Are European Cities Keeping Their Cycling Infrastructure Promises?

By Megan Flottorp

When pandemic lockdowns put our cities on hold, the discussion around better cycling accessibility really took off. With many local governments choosing to prioritise cycling infrastructure, the future for commuters and urban cyclists looked brighter than ever. So, with many countries doing away with restrictions and life returning to normal for many, where do we stand in terms of cycling-friendly initiatives?

Well, the short answer is that there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic, and still a lot of work to do! Speaking last year at an online event co-hosted by the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF), “Celebrating Cycling Cities: Sharing Europe’s Best Practices”, Dutch State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management Stientje van Veldhoven summed it up nicely when describing the collaborative efforts that underpin the successful development of cycling infrastructure. Her main point was that the number of cyclists in a city would grow, provided that mobility networks are combined with high-quality infrastructure and policy that takes cycling seriously. She explained: “The bike is our secret weapon against so many of the problems we are facing.”

Indeed, if you’re reading this, you probably already know that the benefits of making changes to a city’s infrastructure to accommodate cyclists better will be far-reaching. That said, in addition to the great strides being made at the EU level, a lot of action will still need to take place locally, and that is why it is crucial to continue sharing success stories and devising new plans of action.

So, as we look to continue harnessing enthusiasm for more bike-friendly cities – here are some updates on what is happening across Europe and a few strategies to utilise if you’re looking to advocate for cycling in your own city.

Milan goes big when it comes to protected cycling lanes

Realising that they had a pollution problem requiring immediate action, Milan is on a mission to become the most bike-friendly city in Europe. As a centre of significant industrial activity and pervasive car dependency, smog is wreaking considerable havoc in the city. So, to combat the problem, the city plans to build 750 kilometres (466 miles) of protected cycling lanes by 2035.

Cycling in Milan
Milan has ambitious infrastructure plans for the future. © Profimedia

The first part of its extensive network, which will be organised around five concentric bicycle beltways emanating out from the city core, is scheduled to be ready this summer. The entire $285 million endeavour is the region’s most ambitious cycling infrastructure project, surpassing Paris’s 680 kilometres of planned bike lanes in scope. Hopefully, this go-big-or-go-home approach will allow the city to enter a new era as a cyclists’ paradise.

Prague integrates free shared bikes as a permanent part of the city’s public transport

Access to bikes is an essential element of the make-cities-bike-friendly equation that sometimes gets overlooked. Prague is taking action to change that. A pilot project offering holders of a Prague public transport pass free access to short-term bike rides has been successful and will become a permanent offering from the city. Through this newly instated programme, holders of Prague’s Lítačka public transport pass also have access to shared bicycles from the Rekola and Nextbike companies for up to 15-minute time periods, up to four times a day free of charge. That should definitely incentivize some new riders to join the ranks!

Paris aims to make itself accessible to the people in 15 minutes or fewer

What if we told you that you could get anywhere you wanted to go in Paris in 15 minutes? Well, this seemingly utopian impossibility might not be as far off as you think. Partially inspired by the work of Jane Jacobs who viewed neighbourhoods as social connectors, the idea behind 15-minute cities was developed by Carlos Moreno, a Sorbonne professor who aimed to improve the urban quality of life.

The plan in Paris, dubbed the “ville de quart d’heure” or the quarter-hour city, is to transform the capital into more efficient neighbourhoods to reduce pollution and create socially and economically diverse areas. Most notably for us cyclists, they want to continue to pedestrianise the capital by putting a bike lane in every street within the next three years – all while taking away 60,000 parking spaces for cars. Your dreams of cruising along the Champs-Élysées with a baguette in your front basket might come true after all!

Want to help your city become more bike-friendly but not sure where to start? Here are some ideas:

If these examples have you feeling inspired but seem a little beyond what you can reasonably ask of your city representatives – here are some smaller steps that communities can take on their way to more long-term cycling solutions.

Temporary bike lanes for the win

During the heart of the pandemic, many cities opted to implement temporary bike lanes in order to drive traffic to local shops and businesses. Cycling advocates have, naturally, been quick to insist that the changes should be made permanent and expanded further. If your city has not tested this theory out, it is a great and cost-effective way to see if offering more bike lanes would benefit your community.

Put up a (bike) parking lot

Better access to public bike parking is a necessary component of creating a more bike-friendly community. In the same way that you don’t have to doubt there will be parking available for your car, you should know that you’ll have a place to store your bike when you get to your destination. Bike racks or parking rooms are a fairly easy and affordable way to get your city on the right track.

Give cyclists the tools they need to feel safe on the road

Start a campaign for free or incentivised bike repair kits. By giving cyclists tools to fix their bikes on the go, the more likely they are to continue biking and feel confident while they ride. This is an easy thing that cities can do to make it clear they are serious about their commitment to becoming more bike-friendly.