The Significance of Numbering French Roads: Geographical Perspectives

Special Report: Varia 2004
By Antoine Beyer

French road numbering is part of a historical process, influenced by technical and political events. The basis of the French system was laid down by Napoleon’s government. Road numbers, which were for a long time used only for administrative or maintenance purposes, gained public relevance with the expansion of bicycles and cars at the very beginning of the twentieth century. During the 1970s the development of the French motorway network greatly affected the geography of the inherited system. A large number of former national roads were declassified, throwing the former order into confusion. At the same time new trends in numbering appeared that reveal an important shift in the ordering of territories: numbering is increasingly based on a local approach, less reference is made to the central (state) level, and the European road numbering system is progressively, although as yet very “discreetly,” acknowledged.

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