Mobility and Transport

Clean transport, Urban transport

Cycling Policy and Background

Cycling Policy and Background

Issues faced by European cities

European cities face increasing challenges to provide effective, resilient and low emission transport networks that improve the liveability and economic performance of cities while limiting environmental impacts. The reliance on private motor vehicles to move people and goods is the main source of growing problems relating to air pollution and congestion. These issues lead to health, accessibility, and quality-of-life concerns for city inhabitants and can negatively impact businesses through increased delays and reduced reliability of the road transport network.

Cycling solutions and challenges to uptake

In response to these pressing issues, policy-makers are increasingly looking for ways to develop a more diverse and flexible transport system, and influence behaviours to encourage a shift away from the reliance on private cars. Cycling is increasingly viewed as a key part of a multi-modal and integrated transport system for several reasons: 

  • It is a more cost-efficient option compared to other transport modes;
  • It is a convenient transport mode for the high share of short journeys that dominate urban travel; and
  • It has multiple co-benefits in terms of health, the environment and city liveability.

Some cities are already reaping the benefits of cycling, and overall uptake appears to be on the rise.  Based on Eurobarometer 406 (2013), the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF) estimates that 160 million cycling trips were undertaken every day on European roads in 2017. With the right support, this could increase to 240 million daily trips by 2030 (ECF et al, 2017). 

Despite the positive impacts that cycling in cities can bring, there are still challenges to encourage greater uptake and approaches vary significantly depending on the local context. The Eurobarometer survey published in 2014 (422a) asked which mode of transport respondents use most often daily. Eight percent of respondents stated that they use a bicycle as a mode of transport most often on a typical day. However, the results reveal that the situation differs significantly across Member States.

Even within countries, the level of cycling varies significantly between cities. This is a result of variations in the local political, cultural, economic and historical contexts, as well as different topographies and climates. These contextual variations combined with the range of challenges that cities face means that for each city, a different set of measures may need to be selected to increase the proportion of journeys carried out on bicycles. 

See also Selecting cycle measures for your city - Further considerations for applicability.

While the planning and implementation of well-designed and safe cycling infrastructure measures may encourage bicycle use, other factors will also be important in determining the success of cycling infrastructure, such as the location of facilities along usable commuting routes; the overall network connectivity; the amount of publicity and promotion; and the public’s perception of how safe it is to cycle.

These issues and potential solutions are explored in more detail in Challenges that cities face and how cycling can address them.

EU Cycling Policy background

Due to the range of co-benefits that can be generated, cycling contributes to fulfilling objectives in a number of EU policy areas including transport and mobility; low carbon development; innovation and technology; air pollution; smart cities; industrial competitiveness and economic growth; environment and climate change; health; local development and cohesion.

Perhaps the most significant way that the EU supports cycling is by providing funding and financing opportunities through the European Structural and Investment Funds and via its other funding programmes, such as Horizon 2020, which will be succeeded by Horizon Europe in January 2021. See http://www.eltis.org/resources/eu-funding for full details on EU Funding opportunities and support.

However, EU-level policies are still important as they provide a framework within which local measures can be developed. This is particularly relevant for cyclists, whose safety can be enhanced when motor vehicles are fitted with state-of-the-art safety equipment to prevent/minimise the severity of collisions, and roads are safely managed.  

There were two explicit mentions of cycling in the 40 initiatives set out in the Commission’s 2011 Transport White Paper. These were in relation to efforts to deliver a ‘zero-vision’ for the number of road transport casualties, and the importance of promoting cycling as an alternative to car use. The White Paper also acknowledges the importance of cycling in delivering clean and sustainable urban mobility and of cycling becoming an integral part of the urban transport system. In the Commission’s 2016 Strategy for Low Emission Mobility, cycling was referred to in the section on action by cities, underlining the importance of local action and Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMP) in enabling and encouraging cycling. Support for the development of SUMPs was one of the main elements of the Commission’s 2013 urban mobility Communication. This led the Commission to set up a European platform on SUMPs, which is now part of the Commission’s “Eltis” urban mobility observatory platform that facilitates the exchange of information and experience on urban mobility issues. Other elements of the urban mobility communication interact with cycling, including urban logistics, access restrictions, urban road user charging and the deployment of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS). The Commission’s earlier ‘Action Plan on Urban Mobility’ from 2009 also included many actions that would help to develop cycling.

The importance of cycling has been recognised by various meetings of national Ministers, both within the EU and beyond.

At the pan-European level, the promotion of cycling is an element of the Transport, Health and Environment Pan-European Programme (THE PEP). The PEP’s 2014 Paris Declaration explicitly recognised the benefits of cycling in delivering sustainable economic development, reducing transport-related emissions and promoting a more efficient transport system, whilst developing a pan-European masterplan for the promotion of cycling.

An informal Transport Council held under the Luxembourg Presidency in 2015 recognised cycling as being a climate-friendly mode of transport. The declaration called for the Commission to take action to: 

  • Integrate cycling into multimodal transport policy, including smart mobility, stressing the need to promote physical infrastructure and behavioural change programmes;
  • Develop an EU level strategic document on cycling; and
  • Set up a European focal point for cycling to serve as a one-stop-shop for relevant questions and facilitate exchange of best practices.

At the 2016 Informal Meeting of EU Ministers responsible for Urban Matters Within the EU, the ‘Pact of Amsterdam’ was established and noted that cycling was one of the elements to be focused on in delivering sustainable and efficient urban mobility.

In 2018, the EU’s Transport and Environment Ministers met in Graz, Austria, to discuss pathways leading to clean mobility. They adopted the “Graz declaration”, which includes acknowledging cycling as an equal mode of transport, developing a European strategic and supportive framework to promote active mobility, and integrating active mobility in the current and future European funding and financing schemes.

There is currently no official EU Cycling Strategy. However, the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF), supported by a number of other organisations, developed its own strategy and set of recommendations in 2017. In a supporting letter to the Commission President, the ECF and its supporters called on the Commission to develop its own cycling strategy, as a result of its potential scale and effect and in order to create a level playing field between cycling and other modes across Europe.

Many stakeholders see a need for a more strategic, EU-level approach to be taken to enable and promote cycling in the EU.

This Guidance will be supplemented by dedicated guidance on road design quality requirements for vulnerable road users, which the Commission is expected to develop under the revised Directive 2008/96/EC on Road Infrastructure Safety Management (RISM). The revised RISM Directive is expected to be published by the end of 2019 and transposed into national legislations by the end of 2021.