This article will provide an overview of the various cycling strategies being implemented across Europe. From the Netherlands, who invented the national cycling strategy in 1990, to countries like Denmark who already have a strong cycling culture, the strategies being implemented in these countries can serve as inspiration for anyone looking to promote and encourage cycling.
As the world becomes conscious of the need to reduce carbon emissions and promote sustainable transportation, cycling has emerged as a viable alternative to traditional modes of transportation. But how can policy-makers encourage a shift to a more sustainable form of transport?
An Overview of European National Cycling Strategies by Country
Austria is one of the countries in Europe with a strong focus on cycling as a means of transportation. The country has a "Cycling Masterplan" which aims to increase the number of people who use bicycles as their primary mode of transportation. The plan wants to see more people biking, from 7% in 2010 to 13% in 2025. To achieve this goal, the plan focuses on investing in high-quality biking infrastructure, promoting biking, and making biking safer and more convenient. The plan also prioritises coordination with other modes of transportation and promoting biking as a healthy option. Austria is also part of the Danube Cycle Plans program, which works to promote biking in the region.
Belgium is one of the European countries that has recently adopted a national cycling strategy on the federal level. The plan was adopted in 2021, aiming to increase the number of people who use bicycles as a means of transportation throughout the entire country. The main goal of this plan is to make it easier for people to bike, in order to reduce greenhouse gases by 55% by 2030.
The government also hopes that more people biking will help reduce traffic congestion, which is estimated to cost citizens $2.3 billion per year in social and health benefits. The plan includes 52 different measures that are divided into three main categories: making it easier for people to access bicycles, making the infrastructure safer and more comfortable, and promoting biking as a normal and convenient option. These measures will be assigned to different ministers and secretaries of state, who will be responsible for monitoring and evaluating them.
Cyprus has recently introduced a plan for promoting the use of bicycles as a means of transportation. The "Action Plan for the Promotion of Bicycle Use 2021-2023" was presented by Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos and announced investments of approximately €4 million, which was approved by the government in February 2021. The plan is not a stand-alone document, but is part of the National Plan for Energy and Climate 2021-2023. The action plan includes 17 different actions, such as improving cycling infrastructure with newer and wider cycle paths, updating markings and standards of bike lanes, allowing free transport of bicycles on public transport vehicles, building covered and safe bicycle parking stations, and creating locker rooms for employees in government buildings.
The Czech Republic has a comprehensive approach to promoting cycling as a means of transportation through its Concept for Urban and Active Mobility 2021-2030. This plan takes a holistic approach by addressing the entire transport system, including walking, cycling, public transport, and cars. It also sets different modal split targets depending on the population of the town or city. According to the plan, the share of cycling is expected to be the highest in smaller cities. This approach is quite unique compared to other European countries and cycling strategies.
Denmark has a long-standing commitment to promoting cycling as a means of transportation. In July 2014, the country published its second national bicycle strategy which identified the decline in cycling numbers during the 2000s as the main challenge and proposed a three-pillar strategy. The first pillar, "everyday cycling," aims to increase the overall number of cyclists by improving infrastructure, encouraging work commutes by bicycle and facilitating connections with public transportation. The second pillar, "active holidays and recreation," focuses on improving citizens' health by building more recreational cycling routes and investing in cycling tourism. Lastly, the "new and safe cyclists" pillar aims to increase the safety of children while cycling by launching educational campaigns and providing safer bike routes to schools.
Finland has a strong commitment to promoting cycling as a means of transportation through its "Kävelyn ja pyöräilyn edistämisohjelma" (Promotion program for walking and cycling) which is the country's third national cycling strategy. The goal of this strategy is to increase cycling and walking trips by 30% by 2030. The plan includes 31 different measures for the years 2018-2023 to achieve this goal in the following areas: changing attitudes, infrastructure, community structure, and legislation. The plan also includes details about the allocated investments, responsible parties, duration, and measures of success for each of these measures.
In September 2022, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne announced the renewal of the active mobility fund, which will be endowed with €250 million for the year 2023. The French plan for cycling strategies is based on four main axes. The first axis focuses on the development of quality cycling facilities and the overall improvement of road safety. The second axis addresses the issue of security, specifically the fight against bicycle theft. The third axis emphasises the importance of incentives and the establishment of an appropriate framework that fully recognizes cycling as a relevant and virtuous mode of transport. The fourth and final axis aims to promote the development of a cycling culture. Together, these four axes aim to respond to the identified obstacles and the expectations of the French public in order to make cycling a more accessible and practical mode of transportation for all.
