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Pedal Progress: Taking A Look At Europe’s Commitments to Cycling Infrastructure Post-Pandemic

By Megan Flottorp

As the world witnessed a surge in cycling during the pandemic, many European countries embraced the opportunity to invest in cycling infrastructure, bolstered by increased funds and a newfound appreciation for active transportation.

A few years down the road, we figured it was time to take stock and examine how these commitments have fared since the initial wave of enthusiasm. Today, we will delve into the evolving landscape of cycling infrastructure across Europe, exploring the impact of national recovery and resilience plans (NRRPs) and scrutinising the progress countries make in fulfilling their promises.

From Belgium’s bold investments to Slovakia’s innovative methodologies, we look at the successes, challenges, and ongoing efforts needed to transform our cycling dreams into tangible reality across the continent.

National Recovery and Resilience Plan and how they’ve impacted European countries commitments to cycling

In 2021, European Union (EU) Member States came together to adopt their National Recovery and Resilience Plans (NRRPs) as part of the impressive €800 billion “NextGenerationEU” stimulus package. Luckily for us, these plans didn’t just stop at economic recovery—they also recognised the growing importance of cycling and made significant investments to improve cycling infrastructure.

Through the concerted efforts of advocates like ECF and its members, cycling secured a place in the spotlight within the framework of the NRRPs. In fact, an estimated investment of €1.7 billion was initially earmarked for cycling projects. And that was just the beginning. Now, with over €90 billion in grants already disbursed to Member States under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (around one-quarter of the maximum grant amount), it’s time to examine the progress and highlight how some of the cycling initiatives fueled by “NextGenerationEU” funding are panning out.

Italy goes crazy for cycling

Lake como cycle path
Cyclists at Lake Como, Italy. © Profimedia

Among those leading the charge regarding cycling investments proposed in their NRRP was Italy — with a total investment of 1.2 billion EUR. Their visionary plan allocated €600 million to create 1,200 km of touristic cycle paths and approximately 570 km of urban cycling infrastructure by 2026. Policymakers also transformed this proposal into a comprehensive national cycling plan, which has since evolved into tangible action. With financial allocations to 45 cities with over 50,000 inhabitants for urban infrastructure projects and the designation of long-distance cycling routes set to benefit from these funds—some even intersecting with the renowned EuroVelo routes crisscrossing Italy—the nation is undoubtedly setting the bar high.

Spain remains committed to making its cities better for cyclists

Although their commitments in the NRRP were less precise quantitatively compared to Italy, the Spanish government ensured their dedication was also felt during the plan’s implementation phase. A national cycling strategy was crafted for the first time, boasting a mobilisation of €500 million from the Recovery and Resilience Facility.

This substantial funding paved the way for approximately 1,000 km of cycle paths, along with the creation of 4,100 secure bicycle parking facilities. To top it off, strengthening public bike-sharing systems in multiple cities became a reality. The impact of this investment can be witnessed firsthand through notable projects like improved cycling infrastructure in Pamplona, the expansion of the public bike share system in Palma de Mallorca, and the Metropolitan Area of Barcelona.

Romania looks to become a premiere cycling destination

On the other side of the continent, Romania also deserves a mention. Here, the efforts of the Romanian Cyclists’ Federation, a member of ECF, have also brought some exciting developments in cycling investments. They have proposed €120 million to fuel cycling initiatives to build over 3,000 km of touristic cycle routes. Although the execution of this plan remains in process, the government has taken concrete steps to solidify this commitment by publishing rules and funding conditions for establishing these routes. In total, the funding conditions now specify a weight amount of €247.5 million —a significant increase from last year’s estimations. Hopefully, this surge in investment will be what is needed to turn Romania into a cycling paradise.

Belgium focuses on cycling highways and increasing parking bike-parking options

Moving to Belgium, the country has allocated a significant amount of €400 million towards enhancing its cycling infrastructure. However, it’s important to note that Belgium operates under a federal structure, resulting in the division of these investments across different regions.

In the Flemish Region, a substantial portion of the funding, €345 million, has been designated for renovating existing cycling infrastructure spanning 1,350 km and constructing an additional 140 km of new pathways. While this investment is a positive step forward, it remains to be seen how efficiently these plans will be executed. Similarly, in the Brussels Capital Region, €34 million has been set aside to create around 7,000 secure bicycle parking spaces and develop 22 km of fresh cycling infrastructure. Indeed, it is encouraging to see these intentions, but implementation and impact will be key factors in evaluating their success. The Walloon Region intends to invest €14 million primarily in cycle highways connecting Walloon Brabant to Brussels.

Cycling advocates in Slovakia make things happen

Under the NRPP framework, Slovakia has also committed to investing over €100 million to support cycling. However, it’s worth noting that additional advocacy efforts by organisations like the Slovakian ECF Member Cyklokoalícia were necessary to push for the inclusion of cycling-friendly measures. One positive outcome, though, is the adoption of a new methodology for assessing project applications related to cycling infrastructure. This new approach aims to streamline resource allocation but remains untested in practice. The European Commission’s positive evaluation of this methodology in Slovakia’s first payment request is a promising sign, but its long-term effectiveness remains to be seen.

A promising road ahead that will require the ongoing effort of advocates!

Of course, this is just a sampling of some of the most successful projects, and other initiatives are being carried out across Europe and beyond. All of this is certainly heartening, yet while these investments and plans signal progress, it is vital to maintain a critical eye and continue exerting pressure on governments to prioritise and execute cycling infrastructure projects effectively. The journey towards comprehensive and sustainable cycling infrastructure is ongoing, and there is still work to be done to ensure that these commitments translate into tangible improvements for cyclists and communities as a whole.