Covid-19 cycling infrastructure building frenzy neglects safety needs

The pandemic has helped build new cycling infrastructure across Europe, but hasn’t helped where cyclist deaths are highest.

The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered a series of changes to local cycling infrastructure, with commuters avoiding public transport. Enthusiasm to support cyclists across Europe has led to a whopping €1 billion spent on measures such as car-free sections, cycle lanes, traffic calming and reduction zones and wider sidewalks.

Britain has invested more than £326m, mostly through an emergency active travel fund to create pop-up cycle lanes, improved junctions and dedicated bike and bus lanes.

But the example of Britain shows that the construction frenzy is not evenly distributed among EU countries. Perhaps more importantly, it often fell short of the generalized requirement for security.

E&T has found that EU countries that have built or promised to build new cycling infrastructure have already recorded fewer casualties among cyclists. Safety records data is expressed as the proportion of cyclists killed on urban roads out of all fatalities, recorded by the European Union Road Accident Database.

Image credit: ECF, EU CARE, E&T

Nations that historically struggle with high numbers of bicycle fatalities have done relatively little to improve safety. Germany, Switzerland, Hungary, Austria, Sweden, Slovenia, Norway and the Czech Republic all had above-average rates of cycling fatalities compared to all road fatalities.

A reasonable explanation for this could be that countries that already maintained significant cycling infrastructure before Covid-19 did not need to invest much more. Aleksander Buczynski, Policy Officer at the ECF, says: “The measures were mainly popular in countries that lacked continuous cycling infrastructure and had to adapt quickly to the new reality, including the reduced role of public transport” .

In Finland, expenditure corresponded to security needs. The nation, which spends the most per capita, which has funded 43 million euros in new cycling infrastructure projects, suffers from 29% of road deaths being cyclists, more than double the average of the EU. The new added cycle path was limited to a few kilometers, mainly concentrated in cities like Helsinki and Lahti.

The data was collected by the European Cyclists’ Federation, a lobby group that sees cycle tourism as a sustainable economic and environmental measure for mobility as a goal.

Cycling statistics2

Image credit: ECF, E&T

But how permanent are these changes to the cycle network? E&T found that more funds had been pledged to put temporary measures in place, according to ECF data. This could in part be due to the heavy criticism that Covid-19-related cycling infrastructure projects have drawn from the driver lobby and other opponents.

Critics suggest that as more people avoid public transport, cycle more and use more space than cars took up before the Covid-19 pandemic, it will lead to congested traffic and therefore a increased pollution levels.

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