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Washington Bicycling Hub - Winter '05
Europe Serious About Cycling as Urban Transportation
Officials See Even Larger Role; Meanwhile, Funding Marginal Here
By Charles Pekow
Mr. Pekow, a seasoned Washington, DC journalist, provides Bikexchange.com with continuing coverage of national legislative news on bicycling issues.
National European governments have miles to go before they sleep on their records for promoting bicycling. But one thing’s for sure: they’re far ahead of the federal government in the United States. It’s a lot more fashionable to ride a bike as a serious mode of transportation in Europe than it is here – and the support of national governments for bicycling explains much of the reason why. Perhaps Americans can learn from our peers across the Atlantic about what it takes to get bicycling taken seriously as a means of transportation.Last year, the European Conference of Ministers of Transport adopted a declaration for National Cycling Policies for Sustainable Urban Transport. At a meeting in Ljubljana, Slovenia, the ministers declared “policies and measures to promote cycling are an integral part of urban transport policy.” The declaration endorsed the following goals for national ministries of transit:
- “Establishing an integrated national cycling policy framework with clear goals, actions and targets in coordination with other national level administrations and agencies, regional and local authorities, cycling associations and bicycle manufacturers”
- “Proposing legislation, regulations and guidelines for the development and implementation of cycling policies at regional and local levels”
- “Using financial and other instruments to encourage and facilitate cycling initiatives by regional/local authorities”
- “Improving Safety for Cyclists by encouraging the reduction of speed and volume of motorized traffic where necessary”
The declaration goes on to suggest research on cycling policies and improving data collection.Meanwhile, back here in the states, Congress awarded the U.S. Department of Transportation less than $2 million to study bicycle and pedestrian safety during the current fiscal year, mostly pedestrian security. The European declaration follows a meeting three years ago in Portugal at which the ministers recommended that their governments create national policy frameworks for “sustainable urban travel.” And they haven’t heard the end of it. The declaration asks deputies to follow up on progress and report back “in due time.”
While the U.S. Census Bureau reports that bicycling trips in this country amount to about one percent of excursions, they average between five and 10 percent in Western Europe and one to five percent in Central and Eastern Europe. But the Netherlands and Denmark stand out with rates of 27 percent and 18 percent respectively. Japan also does well at 14 percent, according to the European ministers. Dutch and Danish national governments have historically strongly supported bicycling. Still, the ministers statement acknowledge that barriers such as “vulnerability in accidents with motorized traffic, bicycle theft, increasing travel distances due to urban sprawl, perceived low social status, weather and topology” are keeping “cycling somewhat in the margins of urban travel.”
While acknowledging that work has to be done at the local level, the ministers’ policy note says “national level commitment is important in setting the right legal, regulatory and financial framework so that successful implementation of cycling initiatives can take place.”
European national governments have chosen various ways to implement public bike plans. Some have developed national bicycle policies, while other include cycling in other transportation, health or environmental plans. So the United States can choose from various options. The planners use expertise from offices of transportation, land use, safety, environment and health.
They do, however, encounter some roadblocks. “First, cycling remains somewhat marginal in transport policy discussions in many countries, and national budgetary allocation reflects this statues. Second, as cycling policies draw from a wide range of objectives and involve many actors, lack of coordination…may cause biased policy planning and roadblocks to implementation,” the ministers’ statement warns. It also acknowledges that much of the infrastructure “is often flawed or of poor quality,” even that designed specifically for bicyclists. “Additionally, sometimes roads don’t allow enough space to accommodate bicyclists comfortably and “cycling often carries with it a somewhat skewed image – often perceived only as a sport, leisure, or children’s activity rather than a mode of transport.”
So transport ministries are trying to patch these flats through national efforts to promote cycling and sending regional and local governments money for bicycle projects. And – the paper reminds government officials – bike paths and parking cost a lot less than highways and public transit.
The conference issued a report available at http://www1.oecd.org/publications/e-book/7504101E.PDF.
One recent European accomplishment: The British Ministry of Transport recently published “Bike & Rail: A Good Practice Guide,” a brochure outlining successful strategies for allowing bikes on trains and providing parking at stations. (If referencing this article from print copy, see http://www.dft.gov.uk/stellent/groups/dft_roads/documents/page/dft_roads_031067.pdf.)
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