Riding the Wave of Change: Unpacking the European Declaration on Cycling

By Megan Flottorp

On Wednesday, October 4th, 2023, the European Union took a big step towards a greener, healthier future by launching the European Declaration on Cycling. This historic initiative, spearheaded by EU Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean, stands as a strategic compass aimed at tapping into the full potential of cycling in the European Union.

With 36 commitments across eight principles, the declaration marks the EU Commission’s most ambitious move yet to promote cycling as a sustainable, accessible, and inclusive means of low-cost transportation. Today, we would like to dig into some of the initiative’s focus areas and why you, as a cyclist, should sit up and take notice.

The pillars of change: The European Declaration on Cycling’s fundamental principles

As outlined by Adina Vălean, EU Commissioner for Transport, “The European Declaration of Cycling 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.” Indeed, the proposed policy and investment to build new cycling infrastructure is also part of EU efforts to achieve the aims of its European Green Deal initiative, Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy and Zero Pollution Action Plan.

As noted above, the Declaration revolves around eight key principles, each with commitments to foster a cycling-friendly environment and align with climate targets. These principles include:

Developing and strengthening cycling policies: this involves promoting cycling as a healthy form of transport, targeted training for vulnerable groups, and increasing safe infrastructure.

Encouraging inclusive and affordable mobility: the declaration emphasises the importance of making cycling accessible to everyone and promoting bike training for children and vulnerable groups.

Creating more and better cycling infrastructure: to achieve this, the EU aims to integrate e-bike charging into urban planning, improve bike parking, and enhance the collection of cycling data.

Increasing investments and creating favourable conditions for cycling: a commitment to boosting investments in cycling and creating an environment conducive to its growth.

Improving road safety and security: focusing on measures to enhance the safety of cyclists on the road.

Supporting green jobs and developing a world-class European cycling industry: aiming to stimulate job growth in the cycling industry, recognising it as a critical player in the green economy.

Supporting multimodality and cycling tourism: encouraging the integration of cycling with other modes of transportation and promoting cycling tourism.

Improving data collection on cycling: emphasizing the importance of accurate data for informed decision-making.

Berlin Cycling
With 36 commitments across eight principles, the declaration marks the EU Commission’s most ambitious move yet to promote cycling as a sustainable, accessible, and inclusive means of low-cost transportation. © Profimedia

A milestone for cycling advocacy

The European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF) views the adoption of the European Declaration on Cycling as a key milestone for the cycling community. Jill Warren, CEO of the ECF, expressed delight that the declaration aligns with many longstanding advocacy demands, particularly those related to infrastructure and inclusive mobility.

The initiative follows other positive steps Europe took in recent years, such as the Pan-European Masterplan for Cycling Promotion in 2021 and the European Commission’s resolution in February to double the amount of bike riding across the continent.

But as all cyclists know all too well, sometimes policymakers talk a big game but we don’t actually see much change when we actually take to the roads. So…

What does the declaration mean for cyclists?

In some ways, the answer will depend on how active the cyclist community is when it comes to holding power to account. It is true that the European Declaration on Cycling is simply a document but it also has the potential to be a catalyst for change. While not legally binding, its significance lies in its potential to elevate cycling from a local concern to a matter for EU lawmakers. This recognition opens doors for cycling in EU laws and provides leverage for local and national campaigners to push for pro-cycling legislation.

According to Philip Amaral, Director of Policy and Development at the European Cyclists’ Federation, the declaration ensures that Europe is headed in a direction that integrates cycling into transport policy, even in the face of potential political shifts.

In the short term, campaigners hope that the declaration will translate into increased investment in cycling, drawing from EU funding instruments like the Social Climate Fund, European Regional Development Fund, and the Cohesion Fund. In the long term, it also serves as a meaningful touchstone for advocates to galvanise support behind their causes.

New opportunities for workers

Another point that seems worth mentioning, especially in the context of today’s precarious job market, is that the bicycle industry is booming — and that is something the declaration leans into. This cohesive new framework is set to stimulate further growth in the cycling sector, which contributes to environmental sustainability and provides employment opportunities in a burgeoning industry.

During the launch event, Commissioner Vălean expressed that the declaration aims to contribute to creating high-quality jobs, particularly in training and cycling tourism. This forecast is supported by a significant growth in bicycle production within the EU, reaching 14.7 million units in 2022, marking a 29% increase since 2012. Additionally, the global electric bike market is poised for substantial expansion, with a projected surge from $43.32 billion in 2023 to $119.72 billion by the same year, reflecting an impressive annual growth rate of over 15%, as reported by Fortune Business Insights.

Cycling in Amsterdam
The European Declaration of Cycling is designed to get more people onto saddles. © Profimedia

The potential the Declaration holds for all of us

Beyond the bureaucratic discussions and industrial nuances, though, the European Declaration on Cycling holds value for every cyclist, and here’s why:

Strategic priority – reducing carbon footprint

This declaration thrusts cycling into the limelight, acknowledging its pivotal role in decarbonising transportation. Each pedal becomes a conscious choice to decrease carbon emissions, aligning your daily commute with the broader fight against climate change.

Enhanced infrastructure for seamless commutes

If we can ensure they actually come to pass, the declaration proposes tangible improvements. Imagine smoother bike lanes, secure crossings, and well-thought-out routes, transforming your cycling experience into a safer, more enjoyable journey. Who doesn’t want to be able to navigate their city effortlessly, with purpose-built cycling paths that ensure a stress-free commute?

Health and well-being beyond the ride

The Declaration also acknowledges that cycling isn’t just a mode of transport; it’s a lifestyle that champions health. Regular cycling is a shield against obesity and cardiovascular diseases, and a boost for mental well-being — and it is nice to see policymakers putting these benefits in writing.

Inclusive cycling for all

This is a big one. The commitment to inclusive and affordable mobility ensures that cycling is accessible to everyone. Imagine a community where every child experiences the joy of their first bike ride, and vulnerable groups find reliable, affordable cycling options. We love the idea of working together to break down barriers and make cycling a universal experience.

The global shift towards sustainable transportation

A declaration of such scope also speaks to the fact that cycling isn’t confined to local trends; it’s part of a global movement. Electric bikes are gaining momentum, and cities worldwide are embracing bike-sharing initiatives. The declaration isn’t limited to European borders; it contributes to a worldwide transition to sustainable transportation. When you ride, you’re part of a global community propelling towards a greener future.

In essence, the European Declaration on Cycling has the potential to serve as a manifesto of sorts for those who believe the future belongs on two wheels. As cyclists, supporters, and enthusiasts, let’s do our best to capitalise on this momentum and pedal towards a future where cycling receives more of the funding and attention it deserves!