This is the suggested footbridge over a somewhat similar sort of station where the footbridge would span the railway tracks and go right the way over the road. In La Verpillière, it would span the Avenue de la Gare to the Alpes car park near the Sainte-Marie school. Indeed, the whole redevelopment would be a bridge over the past, symbolised by the road, into the future, symbolised by the new soft path approach with its cycle and pedestrian paths.
Although a similar “futuristic” station development at the nearby North Isère corridor town of l'Isle d'Abeau was expensive and, to a certain extent, hardly an unqualified success, there is a major difference at the station of La Verpillière: it is in the middle of two fast-growing towns and a little closer to Lyon which has been spreading noticeably eastwards over the past fifteen years. The future for La Verpillière is bright–especially if it seizes the chance to redevelop its public transport infrastructure for trains, bicycles and buses.
The starting point of the redevelopment project is to get all the bus traffic to the south side of the tracks so as to make the station an “intermodal hub”–something which is a growing trend in almost all major towns and cities across Europe. People want to be “connected” in every possible way and have the choice of the means of transport, particularly if the cost is lower and it is better for the environment. In our redevelopment plans, the school and regional bus services would have their terminus at the railway station, and efforts would be made to make cycling a major means of transport for the future since it meets both criteria of the cost and the environment. Bikes could be rented out cheaply as in other major towns and cities in France: this is something we would like the CAPI organisation to look into since it would be good for all the North Isère towns to be partners. Another form of transport we would like to promote is the electric car rental for those needing a car for an occasional journey. Put simply, the rationale of the station would be to promote alternative means of transport to the “traditional car” which pollutes too much and which causes such widespread congestion.
Our new station in La Verpillière would also need to cater for a changing population. Whereas today more and more people are driving around in cars, this cannot be a long-term solution for people living in the North Isère corridor. We have our plans anchored in the real world and realise the car must be factored into all transport policy. Indeed, initially, there would have to be a larger car park to encourage commuters to take the train into Lyon. For as we have discovered through surveys, the vast majority of rail customers use the train service to get to and from Lyon. The North Isère has become a commuter belt for Lyon and there is no reason to imagine that this growing tendency would slow down in the foreseeable future.
On the contrary. The A43 motorway increasingly has signs asking motorists to reduce their speed because of pollution; alternative means of transport are overdue, but to start off with, the train seems by far the simplest and most economical alternative, despite the line being already overcrowded because of freight and passenger traffic. Widening of the line is problematic due to lack of width in many urban areas along its length but a number of bridges could be built in some of the short sections where this is necessary so as to potentially double the flow of rail traffic. Heavy investment will of course be necessary, which means creating political momentum for this change, but the medium- and long-term alternative of a transport policy overwhelmingly dominated by cars is bleak.
Even if La Verpillière chooses to foster other means of transport, it will still need buses, including the numerous regular lines run by Ruban and the Conseil Général, as well as for the growing private school opposite the railway station–hence the need for a rethinking of the siting of the bus station. At the moment, Sainte-Marie school buses use an overcrowded school bus park, but it would be better for everyone if there were a new bus park designed for the 21st century that could take school and regular lines. But in the design of the wide, easy-access footbridge there would be little need for students or any other adults to cross the tracks by the level crossing. Indeed, members of staff wait with the students by the school bus stops and this adult presence would be a clear deterrent for our students from using the footbridge. In this way, we aim both to educate our students to the dangers of level crossings and to find a way round the problem of the level crossing that has caused such concern to the students working on the project.
We have given a lot of thought to the use and direction of roads leading to the station at La Verpillière. Indeed, two major issues are the level crossing next to the station and the high level of traffic using this B road, especially in the rush hours, leading to major build ups of traffic.
At first, students were extremely keen to get rid of the level crossing as it is a potential fatal accident site. Plans in the first year of the project took their starting point as the removal of the level crossing. For despite regular warnings, many students and adults are tempted to cross at the level crossing, even when the barriers come down. They don't seem to realise that an unseen high-speed train can arrive in a matter of seconds. However, the mayors of both the towns concerned (La Verpillière and Villefontaine) are adamant that the B road passing next to the station must be kept open as it is one of the few roads linking the two towns. The level crossing is here to stay.
After a meeting with a regional manager of the RFF (Réseau Ferré de France), the NGO responsible for track maintenance and level crossings, the idea was mooted of trying to limit the flow of vehicle traffic, particularly of heavy goods vehicles, that slow down the flow at peak times. Options included making the crossing a “one-way street”, (something that has never been tried before), thereby encouraging traffic into La Verpillière but stopping traffic going towards Villefontaine via this route. There is an alternative way to go to Villefontaine by using main roads, but our suggested plan would meet the conditions laid down by La Verpillière town hall who wish to stimulate commerce in La Verpillière's shops and would not want to see this road closed.
