Promotion of cycling as sustainable transport

[tweetmeme The present note aims to give an overview of the cycling problems and challenges by describing the policies of European cities to promote cycling. It presents a collection of best practices regarding road infrastructures and parking facilities, cyclists’ safety and security, and intermodality. It concludes by providing recommendations concerning the EU and local authorities. This briefing note was prepared by the European Parliament and its executive summary reads as follows:

Mobility may be regarded as the ability to travel, although its meaning could be much broader since mobility encompasses not only the activity of travel but also, more importantly, the possibility for the traveller to decide when and where to travel, by being aware and making use of an information set for optimising the journey. Although mobility plays a crucial role in contributing to the socioeconomic growth of urban areas, its positive effects have to be weighed alongside the negative impacts which the increasing demand for mobility has generated over the last 20 years.

‘More sustainable’ is thus regarded as being the main goal that underpins current approaches to and solutions for future mobility. Sustainability should lie at the heart of all policies and strategies for a more sustainable transport system in environmental (CO2, air pollution, noise) and competitiveness (congestion) terms, while also addressing social concerns. This is why the concept of sustainability goes far beyond the need to respond to managing road traffic flows and their impacts, because it shall also address, for instance, the cost of mobility in relation to social exclusion, economic and social cohesion, and the demographic changes that will shape the structure of European cities in the future.

Based on the background outlined, and even if local authorities are primarily responsible for urban policies according to the principle of subsidiarity, the European Union (EU) has taken an active role since the adoption of the White paper on transport policy (EC, 2001). The purpose of the EU action is to offer local authorities specific support for promoting a new culture of urban mobility, in which sustainable and affordable urban transportation is a key to making cities dynamic and vibrant environments. This also explains why EU support has taken several forms, through a combination of policy intervention and guidance support.

The present note is one of three notes dealing with urban mobility.2 It aims to give an

overview of cycling problems and challenges by describing the main urban policies that

promote cycling, such as:

  • the provision of good, and safe infrastructures in cities and neighbourhoods;
  • cycling education and the promotion of safety for cyclists;
  • the importance of intermodality in giving cyclists the opportunity to make medium-to long-distance trips;
  • the challenge of improving security, to prevent theft and avoid aggression towards cyclists.

The note presents some examples of good practice with successful and effective outcomes. Some of these practices may be easily transferred to other cities within relatively short time spans since they do not require expensive budgets and construction of infrastructure or cycling facilities.

There are five Chapters. Following the introductory Chapter, Chapter Two illustrates the key concepts for cycling such as its benefits and the major problems it presents. Cycling has gained popularity as an everyday means of transport and as a recreational or holiday activity. People mostly choose to use a bicycle for positive reasons: it is fun, it is a daily healthy exercise, it is environmentally friendly, it is fast (in congested urban areas) and it is inexpensive. The major benefits can be divided into the following categories: (i) transport efficiency, (ii) environmental benefits, (iii) health and fitness issues, (iv) economic and social impacts.

Despite these positive features, cycling has also negative aspects related to (i) lack of or inadequacy of road and parking infrastructures, (ii) cyclists’ safety and security, (iii) weather conditions, (iv) poor intermodality.

Chapter Three analyses the current situation in European countries in terms of national policies and statistics about daily bicycle use. Despite its many advantages, cycling is still underused in many countries. Bicycle modal share is low in many cities. This is partly the result of poor policies to promote urban cycling mobility.

Chapter Four considers the main cycling-related challenges and opportunities and reviews best practice for (i) road infrastructure and parking facilities, (ii) cyclists’ safety, (iii) intermodality, (iv) security, (v) soft measures. Spanish, Danish, Dutch, German, Italian, English, Belgian and French experiences have been described in order to disseminate the best policies to promote and increase urban cycling. The experiences have been divided into two types of measure: (i) ‘hard measures’, which imply heavy investment and require a medium to long period to be implemented, and (ii) ‘soft-measures’, which may be implemented within a short period and with modest investment.

Finally, Chapter Five summarises the results of the analysis and provides recommendations for the different authorities, including the EU. Indeed, promoting cycling is the responsibility of the national and local authorities, since it is an integral part of urban policy. The EU, as supranational coordinator and facilitator, should continue to fund EU initiatives and projects, in order to:

  • give guidelines and measures to promote cycling that could be followed by EU cities in their local policies;
  • propose targets for bicycle modal share, especially in congested urban environments;
  • maintain efforts to encourage safer cycling by investing in road safety projects. Protection of vulnerable road users is the first step to promotion of cycling;
  • facilitate the collection of cycling-related statistical data by financing EU studies and creating a common database in which best practices can be gathered.

In conclusion, the EU should assist national and local governments, as decision-makers, to choose the measures best suited to changing public behaviour, according to the subsidiarity principle. Certainly, cooperative efforts can help by making easier the implementation of these measures. Sustainable Urban Transport Plans (SUTP), which help transport systems meet society’s economic, social and environmental needs whilst minimising their undesirable impacts on the economy, society and the environment, are one effective option. Within SUTPs, measures intended to improve cycling may play a relevant role and make a significant contribution to local authority objectives of reducing CO2 emissions, improving air quality targets, etc.

Read the full publication here in PDF format.

Citation:  The promotion of cycling, European Parliament, 2010, ISBN: 978-92-823-3195-8, IP/B/TRAN/FWC/2006-156/lot7/C1/SC6

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