(All images copyright eu2015lu.eu unless otherwise noted)
Yesterday, October 7th, transport ministers from European Union (EU) and European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA) member states came together in Luxembourg to exclusively discuss cycling as a mode of transport for the first time. This informal meeting resulted in the ‘Declaration of Luxembourg’, which identifies cycling as a climate-friendly mode of transport and calls for an EU-level strategic document. What does this mean for everyday cyclists?
A bit about the meeting…
First, some background: The initiative to hold this meeting, part of Luxembourg’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union, came from Luxembourgish Minister of Sustainable Development and Infrastructure, François Bausch, a member of the Green Party who also happens to be an everyday cyclist. With the strong support of EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc, herself a “devoted cyclist” who regularly rides to work, plans for the meeting were off to a good start.
The agenda included two working sessions punctuated by cycling activities and talks by two well-known and inspiring Danish urban designers – Jan Gehl, who focuses on making cities livable with the emphasis on pedestrians and cyclists, and Mikael Colville-Andersen, a vocal advocate for cycling. At the end of the day, a big group ride from Kirchberg to the city centre was organized.
The ‘Declaration of Luxembourg’
“Cycling: not just a recreational activity but an important form of urban transport.”
The key output of the day, the ‘Declaration of Luxembourg’ (access full PDF document), was drafted at the meeting’s working sessions. The culmination of years of lobbying by the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF), which works at European level to change attitudes and policies towards cycling, and associated national organizations, the document begins by putting forward a number of arguments for increasing cycling in Europe (including its positive impact on innovation, the environment and health). Significantly, it then outlines an action plan towards the creation of an EU-wide policy on cycling that recognizes it as not just a recreational activity but also an important form of urban transport.
The document proposes three main actions for the European Commission to carry out:
- integrating cycling into multimodal transport policy
- developing an EU-level strategic document on cycling
- setting up a European focal point for cycling
Additionally, it suggests that EU member states contribute at national level by:
- designating a national focal point for cycling
- ensuring that national transport infrastructure projects aim to strengthen cycling networks
And that cities and regions contribute by:
- including cycling, as a means of transport and recreation, in local projects
- working with national and EU focal points for cycling to ensure best practices
What is the significance of the document?
These are all only suggestions to the different levels of government, but as they are coming from national and EU-level transport ministers rather than grassroots organizations, there is a much better chance that they will be implemented.
“A clear declaration in favour of cycling from transport ministers across the EU.”
The final sentence declares that “the Ministers and State Secretaries gathered in Luxembourg today are committed to promoting cycling as a climate friendly and efficient transport mode”. While not binding them to any specific action, this clear declaration in favour of cycling from transport ministers across the EU seems to promise positive changes in EU and national transport policy, resulting in new policies and infrastructure implemented in cities and regions in the coming years.
The ECF themselves see it as a significant step, with Secretary General Bernhard Ensink saying at the summit, “We can see the impact that will be achieved when 15 directorates of the EU Commission work together with 28 member states and 4 EFTA countries. The ECF is eager to support this collaboration and coordination of policy and resources to double cycling in Europe.”
Another perspective: Mikael Colville-Andersen
Mikael Colville-Andersen, creator of the popular Copenhagenize cycling blog and CEO of the urban design company of the same name, shared his thoughts on the event. He regularly gives presentations in different EU countries promoting the creation of infrastructure for everyday cycling (including several in Luxembourg in recent years). So does he think that this one will make a difference?
“Cycling is high on the agenda and here to stay.”
He noted that the last such meeting of EU leaders that he attended was in 2004, when cycling wasn’t yet on the radar. Now, in 2015, it’s high on the agenda and here to stay. However, although his presentation to the ministers advocated integrating cycling within national transport infrastructure, he still sees cities as the drivers of cycling – with national laws mostly acting as helpful backup. Cities have the immediate problems to solve: traffic congestion, carbon emissions, particulate matter concentrations, etc., and thus stronger motivation to implement changes. And without this will at city-level, national initiatives won’t go far.
However, he hoped that the meeting would result in leadership from larger EU countries, concluding that the ultimate goal is to have cycling recognized as equal with car transport and perhaps even that creation of a Ministry of Cycling in each member state.
How will the ‘Declaration of Luxembourg’ affect Luxembourg itself?
What does the declaration mean for the cycling summit’s host country Luxembourg? Dany Frank, communication manager for Minister Bausch, believes it will provide strong motivation to Luxembourgish politicians to further develop local and national cycling infrastructure. Sharing Bausch’s plans for the coming years, which have already been approved by Parliament, she stressed that the Luxembourg government was working hard to expand the national network to make cycling a possible means of everyday transport, not only within cities and communes, but between them as well.
“To come: Safe and efficient travel from Esch to Luxembourg City.”
Asked whether the new plans would make it be possible to travel safely and efficiently between Esch and Luxembourg City, for example, Ms. Frank said yes, but that it would take some time before the infrastructure would be ready.
One of the developments already made public is the spectacular cycling path that will be suspended below the capital city’s Adolphe Bridge, which is currently undergoing renovation. This novel bike path, while not uncontroversial due to the fact that it effectively ‘removes’ cyclists from the traffic mix, is nevertheless going to provide cyclists with a dedicated, secure and segregated bi-directional lane across the Petrusse valley. And this is only one result of the approximately €40 million that will be invested into cycling infrastructure over a period of 3 years, according to Minister Bausch.
Despite the potentially long deadlines, this all sounds promising for cycling in Luxembourg – but what are the exact plans? What are the timelines? Will there be public consultation before the new cycle paths are built? What will the infrastructure look like? Will the City of Luxembourg get the connected network of paths it desperately needs? We’re eagerly waiting to find out!
(Thank you to Michael Tomaszewski for his contributions.)