Covid-19 cycling infrastructure building spree overlooks safety needs
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The pandemic helped to build new cycling infrastructure across Europe but failed to help where cyclist deaths are highest.
The Covid-19 pandemic triggered a bout of changes to local cycling infrastructure as commuters eschewed public transport. Enthusiasm to support cyclists all across Europe led to a whopping €1bn splurge into measures such as car-free sections, cycle lanes, traffic-calming and reduction zones, and wider pavements.
Britain invested more than £326m, mainly as part of an emergency active travel fund to create pop-up cycle lanes, improved junctions and cycle- and bus-only corridors.
But Britain’s example shows that the building spree is not distributed equally across EU nations. Perhaps more importantly, it often didn’t match the widespread requirement for safety.
E&T found that EU countries that built or promised to build new cycling infrastructure already recorded fewer cyclist casualties. Safety-record data is expressed in the proportion of reported cyclist road deaths on urban roads as a share of all deaths, recorded by the European Union’s road accidents database.
Nations that historically struggle with a high number of fatal cycle accidents did comparatively little to improve safety. Germany, Switzerland, Hungary, Austria, Sweden, Slovenia, Norway and the Czech Republic all had above-average cyclist death rates compared with all road-related casualties.
One reasonable explanation for this could be that countries that already maintained substantial cycling infrastructure before Covid-19 didn’t need to invest a great deal more. Aleksander Buczynski, policy officer at ECF, says: “The measures were mostly popular in countries that lacked continuous cycling infrastructure and had to quickly adapt to new reality, including reduced role of public transport.”
In Finland spending matched the safety needs. The nation, a top spender per capita, which funded €43m-worth of new cycling infrastructure projects, suffers from 29 per cent of road deaths being cyclists, more than twice the EU average. New cycle track added was limited to a few kilometres, mainly concentrated in cities such as Helsinki and Lahti.
The data was collected by European Cyclist Federation, a lobbyist group that counts cycle tourism as a sustainable economic and environmental measure for mobility as their goals.
But how permanent are these changes to the cyclist network? E&T found that more funds were pledged to build temporary measures, according to ECF’s data. Part of it might be due to heavy criticism that Covid-19-related cyclist infrastructure projects drew from the driving lobby and other opponents.
Critics suggest that, as more people avoid public transport, cycle more and use more space that cars occupied prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, it will result in clogged-up traffic and therefore rising levels of pollution.
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