Cities urge the EU to pedal away from polluting vehicles

In the coming weeks, the European Commission is set to release a pioneering European cycling declaration. The opportunity is unprecedented: make cycling a fully-fledged mode of transport in the EU, in a trailblazing move that can only be imitated on a global scale.

For years municipalities have been at the forefront of the cycling revolution. Now they are ready to tap into their long-standing experience to inform the Commission on the key steps that would make the upcoming declaration viable, inclusive and successful.  

Over the past months, a dedicated working group of cycling-friendly Eurocities members formulated a set of recommendations that are now part of a new policy paper, Pedal-powered progress – Towards an EU cycling policy. The advice is also shaped by the results of a Eurocities Pulse survey on urban cycling that was conceived to understand local leaders’ challenges and expectations for the future.  

Dozens of bicycles near trees in a city
Photo by: Nate Holland

The Commission’s declaration will be the first to exclusively exploit the potential of cycling as a stand-alone mode of transport. The scheme is expected to provide new rules and guidance to double the number of cycled kilometres in the EU by 2030.  

For local leaders, this is a much-awaited development to make the urban environment less polluted, more livable, and ramp up long-standing efforts. In Paris, for example, annual cycling traffic surged by 166% since 2018, an impressive development fostered by 1,000 kilometres of bike lanes and dedicated funding from the city.  

With cyclists producing 84% less carbon emissions than car drivers, a decisive EU initiative on cycling will provide a common framework to encourage mobility efforts across the continent. At the local level, it will help urban leaders to continue their sustainable journey, furthering cycling development and uptake in their territory.  

Cyclists in Paris
Cyclists in Paris. Photo: Kamilla Isalieva

Cities’ recommendations

To achieve those goals, Eurocities advices the EU to:  

  • Support the development of a safe and high-quality bike infrastructure to prompt cycling uptake. EU guidelines should set minimum quality levels for infrastructure, while offering a certain degree of flexibility to adapt to the local context. Funding options at various governmental levels should be made available. As emphasised by the Eurocities Pulse cycling survey, a strong political will at the local level is an enabler for a strong roll-out of local bike infrastructure.

    2023 Eurocities Pulse cycling survey graphic
  • Treat cyclists’ protection as a priority. A lack of road safety is what stops many people from even considering the act of cycling. Municipalities’ empirical experience shows that cycling uptake is higher when cyclists feel protected, as when they can ride on cycling lanes running separately from car traffic. However, current national traffic laws in many EU countries hinder cycling, so the declaration is an opportunity to update national traffic rules and create a cooperation between local and national authorities. The Commission should also initiate a reflection on the adequacy of national traffic rules for cycling and consider setting a 30km/h speed limit in urban areas, as is the case in 61% of the polled cities.  
  • Develop standardised tools for collecting cycling data, the lack of which is currently preventing many cities from making informative decision. Urban mobility practitioners need to get a clear picture of all the dynamics at play in their territory, such as number of bike trips, purposes of the trip, type of vehicles, etc. This data helps local authorities design actions to address perceived barriers to cycling. The Commission’s cycling declaration should also encourage the development of common data standards and prompt private mobility operators – such as e-scooter and bike sharing companies – to make their data available to cities for their planning purposes.  
  • Bring a positive narrative on cycling and increase its popularity across Europe. The Commission’s document should envision raising awareness about the benefits of cycling for all categories of the population and encourage EU member states to promote a cycling culture in their territory. For that, cycling needs to become widely accessible to people, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or location. Special attention should be directed to underserved categories of the population that cannot afford to buy a bike or whose disability prevents them from using a standard two-wheeler.
  • Consider cycling a factor of sustainable economic growth that can create a flourishing European bike industry. The shortage of bikes and related services that many cities witnessed during the Covid-19 pandemic should no longer stand in the way of cycling development. A strong cycling industry in Europe would reverse that trend, bringing positive repercussions on the local economy, including the creation of new jobs. 
  • Harness the power of cycling to increase sustainable transport connections between cities and surrounding suburban and rural areas. Cycling should be fully integrated into multimodal transport systems, complementing public transport or shared e-vehicles journeys, for example. This would require enhancing cycling infrastructure and multimodal hubs such as train stations, to ensure that other modes of transport have more dedicated space for bicycles or guarantee travellers’ right to carry their bikes. 
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Thomas Lymes Policy Advisor, Mobility & Air Quality
Daniela Berretta Eurocities Writer
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