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Why is Bordeaux the worst city in France for traffic jams?

The Local France
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Why is Bordeaux the worst city in France for traffic jams?
Traffic along the banks of the River Garonne in Bordeaux. (Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / AFP)

The south-western French city of Bordeaux has been ranked worst in the country - even ahead of Paris - for the time drivers waste stuck in traffic jams. But why's it so bad? Share your own views in the comment section.

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Travelling 10km in Bordeaux at peak times takes an average of 26 minutes and 30 seconds, according to figures from GPS firm TomTom. 

The study found as of 2023 that Bordeaux was as bad as Paris when it comes to general traffic congestion, and worse than other large French cities like Lyon, Nice and Marseille.

While Paris' streets were found to be congested more often than those in Bordeaux, with commuters spending more time behind the wheel in traffic jams, Bordeaux ranked higher than France's capital city on world and regional rankings.

In 2023, Bordeaux ranked the 15th most congested city in the world and the 7th worst for motorists in Europe. Paris, for comparison, ranked 16th globally, and eighth in Europe.

According to the TomTom index, London is the most congested city in the world, with 10km vehicle journeys taking 37 minutes and 20 seconds, at an average speed of 14km/h; followed by Dublin (29 minutes and 30 seconds at 16km/h); and Toronto (29 minutes at 18 km/h). 

As for Bordeaux, it took 20 seconds longer to travel the same distance than it did in 2023, according to TomTom.

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Why is traffic so bad in Bordeaux?

These figures will come as little surprise to commuters in Bordeaux. An analysis of car travel times between 2017 and 2021 in Bordeaux, by the Agence d'urbanisme Bordeaux Aquitaine (A'urba), found that almost an hour was needed “to reach Bordeaux city hall from the municipalities in its urban area” during morning and evening rush hours.

Road infrastructure and pedestrianisation in the city centre, the increasing local population, congestion on the over-capacity ring road, rising post-pandemic traffic levels and a change in how the study's calculations are weighted to include city-centre travel are cited as reasons for Bordeaux's jump up the congestion rankings. 

The western ring road is a regular pinch-point because it is used by local traffic as an urban rat run, as well as motorists wanting to avoid the city centre.

The city has made no secret of its efforts to reduce the space in the city given to cars for environmental and human reasons.

The historic centre is increasingly pedestrianised, while bus lanes and barriers have reduced capacity for motorists even further. But with more and more people moving into the area, the inevitable consequence is an increase in traffic levels in a smaller available space. The result: increased congestion.

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But Bordeaux isn't about to change tack to make it more accommodating for cars. The city – which prides itself on being cycling-friendly, and where it is now as quick to get on your bike as it is to jump behind the wheel – is working to further develop ‘soft mobility’ options such as walking, cycling and public transport to tempt motorists out of their vehicles, reduce congestion and cut pollution.

How slow is traffic in Bordeaux?

During peak times, cars in Bordeaux crawl along at an average speed of just 18km/h, putting them on a par with ordinary bicycles for speed, the study said. Electric scooters, bicycles and mopeds are able to travel faster.

In fact drivers in the Nouvelle Aquitaine capital wasted the equivalent of nearly 14 working days (111 hours), stuck in traffic, at an annual cost in petrol alone of €137. This can be compared to a lofty 120 hours in Paris and just 36 hours in Saint-Etienne, the 25th most congested city in Paris.

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In total, some 20 additional minutes was added to travel times at peak times compared to off-peak hours. In effect, a third of motorists’ travel time in the city was spent moving at a snail's pace in traffic jams.

What about other French cities?

Bordeaux (first) and Paris (second) topped the charts. Lyon, whose population is almost double that of Bordeaux, followed in third place. 

The smaller city of Nancy in eastern France, came in fourth. Nice, along the Riviera, came in fifth place - perhaps fitting for its status as France's fifth most populous city.

The central city of Clermont took up sixth place, and the country's second most populous city, Marseille, held seventh place.

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Montpellier, which has roughly the same population as Bordeaux, was eighth, while Rouen and Grenoble ranked ninth and 10th respectively.

Do you live in the Bordeaux area? Let us know your thoughts on the traffic situation in the comment section below.

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