woman in face mask with bicycle

View from Brussels: Bicycles and the post-virus silver bullet

Image credit: European Union 2020

Europe should embark on a concerted effort to boost cycling as a transport option, the mobility ministers of the Benelux countries said on Tuesday (14 July), as they unveiled a comprehensive two-wheeled strategy.

Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands acknowledge that their countries are “a living lab” for trialling and rolling out cycling policies; now the Benelux nations want the rest of Europe to use the virus outbreak as an excuse to put their faith in bikes too.

According to a declaration sent to the EU yesterday, countries should figure out where bikes are used most and where there is scope to replace car travel with pedal power, so that funding can be funnelled where it can have the biggest impact.

The trio also laud the green credentials of biking, pointing out that half of car journeys in Europe are under 5km and that a third of those can easily be classed as walkable trips.

“The shift to sustainable and smart mobility is one of the main elements of the European Green Deal,” the declaration reads, referencing the EU’s flagship climate strategy and its net-zero emissions by 2050 goal.

Cities have already rolled out a lot of new cycle paths and installed bike boxes as well as e-bike charging points in reaction to the virus outbreak and the need to follow social distancing measures.

London, Milan, Paris and numerous other urban areas have embraced the bike and some governments have started offering purchase and maintenance vouchers for anyone that wants to join the action.

In Brussels, the home of the EU institutions, two of the city’s busiest arteries finally got new cycle paths and MEPs want those temporary measures made permanent, so that working and commuting habits can change in the long-run.

That has sparked a typically Belgian spat, where the country’s different ministers - representing federal level, Brussels, Flanders and Wallonia - have disagreed about how aggressive the rollout of new infrastructure should be.

But the Benelux plea wants more than just new cycle lanes and calls on national governments to tweak road rules to be more bike-friendly. They also urge the EU Commission to put e-bikes on its list of products that qualify for VAT reductions.

According to a new YouGov survey published this week, a quarter of Europeans will use an e-bike this year and research shows 8 per cent already own one. Ride-share schemes and falling purchase costs have made them more accessible to more consumers.

That is as far as the personal use side of things goes. In terms of cycling’s impact on business, the Benelux trio call on regional authorities to promote the use of cargo bikes as an end-of-line delivery option.

“Studies show that cargo bikes could replace 20 per cent of vans in urban areas,” the declaration says. In some places, that figure is even higher: recent analysis shows that half of deliveries in Brussels could be fulfilled using cargo bikes.

It offers a unique opportunity for cities to clean up their air and prepare businesses for tighter climate policies. EU rules on van emissions are kicking in this year and will ratchet up over the next decade.

New data from the European Environment Agency revealed this month that van pollution is increasing in the European Economic Area, so regulators may be forced to get more strict. Industry sources told E&T that the UK government is chomping at the bit to green vehicle standards to an even greater degree than they were while the country was subject to EU law, citing PM Boris Johnson’s endeavours while Mayor of London.

Ultimately, the Benelux call says that transport policy is a public health issue, as an increasingly obvious link between air pollution and increased susceptibility to viral diseases - like Covid-19 - means that policymakers and politicians have to start taking the bike more seriously.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles