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Europe Doubles Down on Cycle Lanes

Success of schemes in the last year or so is encouaging cities to vastly expanded bike networks.

Hundreds of cities have already reconfigured their streets to make walking and cycling easier to aid social distancing and reduce air pollution. Now, with an end to the lockdowns in sight, the measures have proved so successful that cities across Europe are betting on the bicycle to lead the recovery.

According to the European Cyclists’ Federation, the continent’s cities spent €1bn on Covid-related cycling measures in 2020, creating at least 600 miles (1,000km) of cycle lanes, traffic-calming measures and car-free streets.

What’s more, it was not just the usual suspects in Denmark and the Netherlands taking action, but places with inadequate infrastructure. The pandemic revealed a latent demand for cycling and walking infrastructure and offered a chance to “build back better”, as politicians are fond of saying. Now many cities are busy accelerating existing plans to do just that.

Here's a quick summary of what some of Europe's major cities are doing:

London: The plan is to have 280 miles of cycle lanes by 2024. Transport for London data from January shows cycling has increased by 22% in outer London since 2019. Almost half of all journeys in London were made by cycling and walking from April to June 2020, up from 29% before the pandemic.

Barcelona: An initial 13 miles of pop-up cycle lanes were installed in summer 2020 to plug holes in the cycle network and encourage people avoiding public transport to cycle, and four more miles are being added. Cycle use has now risen to 10% above pre-pandemic levels.

Barcelona officials are accelerating the construction of 100 miles of new or improved cycle routes, increasing the network to 190 miles by 2024. This also prepares the ground for the Superblocks programme, of which cycle routes are an essential element and part of targets to cut car use by 25% by 2024.

Milan: The Strade Aperte programme was launched in April 2020 with a proposed 22 miles of new protected cycle lanes and pedestrian priority areas. The cycle route on Corso Buenos Aires is now the busiest in town, used by as many as 10,000 cyclists a day, an increase of 122% in a few months. Milan has now expanded Strade Aperte to 42 miles and is aiming for 62 miles by this summer.

Paris: Streets once dominated by cars are filled with cycles. Since spring 2020, cycling is estimated to have grown by 70%, and 31 miles of temporary coronapistes installed early in the crisis are to be made permanent, with more added. The proportion of women cycling has grown, and a recent survey found 62% of residents wanted the lanes made permanent. After re-election last year, the mayor, Anne Hidalgo, is accelerating cycleway plans further. The city has already delivered 100 miles of a planned 200 miles of new routes.

Lisbon: In the process of almost doubling its 65 mile cycle network to 124 miles this year, starting with pop-up lanes to create new protected routes.

In a survey spanning 21 European cities, 64% of respondents said they did not want to return to pre-Covid air pollution levels, which are illegally high in many cities. Three-quarters were willing to reallocate public space from cars to active travel to achieve this, while 21% said they planned to cycle more after lockdown, and 35% planned to walk more.


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