ECF interview: European Cycling Culture

Published by Lyn on 27 November 2013

The development of European cycling culture – an interview with Kevin Mayne, the European Cyclists' Federation's Director of Development. By Lynette Eyb.

The ECF in Czech republic. Photo ECF

The European Cyclists' Federation promotes cycling across Europe, from commuter cycling in cities to cycle tourism, as shown here in the Czech Republic. Photo: ECF

I recently wrote this article on European bike culture for the GlobalPost news website in the States. The editors had asked me for an exploration of European bike culture, and to consider the sorts of ideas that the US could adopt from Europe in an effort to further encourage cycling.

However I only had space for a fraction of my inteview with Kevin Mayne, the European Cyclists' Federation's Director of Development. I've decided to post a longer version here in case it's of interest to anyone out there.

You can also read my interview with Andy Clarke, President of the League of American Bicyclists, here. He gave me an American perspective on the growth of bike culture in the States.

FWF: What has the ECF's core strategy been so far in supporting the development of cycling?

KM: As an international body we strive to show that cycling can be done. We take successes stories and try to replicate them at the EU level, national level, and local level. We are a knowledge sharing organization. It is our national members, national governments and cities that are doing the work. We share best practices through our Velo-city series conferences, and by brokering people together.

Underneath that, we are committed towards reaching our targets (doubling cycling, halving causalities, 10% of transportation funding spent on cycling). We set benchmarks for people to aim for.

FWF: Why has the development of cycling been so successful in Europe when compared to America or Australia? 

KM: First of all, there is no ‘Europe’ – there are huge differences within Europe, some countries are doing exceptionally well, other not. Where things are going well, you see cycle-specific infrastructure, car-free city centers, cyclists and pedestrians prioritised, all this over a long period of time. Cycling builds up. In part this may be linked to urban sprawl in America – Europe has a high density in its cities, allowing for shorter distances and thus more accessible cycle commuting/cycle trips.

FWF: What advice would you have for non-European cities and towns that are looking to nurture a cycling culture? Cities in America such as Portland have proven it is possible, but how do you go about rolling that excitement our across other cities and towns so that it becomes a national movement? It sometimes seems as if European bike culture has happened organically in Europe, however we know this isn't the case – a passionate bicycle advocacy network has nurtured the shift. Why have cycling advocates and lobbyists been so successful in many European countries?     

KM: We can’t just tell people to cycle, we need a critical mass of cyclists that are visible, enjoying cycling, clearly safe. You need an attractive group of society (youth, business people, middle-class) make cycling look like fun, useful, attractive. Go to a city, find where those people are and invest heavily in cycling where you will get a result. Once you have a critical mass of cyclists on the road – grow from there. So, concentrate high quality infrastructure and go from there.

It is not just about advocacy, it is about nurturing a political environment that is in favor of cycling. Advocacy used to be about opposition – what is really changing is when you become partners. In Europe people have seen earlier that they need cycling – for congestion, climate, pollution, health, etc. Cycling is about meeting political needs.

Lyon's bike share scheme. Photo: Jo Dasson

"Bike sharing is cycling’s wonder drug," says Kevin Mayne. Pictured is Lyon's Vélo'v bike share scheme. Its blueprint has been adopted by Paris and multiple other cities. Photo: Jo Dasson

FWF: How important has the development of bike sharing programs been to the spread of bicycle usage? New York now has a bike share program - the highest profile scheme in the States. Could bike sharing do for New York what it's doing in Paris and London, and help make everyday cycling accessible?

KM: Bike sharing programs are quick, easy, flexible ways to incorporate cycling into your day – without needing your own bike! So bike-share schemes provide another outlet to spreading bicycle usage. They make cycling accessible to a broader audience and also help integrate cycling with public transportation. Bike sharing is cycling’s wonder drug.

FWF: What are the biggest challenges now facing the ECF and European countries as they work towards more improvements in cycling infrastructure?

KM: There is no Europe – you have to win the political argument in each city, region, country – keep going to show that cycling can contribute to health and well-being. When you get the politicians on your side the investments start to follow. We’re not doing anything new; we’re just doing it to new audiences. Coming out of the financial crisis, it is important that we don’t revert to the old model – cycling investment is more efficient and practical. Money is better spent on cycling. Our biggest task now is to keep cities and governments focused on the value of cycling investment; we’re focused on the economics of cycling.

Greece by bike. Photo: ECF

Greece by bicycle, anyone? Photo: ECF

FWF: Most Americans are heavily dependent on cars. How closely linked, in your view, are cars and cycling? How important is it to move away from a reliance on the car in order to develop an enduring bicycle culture?

KM: We try not to reduce things to cars vs. bicycles. Increasing opportunities and ways to cycle does not necessarily come to the detriment of car users – the idea is to get more people cycling more often – if that means less people driving, then so be it. As for being heavily dependent on cars, the idea is to show cycling as a viable option for transport, and to ensure that the infrastructure and knowledge/awareness is there to support the shift to cycling. It isn’t pleasant to find a parking spot in a European city – it is simpler and easier to just go by bike. How to get people to make the short trips by bike? If you put in the infrastructure.

When I asked the ECF about the success of the EuroVelo programme and what inspiration countries like the US and Australia could take from its development, Ed Lancaster, the ECF's Policy Officer for Regional Policy and Cycling Tourism, sent me these thoughts:

"When complete, the 14 long distance cycle routes that make up the EuroVelo network will cover over 70,000km and unite communities as far apart as Moscow and Lisbon and Athens and Galway. So it is truly a continental cycle route network, but it has not happened overnight.

"EuroVelo was first established back in 1995 and has been developing ever since. The key to its success has been having a good organisational structure in place: we oversee the coordination at a European level, whilst there is a network of National EuroVelo Coordination Centres working on route development at a national, regional and local level. This model could be easily replicated elsewhere. Indeed, we are aware that the Adventure Cycling Association is doing a fantastic job in developing the Adventure Cycling Route Network in North America.”

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