In addition, the Avenue de la Gare which is currently a one-way street leading from the town centre of La Verpillière could be made one-way in the opposite direction, thus forcing traffic from Villefontaine to pass via the heart of La Verpillière where most of the shops are to be found. We would like to maintain a cycle path for people coming from the centre of La Verpillière. However, for motorists commuting to the station from La Verpillière, this would mean that the Avenue Général Giraud which is currently a one-way street in a south-north direction would become a one-way street in the opposite direction. Vehicle traffic would be simply be for those working at the school and for those in La Verpillière wanting to park in the Alpes car park. This should mean the school and the station forecourt becoming much safer places.
To reduce traffic further still, it would be sensible to restrict access to the Alpes car park to permit holders–free to those living in La Verpillière, but with a small charge for those living elsewhere. Otherwise, a much larger car park to the south of the lines in the town of Villefontaine could be created along similar lines–free only to those living in Villefontaine. Any monthly charge should not be excessive so as not to scare people from taking the train. But the amounts raised by parking could go towards sponsoring alternative means of transport, such as bike rentals and new, safer cycle tracks.
The main focus of the changes would thus be to reduce the potentially dangerous motor congestion around the school area where 1,600 students come every day, as well as encouraging people living in and around La Verpillière to leave their car behind and bring a bike for their daily commute to the railway station. If they do decide to take their car, then there is no planned charge: inhabitants of the two towns of La Verpillière and Villefontaine would incur no additional direct expenses.
Regardless of the decision to maintain or change existing road directions, a new roundabout and traffic lights would be necessary for the intermodal bus terminus next to the brownfield site south of the tracks. The idea is that wherever possible the buses (particularly the school buses) should not cross the level crossing but return via the circuitous route of Villefontaine. There would therefore be considerable increased traffic on the B road coming from Villefontaine, but there is room for widening this road to include bus lanes if necessary. However, it is clear to us that any decision on the La Verpillière station redevelopment impacts enormously on Villefontaine and both towns need to be in agreement with any redevelopment plans.
Just a kilometre to the east of the current railway station and next to the Sainte-Marie high school, work will begin in early 2015 on a new designer outlet park. It will create jobs for hundreds of new employees and attract thousands of shoppers every week.
The land is actually in the town of Villefontaine, although it is adjacent to land in La Verpillière. The vast majority of users will come via road, and the exit to the A43 motorway just metres away from the site will made larger and improved. However, it still makes sense for the railway station at La Verpillière to factor in an increase in passengers due to this site, especially if a new soft path approach links La Verpillière with the new outlet park.
There is good reason for this. We believe that many of the people working in the outlets will commute from Lyon or other towns in the North Isère corridor. Given the high cost of road travel, especially if one notes that the A43 is currently the most expensive motorway in France, many commuters will not discount using public transport, especially if rental bikes are available at both the outlets and the station: it would take no more than about 5 minutes to get there from the station by bike.
The town hall of La Verpillière already has a plan for a soft path for cyclists and pedestrians. Their initial option is for the path to go right through the Sainte-Marie high school along the Chemin du Couvent, but this will be vigorously opposed by both the school management and parents for reasons of security. A more sensible option would be for the school to cede land along the railway line (which they are willing to do) in order for the soft path to go via the station and through to the new outlet park. Assuming this plan is accepted, this places the railway station in a pivotal place for people in La Verpillière and others travelling to the outlet park. More rental bicycles could be needed, thereby stimulating service work for the cycle shop sited in the station. Many customers at the outlet park will not be looking at making large purchases and it is quite feasible that public transport–including rail travel–could complement the projected increase in car use to and from the outlet park.
All this means that the planned multipurpose “soft approach” railway footbridge would simply link into the soft path leading to the outlet park.
The current station includes an old building which doubles as a waiting room and the SNCF rail ticket office. There are two tracks and two platforms: platform A has trains going east (towards the Alps, to cities like Grenoble and Chambery), whereas platform B has trains going to Lyon. There is currently a basic concrete, uncovered footbridge to cross over to platform B, but this footbridge is not user-friendly at all for anyone with a pushchair or luggage, and reduced-mobility users certainly cannot use it at all. Whenever it snows or rains, the footbridge becomes slippery and therefore dangerous: something needs to be done about this soon. As for the waiting area, which due to its siting is only really practical for passengers heading east, it is often overcrowded whenever there is any long wait, and this is the only heated area in the whole of the station area. In winter, when there are sometimes cancellations and long waits, this amounts to poor customer service. Moreover, there are no other services like hot drinks or snacks available within the station concourse. All these issues would be dealt with by the new station.
First of all, the easiest way to improve station services would be to make the most of the brownfield site to the south of platform B. This former industrial area is extremely large and could house both a new station complex, plus a new bus terminus for school and regular line buses. Our plan includes room for expansion for the factory Nemera (located just to the west of the brownfield site) and its access to the B road, but there is plenty of room for all of this.
