ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH IN TRANSPORT
European Cyclists’ Federation
A TIME FOR CYCLING
Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, the European Green Deal or the target of climate-neutral cities cannot happen until policy makers decide to prioritise cycling and embark a paradigm shift in the transport sector. Jill Warren discusses this (and more) with Karen Vancluysen in this inspiring interview
1. The COVID-19 pandemic has offered cities a unique opportunity to accelerate the reallocation of space in our cities in favour of active travel. The ECF has been taking stock of these developments. What do you feel will be the long-term effects of this respacing revolution? Will we be able to build on this momentum and permanently carve out that space – and even more – for cycling?
Jill Warren (JW): Indeed, scores of cities across Europe implemented measures to enable more cycling in relation to the pandemic, not only in the form of temporary cycle lanes and traffic calming for example, but also in the form of incentives such as purchase and repair premiums. Around €1.7 billion was allocated by local, regional, and national governments for such measures and at least 1,400 km of measures were implemented. It was especially encouraging to see that some of the cities taking the largest leaps in this direction were cities in southern Europe previously not known for encouraging everyday cycling, such as Rome, Milan, Lisbon, or Granada. We also noticed that cities that already had cycling plans in place, such as Paris, Brussels, or London, were able to take advantage of the pandemic to accelerate these plans. Even if all the temporary cycle lanes and other measures are not made permanent beyond the pandemic, this unique opportunity has increased awareness and the willingness to act and has moved the needle for cycling and active mobility much faster than it would likely have moved otherwise.
Jill Warren is CEO of the European Cyclists’ Federation © ECF
Our job as advocates is to take full advantage of this unique situation to highlight the benefits this is bringing, to strongly encourage further action, and to keep up the pressure on policy and decision makers to effect more lasting, sustainable change.
European Cyclists’ Federation
ECF is the European umbrella federation of civil society organisations advocating and working for more and better cycling. ECF harnesses the power of the European cycling movements to promote cycling as a sustainable and healthy means of transport and leisure.
2. POLIS and ECF share the vision that public transport and active travel constitute the backbone of any sustainable urban mobility ecosystem. We agree that cycling has a key role to play if we want to reach European climate goals and bring about a paradigm shift in the transport sector. What is needed from the different levels of government to allow cycling to play this role?
JW: For cycling to play its role in bringing about a paradigm shift in the transport sector, it needs to be truly prioritised by policy makers as a sustainable, healthy, and essential part of the mobility mix – not merely supported and enabled. This takes strong political will and courage on the part of our policy and decision makers at all levels, including the courage to shift resources and space away from cars, and to stand firm in the face of the inevitable backlash. An effective national cycling strategy with clear targets and timings is certainly helpful, with the corresponding funding, support, and other resources available to different levels of government for their respective policies, plans and implementation. At ECF we enjoy collaborating with POLIS on aspects of our shared vision and look forward to continuing to join forces on common advocacy goals to advance sustainable mobility in Europe.
3. The bike business is booming. In particular, e-bike numbers have exploded lately. What potential do you see for the e-bike beyond what the old school bike already offers us?
Cargo bike and regular bike in Brussels © ECF
JW: It is difficult to overstate what a game changer e-bikes have proven to be. They open up cycling to many more people of all ages and abilities and significantly increase the range that people are willing and able to travel by bike. They have enormous further potential to replace car trips in our cities and towns, not only for individuals but also, and for example, urban logistics. I believe the main thing standing in the way to fully unlocking this further potential is the lack of enough safe and comfortable cycling infrastructure.
4. Do you see opportunities for economic growth and more sustainable mobility going hand in hand?
JW: Yes, I do. It is a stubborn myth that economic growth is wholly dependent on continued car dominance. With more active and sustainable mobility in our cities, among other things we can grow more vibrant local economies, with people spending more money closer to home and supporting a thriving community of small and medium sized businesses.
5. The central theme of Velo-City in Lisbon was Cycle Diversity. What were the main take-aways from the event and what role do you see for cycling, from a diversity and inclusion perspective?
JW: One of the most important takeaways, which cannot be stated enough, is that there is no conceivable way to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, the European Green Deal or climate-neutral cities without significantly more cycling. We have a real opportunity and momentum for cycling right here, right now. But we could lose it, if powerful and entrenched interests continue to prevail and get more than their fair share in all the mobility budgets and plans that really matter.
A very encouraging takeaway was that cities like our host city, Lisbon, are progressing Cycle Diversity by making cycling more accessible to people of all ages and abilities, not only by building safe infrastructure but by enabling youngsters to cycle to school, by supporting measures to repair old bicycles to give them to those who need them and by providing purchase premiums for bicycles and cargo bikes. From a diversity and inclusion perspective, more cycling can play a key role in a just transition. With the right policies and funding, it can help shape more inclusive societies through greater accessibility to job opportunities and places of social and cultural exchange by bicycle for people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds.
Cycling in Brussels © ECF
Begininng in 1980, Velo-city is widely considered as the premier worldwide annual cycling summit, serving as a global knowledge exchange platform. It brings together all those who are involved in the policy, promotion and provision for cycling, active mobility and sustainable urban development. The aim of the conference is to influence decision makers in favour of more active and sustainable mobility and to inspire vibrant discussions between conference delegates. Check Jill Warren’s key takeaways from Velo-city 2021 Lisboa and Velo-city 2022 Ljubljana’s website.
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