European Commission Makes Cycling and Walking Priorities in Cities

Europe is modernizing its transportation systems.

People walking, biking and on transit in Amsterdam
More of this in all of Europe soon.

Paulo Amorim / Getty Images

The European Commission rolled out proposals to modernize the European Union's transportation systems, including fast rail for people and better handling of freight by rail, canals, and improved terminals—all with the intent of getting people out of cars and freight out of trucks. According to the release:

TEN-T proposals

European Commission

"By increasing connectivity and shifting more passengers and freight to rail and inland waterways, by supporting the roll-out of charging points, alternative refuelling infrastructure, and new digital technologies, by placing a stronger focus on sustainable urban mobility, and by making it easier to choose different transport options in an efficient multimodal transport system, the proposals will put the transport sector on track to cutting its emissions by 90%."

Perhaps the most interesting interventions are in cities, where there will be requirements for cities to adopt a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP) with "public transport and active mobility (walking, cycling) at its heart." They call for a move away from the current approach based on traffic flow to an approach based on moving people and goods more sustainably.

"This means cities need to improve collective and public transport, provide better active mobility (walking, cycling) options, and implement efficient zero-emission urban logistics and last mile deliveries, taking into account the needs of people and businesses who need to access the city for work, leisure, shopping or tourism."

Unlike North America, where politicians and planners are ignoring the e-bike revolution, the EU plan promotes them and is even looking at the role of "micro-mobility" instead of just complaining about scooters on sidewalks.

"New mobility services are part of a multimodal, integrated approach to sustainable urban mobility. They can reinforce public transport and substitute car use. The ‘micro-mobility revolution' requires more effort in terms of sharing best practice and providing guidance, especially as these vehicles pose significant safety challenges."
Urban Mobility Framework graphic

European Commission

Writing from North America where the big vision out of the White House is an electric vehicle charging action plan, this idea of building public transport, better options for walking and cycling, new modern train stations, and zero emissions urban logistics is impressive. They are impressed in Europe, too, with big bike organizations thrilled with the report. According to the European Cyclists Federation, some of the things they like:

  • The overall prioritization of the development of cycling, walking, public transport, and shared mobility services in urban mobility.
  • The call for cities to properly address cycling in urban mobility policies “at all levels of governance and funding, transport planning, awareness-raising, allocation of space, safety regulations and adequate infrastructure."
  • The acknowledgment of the need to accelerate the deployment of cargo bikes and e-cargo bikes for urban logistics and last-mile deliveries, notably as an integral part of Sustainable Urban Logistics Plans (SULPs).
  • The recognition that e-bikes and e-cargo bikes, as “the fastest-growing e-mobility segment in Europe,” are contributing not only to an increase in the number and length of cycling trips but to the strong industrial leadership of the European cycling industry.
  • The call to ensure better integration between public transport, on the one hand, and shared mobility services and active mobility, on the other.
  • The call for cyclists and pedestrians to be given sufficient road space, including through safe and separated infrastructure.

European Cyclists’ Federation CEO Jill Warren says: “We have long been advocating for safe cycling to be unequivocally prioritised alongside walking, public transport and shared mobility services over individual motorised transport. For the benefit of people who cycle in Europe, and those who would like to, we welcome what is effectively the Commission’s strongest commitment to cycling to date. This is real progress for the European cycling associations but also for every advocate and city official who has worked to show what cycling can deliver for cities.”

Adina Vālean, EU's transport commissioner, pulls it all together:

“Today we are proposing higher standards along the TEN-T [Trans-European Transport Network] boosting high speed rail and embedding multimodality, and a new north-south Corridor in Eastern Europe. With our Intelligent Transport Systems Directive we are embracing digital technologies and data-sharing. We want to make travel in the EU more efficient – and safer – for drivers, passengers and businesses alike. The cities linked by EU infrastructure are our economic powerhouses, but they must also be lean cities – for inhabitants and commuters. That is why we are recommending a dedicated framework for sustainable urban mobility - to guide the faster transition to safe, accessible, inclusive, smart and zero-emission urban mobility.”
intelligent transport graphic

European Commission

In North America, electric cars suck up all the air in the room. In Europe, electrification is taken for granted, with the added frisson of "intelligent transport systems" where all the cars are monitored and connected and probably have full speed control to help reduce human error.

Imagine a proposal like this in North America, where bikes and pedestrians get priority, where the big investments are in rail and transit instead of roads and electric cars, where urban deliveries are all done by e-cargo bikes, and where cars listen to each other instead of the driver. Heads would explode.

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