In France, about 5 million people own a pair of rollerblades, in Germany, 10 million. According to a recent survey by the French Ministry of Youth and Sport, an estimated 1.9 million people in France are regular rollerbladers. Clearly, rollerblading is not a passing phenomenon, but as well as a leisure activity, does it now also constitute a new urban mode of transport?
Its development in cities has already brought problems concerning the sharing of road space (roadways and pavements/pedestrianised areas) and co-habitation with other modes (motorised or not). It can already be seen that its categorisation as an intermediate mode between walking and cycling is not a satisfactory definition: this description does not take account of the type of people who rollerblade or their reasons, neither does it take account of the method of travelling or the use of urban space by this mode.
Hence it was decided to firstly provide a precise description of the use of rollerblading as a travel mode in urban areas, including a typology of its users, and evaluate the difficulties which it has brought about. Secondly, based on this information, there is a need to examine what localised policies could be put in place to deal with problems relating to the sharing of urban space, conflicts with other modes and safety, in order to allow this mode to develop in harmony with the city of tomorrow.
The project was financed by MATE (the French Ministry of Land-use Planning and the Environment) and ADEME (the French agency for the environment and energy management) within the PREDIT 2 national land transport research programme.
The six objectives of this study were:
- To identify and describe urban trip behaviour associated with this travel mode;
- To build a typology of rollerblade users, defining their reasons for choosing this mode and their views on other modes;
- To determine the characteristics of areas within the city that are the most promising for the development of rollerblading;
- To measure the difficulties experienced in sharing road space with other modes;
- To describe measures, both legislative and physical improvements, put in place a the local level in order to manage the development of rollerblading; and
- To evaluate the potential of rollerblading as an urban means of transport and its development in tomorrow's city.
The project's data collection involved three stages. The focus was on three French cities (a major city, a medium-sized city and a small city), as well as two international examples where rollerblading is popular, in Switzerland and Germany.
Stage one involved a survey of 120 rollerbladers in the three French cities: Paris (60 interviews), Rennes (30 interviews) and Annecy (30 interviews). The interviews were conducted at several points in the three cities (15 locations in Paris, 5 in Rennes and 6 in Annecy). The surveys included personal information (age, sex, employment, etc), frequency of and reasons for rollerblade use, main other mode used in cities.
Stage two involved the above three French cities and also Lausanne and Berlin. It comprised a series of interviews of responsible persons in local authorities (e.g. city council roads department, city council sport and leisure or youth affairs departments, police, etc). Five interviews were conducted in Paris, three in Rennes and two each in the other cities.
Stage three was a complementary survey among other stakeholders, e.g. rollerblading associations, public transport operators and a sociologist from the architecture department of a university. Six interviews took place in Paris, two in Lausanne and one each in the other cities.
French survey results:
The profile of the 120 rollerbladers interviewed in Paris, Rennes and Annecy was as follows:
- 58% male, 42% female;
- 37% aged 26-35, 29% aged 18-25, 25% aged over 36 and 9% aged under 18;
- 38% were qualified professional people, 23% in intermediate professions;
- 65% were single, 18% married (or living with a partner) and no children, 11% married with children, 6% divorced;
- 41% mostly rollerbladed for leisure, 32% for sport, 27% as a means of transport;
- The principal other urban transport mode used by rollerbladers was public transport in 42% of cases, private car for 27%, bicycle for 15%, walking for 12% and motorcycle for 4%.
A typology of seven kinds of rollerblade users was identifies from information from the surveys. These are as follows:
- Those who use rollerblading as a means of transport, e.g. to get to work or go shopping, for a distance of 3 to 5km and a journey time of around 20 minutes. Typical profile: male, Parisian, age 25-30, liberal or artistic professions.
- Those who use this mode for pleasure, enjoying the sensation of freedom, movement, power and independence that it offers, who make the urban landscape their playground, mounting obstacles, weaving through traffic and pedestrians, etc. Typical profile: male, young (age 15-30), school or college students or workers in temporary jobs.
- Those who use rollerblading as a way of discovering a city in an alternative way, e.g. as tourists. Typical profile: age 30-40, professionals (e.g. teachers, medical or IT professions), frequent travellers.
- Novices who rollerblade as a family in a pleasant area away from vehicles (e.g. in a park or along traffic-free routes), these are occasional users and are often at beginner level. Typical profile: couples aged 24-40 with young children.
- Sport rollerbladers, who rollerblade as a form of exercise, often regularly, weather permitting, and frequently along segregated cycle tracks. Typical profile: female, age 30-40, often well-off financially, members of fitness clubs, fashion-conscious - have all the latest equipment.
- Specialist rollerbladers, who participate in competitions and demonstrations: experts who practice in dedicated areas or parts of the city whe
Lack of methods to manage rollerblading stem from the assimilation of the rollerblader with pedestrians rather than as a mode in itself, and the assimilation of rollerblading simply as a sport. The recognition of rollerblading as a distinct mode of transport would, in addition to filling a legal void, reinforce the justification of policies favouring slow modes and would contribute to making cities more accessible.
In the future, the development of rollerblading as an urban travel mode depends on several factors: legal recognition of rollerblading as a mode, improvements in cities to favour slow modes, construction of cycle facilities, and improvement of rollerblade technology to improve transfer between rollerblading and walking.
Rollerblading can also benefit from policies aimed at diversifying mobility, reducing the place of cars in the city, introduction of rollerblading as a sport in schools and finally through road safety actions taking into account this mode.
Rollerblading should be allowed both on the roadway and on the pavement, as well as on cycle paths and in bus lanes, on the condition that rollerbladers adapt their speed appropriately and do not consider that they have priority over any other user.
Rollerblading should interest city authorities by its very existence: it constitutes a new way of urban living, and it could be considered to be a revolution maybe as important as the advent of cycling among ordinary working people.
Finally, public authorities have every reason to facilitate rollerblading. This can be done by:
- Measures such as 30km/h zones, bus lanes and bus-only streets, cycle lanes and paths, widening of pavements and footpaths, etc;
- Active policies such as building skate-parks, allowing mass rollerblade outings, organising events, etc;
- Measures to increase safety and awareness, e.g. training courses, inclusion in school sports activities, employing monitors/marshals for rollerblade outings, information, etc;
- Complementary facilities such as lockers for equipment.
The results of a survey of 120 rollerbladers in three French cities (Paris, Rennes and Annecy) found that 27% used rollerblading mainly as a means of passenger transport (as opposed to a purely sport or leisure activity), although globally only about