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Johnny Wood
Writer, Forum Agenda

  • The EU has announced its ‘European Declaration on Cycling’, including dedicated new funding and policy support to promote bike use and the bloc’s cycling industry.
  • As well as formally recognizing the vital role cycling can play in decarbonizing the bloc’s transport sector, the declaration makes cycling a strategic priority.
  • The World Economic Forum’s The Urban Mobility Scorecard Tool report calls for improved infrastructure and priority for cycling and walking, as part of efforts to create sustainable future cities.

Imagine a form of transport that’s accessible, requires no fuel, generates zero greenhouse gas emissions, improves your health and can be used in car-free neighbourhoods. Welcome to the humble bicycle.

Like many others, the European Union (EU) has recognized the positives of encouraging more people to get around using pedal power, with the announcement of its ’European Declaration on Cycling’.

Hailed by some as the EU’s most ambitious cycling initiative to date, it aims to “unleash the full potential of cycling in the European Union” with dedicated new funding and policy support to promote bike use and the bloc’s cycling industry.

Building a cycling hub

The proposed declaration elevates cycling to a strategic priority and formally recognizes the vital role cycling can play in decarbonizing the transport sector.

Encouraging more bike rides equals fewer car journeys, which reduces the harmful carbon-dioxide exhaust emissions that fuel the climate crisis.

“The European Declaration of Cycling that we are adopting today is designed to get more people onto saddles. It contains commitments to the coherent creation of cycle networks in cities, to better link public transport hubs, to secure parking with charging infrastructure for bikes and to build cycle highways between cities, while connecting rural areas,” said Adina Vălean, EU Commissioner for Transport.

The proposed policy and investment to build new cycling infrastructure is part of EU efforts to achieve the aims of its European Green Deal initiative, Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy and Zero Pollution Action Plan.

A man cycles across a canal bridge in Delft, Netherlands.

Cycling is a popular form of transport in many European cities. Image: Reuters/Yves Herman

What’s so great about cycling?

Apart from being accessible, inclusive, affordable and healthy, cycling is one of the most sustainable means of transport.

As with electric cars, advances in electric bike technology have exposed cycling to a wider audience. Fitted with an electric motor, cyclists can ride an e-bike over once-daunting inclines with ease, including people with low fitness levels, older people and those with disabilities.

The global electric bike market is forecast to increase from $43.32 billion in 2023 to $119.72 billion by 2023, a more than 15% annual growth rate, according to a Fortune Business Insights report.

A number of cities around the world have adopted pedal-powered, electric or hybrid bike-sharing schemes, where bicycles are pooled for multiple users, which makes travelling by bike more accessible.

These specially adapted bikes are available either at designated docking stations scattered around a city, or through dockless schemes. An analysis of e-bike schemes across continental Europe found, on average, that half of e-bike trips replaced car journeys, while in some cases this figure was up to 70%.

Statistic illustrating the ranking of cities according ot their score in the Global Bicycle Cities Index 2022.

Utrecht was named the world’s most bike-friendly city in 2022. Image: Statista

A number of EU cities are already world leaders in building dedicated cycling infrastructure, encouraging people to swap cars for bikes for emissions-free travel.

The Dutch city of Utrecht was named the world’s most cycle-friendly city by the Global Bicycle Cities Index in 2022. Other European cities like Münster in Germany, Antwerp in Belgium and Copenhagen in Denmark were among the highest ranked.

As well as its sustainability benefits, cycling also reduces healthcare spending by improving cardiovascular health, boosting the body’s immune system and improving mental health and wellbeing, among other benefits. Studies show that regular cycling can help prevent obesity and reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks.

Weekly moderate-intensity aerobic exercise – such as cycling – could prevent up to 5 million premature deaths each year, according to the World Health Organization.

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