Each year the French Federation of Bicycle Users gives two awards to cities or regions in France. These are the Golden Handlebars (Le Guidon d’Or) for the best local bicycle policies and the Rusty Nail (Le Clou Rouillé) for the worst.
In 2009 the city of Toulon was awarded the Rusty Nail for having “fewer than 40 km of bicycle lanes, no continuity of bicycle routes, bike lanes also serving as sidewalks, parking only for cars and motorcycles and an obstinate refusal to cooperate with the local association of urban cyclists. In short, a bad example which should not be followed.”
The French National Federation of Transport Users (FNAUT) gives similar awards each year to local jurisdictions: the Green Ticket for the best contributions to public transport and the Red Ticket for the worst. Toulon has received at least two of these Red Tickets in recent years, in 2008 and 2012, for decisions ensuring that it will remain “the largest urban area in France which has neither a métro nor a tramway”.
For sixty-nine years Toulon had a well-functioning network of tramways, from January 17, 1886 to April 15, 1955.
Since bicycle lanes are still a rarity in Toulon, cycling advocates sometimes go out at night and paint their own.
One of these nighttime actions was documented in 2012 by Olivier Razemon, a journalist who works for the French newspaper Le Monde. He wrote that the illegally painted bike lane was immediately accepted the next morning not only by cyclists but also by motorists, who slowed down and took care not to drive on the new markings. It took several days before officials at city hall realized what had happened, and then they sent painters out with black paint to cover up the while lines and bicycle symbols.
After several of these nighttime actions, the mayor finally responded and named a city official to be responsible for déplacements doux (soft travel) and consult with the cycling associations about such measures as installing new bicycle lanes, allowing cyclists to ride both ways on one-way streets and allowing them to turn right at red lights at some intersections. These are measures which have been permitted by the French Traffic Code since 2010 but which have to be decided on in each individual case by the local governments.
Now some of the bicycle lanes which were originally illegal nighttime actions have been accepted by city authorities and have been professionally re-painted onto the streets — but not in the city center, where officials are still unwilling to do anything that might restrict the amount of space allotted to motor vehicles.
The Old Town of Toulon is mainly car-free, since the streets are very narrow and there is no room for cars in any case. But the two official East-West bicycle routes both go through this pedestrian district, even though it would be much faster for cyclists to have bike lanes on the main thoroughfares — and more pleasant for pedestrians if they didn’t have to share their space with cyclists.
I rented a bicycle from tOObike (266 Boulevard de Tessé, 83000 Toulon) for three days at € 11.00 per day, which at the time was their rate for three days or more. (This has since gone down a Euro to € 10.00 per day.) For only one or two days they charge € 12.00 per day, and they also have weekly or monthly rates. They want a deposit of € 200.00, either in cash or by pre-authorization of your credit card, which is the way I did it.
The bike was fine, and so was their service. In addition to French, the owner also speaks German and English.
The word location in French means rental, by the way, not the English word location. (That’s one of those false friends I keep warning my students about.)
Arsenal Bicycle Trail
This is a short but car-free bicycle trail that goes along the northern edge of the Arsenal. It starts near the Palace of Justice, in the center of Toulon, and leads west for a few kilometers until it gets to the far end of the Arsenal, where it abruptly stops at an extremely dangerous road junction.
I rode this trail one morning and enjoyed looking at the historic walls of Vauban’s Arsenal, but since the trail doesn’t lead anywhere I had trouble figuring out what it is supposed to be good for. It would seem logical to extend the trail a short distance to the nearby town of La Seyne-sur-Mer, but I don’t know if there are any plans to do this.
Here is one of the most pleasant parts of the Arsenal Bicycle Trail, where you can really get an impression of the historic walls on the north side of the Arsenal.
Coastline Bicycle Trail
The Coastline Bicycle Trail (Piste Cyclable du Littoral) is a trail which leads east from Toulon, running roughly parallel to the coastline but not always within sight of it. The first few kilometers are on the route of an old narrow-gauge railway and are completely car-free.
I rode the trail one morning to the town of Le Pradet, where I stopped for lunch, and then on for several more kilometers until the trail abruptly ends — a situation which the regional authorities say is only temporary.
Apparently the trail gets crowded on weekends, but there was not much bicycle traffic when I rode it on a Thursday morning.
At lunchtime I turned off the Coastline Bicycle Trail and took a short detour down into the town of Le Pradet, where I discovered that I was not the only cyclist at the town square.
Le Pradet is one of the eleven towns that have recently joined with Toulon to form the cooperative regional entity called Toulon Provence Méditerranée (TPM) which is now responsible for culture, sports, tourism and other development projects in Toulon and vicinity. The TPM now performs some but not all functions of local government, coordinating regional activities but leaving the individual towns a measure of autonomy.
Since it was a windy day, I chose to eat lunch at one of the indoor tables at Le Marigny — not indoors, exactly, but on their terrace that was sheltered from the wind. I forget what I had to eat there, but it was fine and the atmosphere was friendly.
This fresco on one of the walls in Le Pradet shows the beach and the slogan: “Since 1894: Le Pradet”.
After Le Pradet the Coastline Bicycle Trail starts getting somewhat less pleasant, since it adjoins a regional highway with considerable car traffic. But the views are still nice.
Then at some point after Carqueiranne the bike path ends abruptly, and one has the choice of riding in the same lane with the cars, or turning back. I turned back, both because I didn’t like the looks of the road and because I wanted to get back to Toulon as I had other plans for the evening.
Boat-bus service in Toulon harbor
In Toulon harbor there are three local boat-bus lines that run on a regular schedule, like buses. In fact, they are run as part of the regional bus system.
The three boat-bus lines are:
Line 8M : Toulon – La Seyne
Line 18M : Toulon – Les Sablettes / Tamaris
Line 28M : Toulon – Saint-Mandrier.
They say that each crossing takes an average of twenty minutes. The boats tend to run once an hour, with additional services during the morning and evening rush hours and on school days.
As of 2018, a single ride on one of the boat-buses costs € 2.00, which is 0.60 more than a single bus ride on land. But there are also daily, weekly, monthly and annual tickets which are equally valid on both the buses and the boats.
I didn’t try the boat-buses when I was in Toulon, because I realized too late that it is easy to take your bicycle with you on the boat. I saw several people doing this, but then had no time to try it myself, which is a shame since there are no bicycle routes on land to any of these places at the far ends of the harbor.
My photos in this post are from 2012. I revised the text in 2018.