now have their main entry roads lined with unsightly pre-fab furniture, automobile, DIY and clothing outlets rather than seeking to integrate such commercial enterprises as part of the town fabric. Once again, if you want to go shopping, you have to get into a car.
So rather than seeking to turn the outskirts of our towns into a Los Angeles-style matrix of highways, let’s consider some other, more environmentally friendly – and aesthetic – options. And there’s an economically compelling argument to do so – tourism. If the region’s suburbs follow the downward aesthetic spiral exemplified by Etoy and Villeneuve, will tourists really want to continue to visit in large numbers?
Edward Girardet, Managing editor