“Cycling is a fluid, reliable, affordable, healthy, space-saving, energy-saving and non-polluting means of transportation. For distances ranging from 500 metres to 10 kilometres, it is often the method of locomotion that is the most efficient, beneficial to the local economy and enjoyable.” In Le Pouvoir de la pédale (Rue de l’Échiquier, 2014, new edition in 2018 — not translated), French cyclist and writer Olivier Razemon makes a strong case for the “cyclable transition”. He is not the only one to believe in the power of what the French call “la petite reine” (the small queen) to reinvent mobility. In June 2017, the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF) published a document entitled EU Cycling Strategy. Recommendations for Delivering Green Growth and an Effective Mobility in 2030, in which they write that “the benefits of cycling are widespread and concrete; they range from less congestion and better air quality to more jobs, and improved mobility.” They argue that cycling contributes to at least 11 of the 15 Sustainable Development Goals. “We believe the bicycle is a solution to many of the worlds’ woes,” says their website’s homepage.
Europe is leading the way
All over Europe, the bicycle is already an important part of the efforts led to achieve sustainable and affordable mobility. In the North of the continent, it is already well anchored in people’s habits: according to the Copenhagenize Bicycle Friendly Cities Index 2017, the most bike-friendly cities in the world are Copenhagen (where 62 % of residents ride a bike daily), Utrecht (where the biggest bicycle parking lot in the world — 12 500 spots — is under construction) and Amsterdam (where 40% of the inhabitants use the bicycle as primary means of transportation). In other European cities, “la petite reine” needs a bit more help to gain similar importance. Paris and the Île-de-France region, for instance, have adopted an ambitious cycling plan aimed at tripling the number of cycling trips by 2021. But it is worth noting that 18 out of the 20 most bike-friendly cities in the world are in Europe.
Building a European bicycle plan
So what’s ahead? Taking all of these city- or nation-led efforts, and joining them within a European bicycle plan. That is what the ECF advocates in its report, “the first systematic review of all EU policies related to cycling, directly or indirectly. It clearly demonstrates that targeted action at European level will bring about a better result compared to action solely at the national, regional and local level,” writes Manfred Neun, president of the ECF. The organisation has defined four objectives for 2030: grow cycle use by 50 % across the EU; halve rates for killed and seriously injured cyclists; invest 3 billion euros in cycling in the period 2021-2027, and 6 billion euros from 2028 to 2034; treat cycling as an equal partner in the mobility system.
We can imagine a European network of bicycle paths; a EU-wide, ambitious plan to support the adoption of electric bikes; a new system that revolutionises delivery-based businesses, where the bicycle allows to save time and money on the last-kilometre segment while trucks remain outside of the cities — of course, this system will have to protect the delivery riders much more fairly and efficiently than the current platforms already in use for food delivery. We can envision a mobility system where the bike is given at least as much importance as the car. As Olivier Razemon points out in his book, the main resistances to the bicycle are cultural: “When we present the bicycle as a means of transportation that is bound to develop, we face a backlash: the bike suddenly becomes ‘the poor man’s vehicle’, ‘an instrument that is difficult to handle’ or ‘an ecological talisman for the daydreaming bourgeois.’” While making the bicycle an instrument of the mobility of the future will require investments and ambition policy-making, the biggest obstacle still facing “la petite reine” maybe lies in our misconceptions.