Business news : Europe wants to double cycling but is not sure how

Last plenary of this Velo-city conference is on “Mobility Policies & Cycling in the European Union and its Member States”, chaired by ECF Secretary General Bernhard Enisnk. Speakers were Siim Kallas, Vice-President of the European Commission, responsible for transport, two Members of European Parliament Mathieu Grosch (EPP) and Michael Cramer (Greens) and two Presidents of ECF member organisations:  Marijke van Haren from Dutch Fietsersbond and Ulrich Sybert from German ADFC.

In his speech at Velo-city 2013 in Vienna, Vice-President of the European Commission, responsible for transport, summed up the measures the Commission was doing in support of cycling. Most importantly, the EU has funded via its regional and structural funds about €600 million in cycling infrastructure in the years 2007 – 2013. “This is no small money”, Kallas said. In ECF’s calculation it represents about 0.7 % of the EU investments in transport infrastructure.

A percentage that is not sufficient for Michael Cramer, whose party had advocated in the European Parliament to reserve 15 % of the EU’s transport spending to be earmarked for walking and cycling. “We need a budget line for cycling in Europe, however small it is, in order to give a signal to local, regional and national governments. Budgets for cycling are always to most vulnerable ones to be cut first in times of tight public budgets”, Cramer added. Kallas did not enter this discussion but he invited the regional and national authorities to submit concrete proposals “to approach European pockets”. Up to 85 % of cycling infrastructure projects could be financed by the European Regional Development Fund in eligible regions, he added.

Aside from European funding for cycle infrastructure, participants discussed the need for coordination of cycling policies at all levels. Ulrich Syberg (ADFC) mentioned the role of the national level in initiating and coordinating cycling policies at local and regional levels in Germany, despite the federal structure. The 2nd German National Master Plan 2013 – 2020 could serve as a blueprint for a European one, he suggested. The ensure the coordination of cycling policies at national ministerial level, the German government has therefore installed a National Cycling Coordinator within the transport ministry. Syberg invited the Commission to follow this example.

While not strictly against it, Kallas foresees “huge resistance from Member States”. More responsibility for the EU is a highly controversial issue, he added. Mathieu Grosch supported this stance: “Support for EU cycling policy must come from the Council” (i.e. Member States).

Kallas saw a higher probability to get national support when following the same objectives, as it is the case with road safety. He mentioned the proposal to revise the EU Directive on “Weights and Dimensions” which would allow adding extra space to the lorry cabin, improving, among other, direct vision of the lorry driver. “This would save the lives of 300 – 500 vulnerable road users in Europe”, the Commissioner estimated. Marijke van Haren (Fietsersbond) in her speech mentioned the project a Swedish-Dutch consortium has been working on in recent years to develop a windshield airbag for cars. “Life-saving technology should not only be there for the car passengers, but also for the other road users”, she claimed. The technology could enter the market in 2017/2018, thereby asking the Commission to come up with a European standard. Regarding improving road safety for pedestrians and cyclists, Cramer asked upon the Commission to introduce 30 km/h as default speed limit in residential areas as the European Parliament recommended it in 2011.

Kallas: “We will find European money for cycling projects, if regions and Member States submit right proposals”

Beyond the 3 main topics of European funds for cycling infrastructure, European Master Plan on Cycling/ European Bicycle Officer and road safety, the panelists touched upon a number of other important issues, in particular the health benefits of cycling and its integration into the concept of ‘internalisation of externalities’, the inclusion of EuroVelo into TEN-T (Trans-European network for transport), the positive cost-benefit ratio of cycling investments, mobility planning and e-bikes. Marijke Van Haren told about her daily 22km commute to work on bicycle which she said was only possible due to the electrical support she received and the excellent high-quality cycling infrastructure she could ride on. “It takes me 1 hour – 1hrs 05 to cover this distance”. Ulrich Syberg referred to the success of e-bikes in Germany: More than 1.3 million e-bikes are now on German roads which came with €0 public subsidy, compared to € 600 million for just 7,000 e-cars. Mathieu Grosch welcomed the success of e-bikes and demanded to ensure the inter-operability between national standards when charging the e-bikes.

All speakers thanked ECF and the Velo-city team for organizing this event, symbolizing that cycling is becoming mainstream. “20 years ago, cycling was no issue for parliamentarians”, Grosch said. “Now there is much support across all political parties”. ECF and its members will bring the aforementioned issues to the attention of candidates running for the new European Parliament elections in May 2014.

Source ECF by Fabian Küster

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