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The Swiss Voted to Officially Embed Cycling into Their Constitution

By Frantiska Blazkova

Swiss society took a big leap towards more cycling-friendly set of new regulations. The vote, which took place on Sunday 23rd September, tipped the scales in favour of a better cycling infrastructure, healthier lifestyle, and lower emissions.

The vote materialized from a people’s initiative that was handed to the authorities a year ago as the result of talks about environmental issues and ‘slow mobility’. The said initiative originated from the Swiss Pro Velo cycling lobby and its president and a Social Democrat Party politician Matthias Aebisher told the country’s public radio RTS that he was “astonished” by the volume of the support. Nearly three-quarters of voters, exactly 73.6 %, said yes to putting cycling and cycle infrastructure in the Swiss constitution. All 26 cantons were in favour and even though the turnout was 37.1 %, which is below average according to the Federal Chancellery, the results surpassed the poll predictions made in the lead-up period before the vote and showed that even non-cyclists and followers of sceptical political groups backed the change. The only opposing political party was the conservative right Swiss People Party.

Social Democrat Party politician Matthias Aebisher

The main objectives are of the initiative to relieve the notoriously overcrowded public trains and buses, limit toxic emissions, and to ensure a greater safety for cyclists, as the number of injuries and deaths keeps rising steadily – biking is the only form of transport that’s becoming statistically less safe. The Transport Minister Doris Leuthard stated all above points in a press conference held in the wake of the results and also expressed her support for the decision.

Anyhow, the initiative’s supporters remain sober about the outcome. Rather than drafting large-scale schemes for bike-only roads, they will focus on a bigger inclusion of cycling into future urbanist planning. “I would like the numbers of regular cyclists in Switzerland to increase from 8% to 16%,” said Aebischer – a figure more comparable to neighbouring Germany than to the cycling magnates of Denmark or the Netherlands.

The pack rides over the Mont Blanc bridge with the famous water fountain (jet d’eau) in the background, during the 5th and last stage, a 164,6 km race from Champagne to Geneva, at the 65th Tour de Romandie UCI ProTour cycling race, in Geneva, Switzerland, Sunday, May 1st, 2011. © Profimedia, TEMP EPA

According to the voted proposal, the government “may” but is not obliged to take more responsibility for cycle paths in the country. In practice, this will start by coordinating standards of bike paths across the country, and unifying tasks like the geo-mapping of routes. The regulations will bring about a significant number of new staff positions and the creation of a coordination unit and the government estimates the immediate cost of implementing the initiative at CHF1.8 million ($1.87 million) per year.