Germany's National Cycling Plan is a comprehensive strategy for the promotion of cycling in the country. It is widely considered to be one of the most complete plans and is often used as a model for other countries. The plan has a specific set of clearly defined targets that have been coordinated in dialogue with professional associations, representatives from federal states, and local authorities. The guiding objectives of the strategy include implementing seamless cycling infrastructure, promoting cycling as a mode of transportation for commuting, integrating cycling into modern mobility systems, achieving "Vision Zero" for cycling safety, conducting urban cargo transport by bicycle, and making cycling smart and connected. The plan seeks to make cycling ubiquitous in both urban and rural areas and to place it at the heart of modern mobility systems.
According to the European Commission's survey, Hungary ranks third in popularity for cycling. This is due to the country's history of using cycling as transportation and recent efforts to increase the number of cycle routes and services. Hungary's first official national cycling strategy, the National Cycling Programme of 2014-2020, aims to boost economic development, improve health and enhance urban liveability by increasing regular cycling. The Hungarian plan sets specific and challenging targets and is a partner of the Danube Cycle Plans.
In Ireland, the popularity of cycling has been on a decline since 1986, with the share of bike commuting falling from 7% to 4.2% in 1996 and to 2% in 2006. In response to this trend, the government introduced "Ireland's First National Cycle Policy Framework" in 2020, with the ambitious goal of building a new culture of cycling in Ireland by 2020 and increasing the cycle modal share to 10% within 11 years. The policy recognizes that no single action will prompt people to cycle and thus, outlines a comprehensive package of interventions to make cycling easier and safer. While no specific investments were announced as part of this strategy, the new national government that took power in 2020 pledged to invest €360 million annually into active mobility, representing 20% of its capital investments in transport, with 10% dedicated to cycling and 10% to walking.
Italy has recently adopted its first cycling strategy, called the General Plan of Cycling Mobility 2022-2024, which includes a €1.154 billion investment. The plan was approved by the Minister of Infrastructure and Sustainable Mobility (MIMS) after recognizing the need for more sustainable transport and the potential of cycling. The plan is set to last for three years and focuses on different areas such as urban, regional and national level, to ensure change on all levels. The general goals of the plan are to equip Italy with resilient transportation systems, clean transportation with zero net emissions, active and safe mobility, and social inclusion to make transport more accessible, and finally better use of public space.
Latvia has a unique approach to its national cycling development plan, which is not focused solely on cycling, but rather on using cycling as a means to promote and contribute to overall economic prosperity. The plan encompasses various areas such as production, trade, exports, transport, mobility, health, culture, safety, education, sport and many others, where cycling is not the main goal but rather a tool to achieve it. The plan is designed to promote the economy and its development through cycling, utilising it as a means to contribute to the overall well-being of the country.
In 2022, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg published an updated national mobility plan with a focus on sustainability, following the Soft Mobility National Active Plan (2008) and Mobilité Durable (2012 and 2018). The plan includes a small part dedicated to cycling and aims to increase the amount of cycling trips from 2% in 2017 to 11% in 2035 by systematically integrating cycling infrastructure in all road projects to facilitate short and medium-distance travel. The plan also includes the 2025 objectives from MoDu 2, which aims to increase the percentage of home-to-work commute and home-to-school trips by cycling from 5% to 10% and 3% to 15% respectively. The plan includes the adoption of favourable regulations for cycling such as a law to further secure the national cycling network and to introduce the notion of the “express cyclable track”, amending the Highway Code, setting up an attractive and safe national cycling network, and integrating bicycles in all infrastructure and transport offers. Luxembourg also has several research-based plans for specific roads in various cities to make the infrastructure bike-friendly.
The Netherlands is known for having the most developed functional cycling at European and global level, with 41% of people indicating bicycle as their main mode of transport for daily travel as reported by the last Eurobarometer (EB495, 2019). The Netherlands was a forerunner in conceptualising and implementing a national cycling strategy with the “1990-1997 Dutch Bicycle Master Plan” being the first of its kind. However, the national government later transferred all responsibilities to the local and regional level, and there has been no national cycling strategy in the strict sense ever since. In 2015, the Tour de Force35 was launched in Utrecht, bringing together various governmental and non-governmental actors, businesses, and academia with the intention of promoting cycling in a joint effort. In 2017, they drafted the Bicycle Agenda 2017-2020 with several actions to overcome barriers and exploit opportunities in cities, rural areas, and in combination with public transport. The plan's four main priorities are: 1) 100,000 more people cycling to work by the end of this electoral mandate, 2) the benefits of cycling to be consistently maximised when planning new housing, 3) ensure as many people as possible who are currently unable to cycle are encouraged and enabled to do so, 4) ensure the Netherlands will remain the world's number one cycling country.