We have sited the new station on the first floor, thereby making the SNCF ticket offices closer to the main car park on the south side of the tracks and available to users travelling in both directions. It would have a larger waiting area opposite it on the south side of the tracks. The footbridge, which would be covered, would be accessible to all thanks to a gradual slope on the north side to allow cycle and large numbers of students to use it comfortably. To reach both platforms, there would be escalators and stairs down from the footbridge as in the illustration above. On the south side, so as not to take up too much space in the brownfield site, there would be escalators and stairs on the outside going up and down to cope with the considerable flows of commuters and students.
In addition, on both sides of the track, inside the covered, heated area on the ground floor, there would be both stairs and a large lift for reduced-mobility users and possibly cyclists; the rest of the space downstairs would be taken up by at least two types of shop: on the south side a snack bar-cum-news kiosk, and on the north side a cycle shop sited right next to a much larger cycle shed that could cater for 500+ bicycles. The towns of La Verpillière and Villefontaine could therefore sponsor the cycle shop to help with cycle repairs for the newly introduced “3Vs” (vélos de La Verpillière et de Villefontaine), while cycle commuters could benefit from a service of bike repairs/overhauls if they left their bike in the cycle shop while at work. Of course, the shop would also sell new products too, but the daily after-sales service would be the major factor in allowing the business plan to work, since a cycle shop could not otherwise compete with the superstore giants like Decathlon.
Inside the main concourse upstairs and downstairs on the south side, there would be sliding glass doors to keep as much of the heat or cool in, depending on the season. There would also be modern toilets available, since this is an obvious service that is not always provided at small stations because of the cost of keeping them clean. As at Lyon Perrache station, for instance, it is suggested that there be a 50 cent charge to partially cover this cost and to make more unlikely unwanted degradation of the facilities: people who pay generally want something clean and are less interested in graffiti.
Also downstairs, there could be a small eating area for people wanting a coffee and croissant or a sit-down snack outside the multipurpose snack shop-news kiosk. The current owners of a mobile snack van do a regular trade, especially among high school students: they could be given the first right of refusal to the offer of running the snack bar-kiosk in far better surroundings, and it would be better for people to be able to sit down rather than eat by the side of a busy road. With people waiting regularly for trains and buses right next door, the chances are the owners would do a roaring trade.
All of this would certainly enhance the prestige of the station and encourage people to use the station, especially those who hesitate because of the thought of waiting mindlessly on a cold platform in the wind and rain.
The area around the new station would incorporate many elements that show it is a future-looking, environmentally-friendly site, just the sort of image both La Verpillière and Villefontaine want to portray. Apart from the use of thermal-resistant glass to give the building as much light as possible inside, the south side of the new station would have a turfed roof and there would be south-facing solar panels added to the roof of the current building on the north side. All around the plaza on both sides, there would be considerable low-maintenance green areas on trees and shrubs so as to attract bees and other wildlife. Inside the station, instead of just “passive” walls, there would be display areas for each of the main schools in the area to display what is going on at their schools. Also, there would be further display boards/cabinets for events held in both La Verpillière and Villefontaine, thereby creating further links between these two towns. For both sides of the tracks, there could also be self-financing videoprojection of adverts and other events happening in and around the two towns.
There are various stakeholders who would also finance different aspects of the project. Firstly, the Rhône-Alpes Region and Isère Department would be major partners in both the station and bus terminus development, any road changes and the soft path from the station through to the new outlet park. However, the two towns of La Verpillière and Villefontaine would also obviously take on the financial burden for much of these developments, although the CAPI organisation of North Isère towns would be a partner notably for the bus terminus.
RFF has agreed to the idea of being the majority partner for any work that touches the level crossing.
There would be some income generated by the car park and cycle rental levies but this should be used to cover the launch and maintenance costs of the cycle rentals and the cycle shed. Also there would be rents due from the businesses that would provide some income to the town of La Verpillière, rents that would help pay for the extra overheads linked to managing the buildings.
The SNCF would be able to sell their building to the town of La Verpillière and have brand new facilities tailored to their needs at no cost to them; because of this, the SNCF would be encouraged to cede the building at a very reasonable price, thereby lowering the overall cost of the redevelopment.
There would, of course, be further advantages to North Isère towns if contracts for the various aspects of the redevelopment went to companies of this area. Local people earning money are likely to spend more money in the region, so more and more locals would benefit in the short and longer terms.
From an economic point of view, our project does not come cheap and due to the building and infrastructure it would probably need several years to be put into place. The students working on the Comenius project realise that they won't see its completion while they are at the school. But a seed will have been planted. Our redevelopment plan is clearly ambitious in its long-term view of creating a safer, more environmentally-conscious society, while remaining rooted in the realities of balancing the needs of citizens, their elected representatives and companies. We hope it will be taken seriously by the various stakeholders because for too long, the complex nature of the station area has prevented the authorities from making a bold, forward-looking decision. While we humbly accept that we–as students–do not have all the answers, it is time for the stakeholders to make the hard choices that cannot be avoided any longer.