Six EU countries, led by Belgium, signed the “European Bicycle Declaration” on World Bicycle Day 2022, requesting that the European Commission develop a “proper action plan at the EU level” to prioritize cycling.

Georges Gilkinet, the Belgian minister of transport, announced the signing of the cycling declaration to an audience of hundreds during a pre-recorded speech at the World Bicycle Day webinar hosted by the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF) on June 3.

The declaration, which was co-signed by the transport ministers of Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, requests that the European Commission “develop and implement an EU level strategic policy on cycling” based on the EU Cycling Strategy that ECF and its partners developed in 2017.

Increasing the mode share of cycling across the EU
The signatories urge the Commission to develop a strategy that enables them to use their existing competencies to increase the modal share of cycling in Europe and to identify the EU policy and funding instruments where cycling provisions can be expanded or strengthened.

In addition, they urge the Commission to assess additional steps to enable bicycle carriage on maritime vessels, coaches, and buses; to instruct Eurostat to develop cycling knowledge and data; and to ensure cycling infrastructure is incorporated into Trans-European Transport Network projects and networks (TEN-T).

Moreover, the signatory ministers request that 2024 be declared the European Year of Cycling in order to  “showcase Europe’s cultural heritage and role as a global leader in cycling.”

European Bicycle Declaration potential
European governments and public authorities have signed a series of pro-cycling declarations, the most recent of which is the European Bicycle Declaration.

The most recent plan is the Pan-European Master Plan for Cycling Promotion, which was adopted in May 2021 and covers 54 nations, including all 27 EU member states. It was created under the auspices of the Transport, Health and Environment Pan-European Programme (THE PEP), which is coordinated by the World Health Organization Europe and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

A key objective of the plan is to double the number of cyclists in all countries by 2030 and to implement national cycling strategies in all participating nations. ECF played a significant role in the development of a number of sections of this plan and continues to engage with governments to encourage continued investment in cycling infrastructure.

Importantly, the new European Cycling Declaration brings together a coalition of European governments to urge the European Commission and other EU member states to expedite policy planning, financial investments, and other capacities to increase cycling’s modal share as quickly as possible.

Signatory ministers have highlighted the numerous advantages of cycling. They highlighted the reductions in emissions  “translating into more than 16 million tons of CO2 equivalents per year across the EU,” the reductions in air pollution that cause 400 thousand premature deaths, and the improvements in road safety and urban mobility flows. “Bicycles are the most efficient way to transport one passenger for short distances.”

More policy integration for cycling’s political success
The declaration correctly emphasizes the need for a comprehensive cycling strategy at the EU level.

Cycling has gradually been incorporated into an increasing number of EU and national mobility policies. Without a comprehensive EU strategy, however, these policies will not be integrated into the EU’s larger vision and ambition to prioritize cycling in its climate strategy, particularly in terms of achieving CO2 emission reduction targets.

For instance, the European Commission’s new Urban Mobility Framework gives cycling a prominent place, and cities representing TEN-T urban nodes must increase cycling’s modal share in their Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans.

The proposed revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive aims to regulate more bicycle parking in residential and non-residential buildings.

In addition, the proposed Social Climate Fund is likely to provide direct financial assistance to Europeans who purchase or lease bicycles.

The proposed revision of the TEN-T Regulation includes cycling, but can be significantly enhanced by incorporating the EuroVelo long-distance cycle route network into TEN-T and encouraging the development of local networks in the surrounding area.

Recently, the Commission’s REPowerEU and EU Save Energy communications highlighted the ability of cycling to achieve substantial energy savings, which ECF echoed in a recent paper outlining how the EU and national governments can embrace cycling as a means of achieving energy independence.

Dozens of EU member states have adopted national cycling strategies or are in the process of developing them for the first time. Cities throughout Europe are at the forefront of expanding cycling’s modal share, including Paris, which has undergone a remarkable transformation as a result of a combination of resolute political leadership and rapid infrastructure development. The majority of cities that installed temporary cycling infrastructure during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns already had cycling or mobility strategies in place and were able to implement them swiftly.

The need for the EU to provide a cycling strategy for Europe
Despite new concerns about the rise in energy prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, combined with a return to the pre-pandemic status quo of car-driving, the recent advances in cycling are at risk of stalling.

The solution to this problem is the development of an EU strategy that ties together all of these threads and establishes a European-wide objective to increase the cycling mode share.

An EU strategy, kicked off by the European Year of Cycling in 2024, would be an effective way to harness the EU’s significant spending and regulatory power, and to set common goals and objectives for all EU member states to achieve, so that everyday cycling is not just popular in one city, but widespread throughout Europe.

In the interim, ECF will continue to work with the signatories of the European Bicycle Declaration to realize their goals and recruit more EU governments to the cause of expanding and improving cycling for all.