Norway does not have a specific national cycling policy, but the government sets several targets and actions for cycling in its "National Transport Plan 2014-2023. The goal of the plan is to strengthen public transport and facilitate cycling and walking, particularly in urban areas where environmental and capacity challenges are prominent. The plan prioritises the need for sustainable transportation options and aims to promote cycling as an alternative mode of transportation for daily commutes in urban areas.
Portugal has an integrated and clear strategy for active cycling mobility with the goal of making the country “proudly active”, where cycling is a safe and widely practised activity, constituting an accessible and attractive mobility option, thus maximising benefits for public health, the economy, employment, the environment and citizens. The "National Strategy for Active Cycling Mobility 2020-2030" provides 51 measures to promote active cycling mobility in four cross-cutting areas: framework and legislation, research and development, monitoring and evaluation and financing, in addition to three specific axes of intervention: infrastructure and intermodality, capacity building and support and culture and behaviours. As of January 1, 2023, a reduced VAT-rate of 6% will apply to the sales of bicycles. Portugal is the first EU country to apply the reduced rate following the revision of the VAT Council Directive 2006/112/EC in 2021.
According to its national cycling strategy, Slovakia is just starting to implement concrete measures to bring cycling as transport and cycle touring to the forefront and to utilise its potential. The strategy document briefly describes the current state of cycling in Slovakia and states the ambition to ensure a well-balanced and sustainable development of mobility and to create conditions for increasing citizens’ standard of living. The vision is to emancipate cycling from other transport modes, making it a regular part of urban and regional transportation systems. It also aims to improve awareness of the benefits of cycling as a form of transportation for commuting, recreation, and the benefit of the environment, economy, and public health. Slovakia is also a partner of the Danube Cycle Plans.
Spain adopted its first national cycling strategy in 2021, recognising the importance of cycling as a solution for urban mobility. The strategy defines state investments exclusively dedicated to cycling and is presented with the motto "Bicycle Effect: When We Come Together, It All Works Out". The five priorities of the strategy include pursuing sustainable mobility through a modal shift to cycling, promoting healthy living through active mobility, exploiting the potential of cycle tourism, promoting leisure and sports cycling, and coordinating the action of the state in promoting cycling. In December 2022, the Spanish government announced the formation of an inter-ministerial working group with 12 ministries to further advance the promotion of cycling in the country.
Sweden has a national cycling strategy with the goal of increasing and enhancing cycling safety. The strategy is a reflection of the government's ambition to encourage more individuals to adopt cycling as a mode of transportation. It aims to promote bicycle-friendly municipalities, improve knowledge about different types of cyclists, prioritize bicycle traffic in community planning, provide functional and user-friendly cycling infrastructure, and increase physical activity. However, the future of the national cycling strategy is uncertain due to a recent change in government and a pending revision. A revised transport budget, including state funding for cycling, is expected to be released in 2023.
Switzerland currently does not have a national cycling strategy, with cycling accounting for around 5% of all transportation modes. However, after a 2018 referendum, a provision on cycling was added to the constitution and the Federal Council passed the Cycle Routes Act in May 2021. This law obligates cantons and municipalities to plan and implement cycle path networks, with a proposed 5-year planning period and 20-year implementation period. The Federal Roads Office recently launched the Road Map Velo with the goal of doubling bicycle traffic by 2035. The RMV is aimed at coordinating and advancing measures from public authorities and private stakeholders to promote cycling and implement the Cycle Routes Act.
The United Kingdom
The UK used to have a National Cycling Strategy in 1996, but now each country within the UK (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) is responsible for implementing their own cycling strategies. According to the most recent data from Eurobarometer (2019), only 2% of the UK population chose cycling as their primary mode of transportation.
Implementing Effective Cycling Policies
In conclusion, national cycling strategies across Europe differ in their scope and implementation, with some countries having a comprehensive plan in place and others taking a more decentralised approach. What they have in common is to aim to promote intermodality by integrating cycling and public transport.
Key elements of these strategies include the expansion of a national cycle route network, the appointment of a "national cycling officer," capacity building initiatives for local and regional authorities, funding for pilot projects and research, the exchange of best practices, a systematic approach to financing cycling infrastructure, and new legislative and fiscal initiatives. Common priorities in these strategies include data collection and monitoring, education programs, and anti-theft measures.
Despite the variations of the strategies and plans, there is a growing recognition of the benefits of cycling, including improved health and reduced traffic congestion, and many countries are taking steps to increase the mode share of cycling. As bike-sharing experts, we have extensive experience in partnering with cities to encourage cycling and in providing bike-sharing schemes. Whether you're looking to enhance your city's cycling infrastructure or promote sustainable transportation—feel free to reach out to us, we would be happy to share our insights.