Members' Research Service By / February 16, 2023

Towards a European cycling strategy

Cycling policies are the Member States’ responsibility, with each country setting up its own regulatory framework.

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Written by Monika Kiss.

Cycling contributes to the EU’s green transition by reducing road congestion and noise pollution, and by improving air quality. It also plays an important role in improving health through cleaner air and more physical exercise, and in enhancing economic growth by creating new, green jobs and encouraging the circular economy. Nevertheless, cycling infrastructure in the EU is inadequate: there is a lack of dedicated cycling lanes (leading to a significant risk of accidents) and there are not enough secured bike parking places. In addition, measures to prevent theft are insufficient and there is a lack of charging stations for e-bikes. This does not allow cycling to expand in urban environments.

Cycling policies are the Member States’ responsibility, with each country setting up its own regulatory framework. Practical measures, such as developing cycling networks or adapting the public transport network to facilitate combined trips, are taken at local or regional level. EU-level intervention consists of promoting cycling, providing financial support – through the European structural and investment funds and the Recovery and Resilience Facility – and sharing best practice. The sustainable and smart mobility strategy, as well as the Commission’s communications on the new EU urban mobility framework and ‘Save Energy‘ all stress the need to increase the modal share of public transport, walking and cycling in urban areas. There is, however, no EU-level strategy.

The European Parliament has repeatedly highlighted and supported cycling as a transport mode, as well as cyclists’ interests. In a 2015 resolution on implementing the 2011 Commission white paper on transport, the Parliament stressed the importance of supporting regional programmes to establish and expand cycling networks in large European regions, and of collecting better data on transport use behaviour regarding cycling. Cycling was also mentioned in a 2020 resolution on the Green Deal, where the Parliament asked for a more comprehensive urban mobility plan to reduce congestion and improve liveability in towns and cities, through support for zero-emissions public transport and cycling and walking infrastructure. In a 2021 resolution on the 2021–2030 EU road safety policy framework, the Parliament emphasised the importance of the cycling infrastructure deployed by Member States in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which should not only remain in place, but also be further expanded and promoted. The Parliament drafted a resolution on the urban mobility framework in 2022, in which it drew attention to road fatalities in urban areas; 70 % of the victims of these accidents are vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists.

European Parliament resolution

The European Parliament has just adopted its first resolution dedicated exclusively to cycling in all its aspects. Calling on the Commission to develop a dedicated European cycling strategy, the resolution also urges the Commission to recognise cycling as a fully-fledged transport mode and to put it on equal footing with the other modes. Cycling should be integrated into urban mobility – for instance, with cycle highways between suburban areas and city centres, secured bike parking facilities close to urban transport nodes, and affordable e-bike and bike-sharing schemes. Cycling should also be integrated into interurban transport – for example, by building cycle lanes parallel to railway tracks or inland waterways when upgrading the TEN-T network, or by making more places available for bikes inside trains.

Cycling is a valuable alternative for travel over short distances in urban and rural areas, and for tourism, but this potential has to be unlocked. Therefore, the resolution asks for more investment by Member States, local authorities and other stakeholders in cycling infrastructure and related facilities, and in cycling-related training and awareness raising. In this way, more people who are interested in cycling could get (back) on a bike. According to the resolution, cycling also has the potential to create 1 million new jobs by 2030 by absorbing and reskilling workers. To achieve this, it is crucial to enhance the production of bikes and e-bikes within the EU.

Cycling can offer an affordable transport alternative for vulnerable social groups who may be exposed to transport poverty. The resolution therefore encourages Member States and local actors to develop support systems to facilitate the purchase of bicycles or participation in bike-sharing systems.

To help prevent accidents, the Commission is invited to work with the Member States to draw up common road-safety guidelines and recommendations for micro-mobility, e.g. on speed limits, helmet requirements and training. The resolution also suggests that the Commission declare 2024 the European Year of Cycling.

The draft resolution was adopted by the TRAN committee on 31 January 2023, and voted in plenary on 16 February. In its plenary statement on the resolution, the Commission noted that cycling has already been taken into account in a number of Commission initiatives, such as REPowerEU and the Fit for 55 package. However, the security of cyclists remains an important issue to resolve. To this end, the Commission plans to set up a dedicated expert group and to come up with recommendations.

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