European Union cycling policy

The European Union (EU) should have a cycling policy. At present, cycling is mentioned in sustainable transport policy, and cycle infrastructure can be paid for by the Regional Fund, but the EU has no specific policy on cycling as such. Cycling is not a specific competence of the EU either, so a new policy might require politically sensitive treaty changes. This post assumes that the UK will leave the EU soon: given its possibly unique anti-cycling culture, the UK would never agree to the policies proposed here.

The European Union should not attempt to promote cycling. It should recognise that cycling is a political and lifestyle choice, often associated other ideological differences. Possibly cycling results from a specific ‘cyclist personality’, but the EU does not have to consider the deeper causes. It must however recognise that cycling and driving are deeply rooted behaviours, and that promotional campaigns will not make people cycle, no more than they will make people change their religion.

Instead, the European Union should recognise cyclists as a persecuted and disadvantaged minority, comparable to the Roma. It should recognise that they have been historically persecuted and killed by many European states, and that many EU member states still have policies to kill cyclists. The problem is not that cycling is legally prohibited: on most roads in Europe it is legal. The problem is that cyclists can not reasonably cycle for fear of their lives, and if they do cycle, they can reasonably expect to be killed or injured by vehicles, without any corresponding protection by the state.

The European Union should therefore grant cyclists the general status of a protected minority. Specifically, cyclists should became a protected category under anti-genocide legislation. Existing national anti-genocide law is derived from the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which prohibits certain acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group…” The Convention was one of the first UN treaties, and can not be easily amended. However, the EU can adopt its own anti-genocide policy, and expand the protected categories. (So long as the original provisions are not deleted, that would still be compatible with the 1948 Convention).

The prohibited acts under the 1948 Convention are:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The last two are not relevant for cyclists, but the first three could certainly apply to state anti-cycling policies, which result in death, injury, or impaired mental health. Those responsible – for instance a transport minister or the mayor of a city – could be prosecuted for their policies.

The EU could also make cyclists a protected category under anti-discrimination provisions. There is a European treaty in this case , the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Article 14 prohibits discrimination on grounds of “sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status”. Adding cyclists as a specific “other status” simply requires an extra protocol – sexual orientation has already been added. However, I explained here earlier that anti-discrimination laws are obsolete, and that the real issue is inter-group hostility, which can not be decreed out of existence. Separation of hostile groups is a more appropriate response by the state, than ‘making them be nice to each other’.

The European Union should therefore recognise the inherent hostility between cyclists and drivers (car and truck drivers), and in a wider sense between a cycling culture and the dominant car culture. Instead of trying to force them both into an impossible harmony, it should separate them as social groups, and protect the weaker group.

An important first step is recognition of a ‘right to cycle’. That might be a useful component of a new treaty, to replace the obsolete ECHR. Nevertheless, a ‘right to cycle’ does not necessarily need to use those exact words. Although many people think that ‘rights’ are some sort of sacred entity, they are in fact a linguistic construction, and can always be reformulated in other terms. So a ‘right to cycle’ could in fact consist of listed obligations for states – and that is exactly what European Commission Directives do. A ‘right to cycle’ Directive could cover provision and maintenance of infrastructure, safety norms for roads used by both cyclists and motor vehicles, equal treatment of cyclists in transport law, and the abolition of laws and regulations which restrict cycling.

To restore parity with drivers and the dominant car culture, the EU should stipulate that member states spend about 0,5% of GDP on cycling facilities of all kinds. That would be mainly on construction of new cycle infrastructure, but also on maintenance, snow clearance, cycle parking, interchange with public transport, signage, and information. The norm is equivalent to about € 150 per person per year in northwestern Europe, and about € 50 per person in southeastern Europe. For comparison: the Netherlands spends less than 0,1% of its GDP on cycling, but it has been spending for much longer, and has a larger ‘stock’ of infrastructure. After 5 to 10 years, when cycle infrastructure in the EU is greatly expanded, the 0,5% norm could be scaled back.

A combination of recognising the de facto situation of cyclists, and massive expansion of cycling provisions and infrastructure, is the best cycling policy for Europe. This policy is not intended to increase the cycling rate, or to make everyone cycle. A large part of the population of Europe does not want to cycle, and will not cycle, no matter how good the cycling provisions are. These ‘non-cyclists’ form the majority of the population, in most member states. They might cycle if they were legally compelled to cycle – but there is no reason to compel them, no more than compelling the non-Roma population to become Roma. Instead Europe should simply allow the cyclist minority to cycle safely and comfortably, on high-quality infrastructure – just as European states (and the EU itself) have provided for drivers and the car culture. Restriction of car use, on environmental and planning grounds, would then be considered as a separate issue.