Skip to main content
Mobility and Transport

Challenges that cities face and how cycling can address them

Cities are generally confronted with problems such as congestion, air and noise pollution, and road accidents.

Before starting to identify which cycle policies or measures to implement in a city, it is important to first understand what the specific challenges are that a city faces and how cycling-related measures may help to overcome these challenges.

An overview of these challenges, and how they may be addressed with measures related to cycling, is provided below.

A focus on modal shift to cycling

Cycling infrastructure and other measures aimed at cycling are often implemented with the objective of increasing cycling levels through a modal shift from other modes of transport. Although a modal shift is the direct and easiest to monitor impact of cycle measures, it is usually the indirect impacts or ‘co-benefits’ achieved that address the issues faced by cities. In order to achieve a modal shift and the associated co-benefits, cycle networks and associated measure should be implemented with a consideration of Basic quality design principles for cycle infrastructure and networks as Link (safety, directness, coherence, attractiveness and comfort).

The sections below on different challenges faced by cities each describe how a modal shift to cycling can contribute to reducing the issue.

[collapsed title=Safety]

Warning sign - safety

Safety

According to the latest figures from DG MOVE, people cycling made up over 8 % of the total number of fatalities on the EU’s roads in 2016 Although the number of cyclists killed in road accidents has been decreasing since 2007 (a decrease of 24 %), the rate of decline has been lower than for all road accident fatalities during the same period (a decrease of 40 %), and the decline has slowed in recent years.

How cycling can improve road safety

Since most cyclist fatalities result from a collision with a motorised vehicle, the solution should, therefore, focus on reducing the frequency and severity of incidents resulting from the interaction of cyclists with motor vehicles. This can be achieved through the design and selection of appropriate infrastructure that limits dangerous interactions between non-motorised and motorised traffic. This can be supported by educating all road users about safe cycling.

A modal shift to cycling can improve safety for cyclists by increasing the awareness of other road users to people cycling on the carriageway. Safety concerns are a major barrier to cycling and so improvements in the actual and perceived safety of cyclists can be effective at further increasing the modal share.

[/collapsed]

[collapsed title=Congestion]

Cars icon representing congestion

Congestion

It is estimated that congestion costs nearly €130 billion annually, or 1 % of the EU’s GDP (EC, EU Urban Mobility: Policy Context, 2017). Congestion occurs when the volume of traffic exceeds the available capacity of the carriageway. It is a complex issue influenced by various demographic, social and economic factors, including land use patterns, car-ownership, availability of public transport, availability of parking, economic activity, urban freight transport, and goods delivery. These factors in-turn can influence where people live and work, the location of businesses, and how people access these locations - all of which should be considered when addressing congestion issues.

How cycling can contribute to reduced congestion

Cycling can offer a feasible alternative to motorised transport, in particular for urban journeys of which about half are shorter than 5 km, and the use of e-bikes can be particularly effective at encouraging a modal shift to cycling for commuting to school or work. Cycling is a very space efficient mode of transport (see figure below) and so a modal shift to cycling can lead to a reduction in congestion on urban roads. A modal shift will be most effective when it reduces the number of motor vehicles at peak hours when congestion is usually heaviest.

Comparison of different modal traffic densities

[/collapsed]

[collapsed title=Environment]

Hand with butterfly icon representing the environment

Environment

Motorised vehicles are a major source of air pollution in EU cities; 46 % of NOx emissions, which contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer and the formation of acid rain; 15 % of particulate matter (PM) emissions, which can cause reduced visibility and material damage; and around 15 % of the EU’s CO2 emissions, which is a major greenhouse gas contributing to climate change (addressed through Directive 2008/50/EC on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe). Noise pollution is another environmental impact of vehicles, which the European Union is tackling through Regulation (EU) No 540/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 April 2014. Another environmental issue faced by cities is the appropriate allocation of (road) space between users. Roads and supporting infrastructure demand large amounts of valuable urban space (e.g. 24 % in London), which could otherwise be used as green spaces for residents, for example.

How cycling can contribute to an improved environment

A modal shift to cycling would reduce air and noise pollution from motorised traffic. As demonstrated in the Figure above (see Congestion), bicycles are much more space efficient and so a modal shift to cycling can also reduce the demand for urban land.

[/collapsed]

[collapsed title=Health]

Heart and heartbeat icon

Health

As highlighted in the Environment section above, motor vehicles are a major source of harmful air pollutants, including NOx, CO2 and particulate matter (PM). High levels of NOx can lead to coughing and shortness of breath, and people who have extensive exposure to NO2 have a higher risk of respiratory disease. PM can also increase the risk of heart and respiratory disease, with PM of less than 10 micrometres diameter posing the greatest threat as it can enter the bloodstream (EC, EU Urban Mobility: Policy Context, 2017). A report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2018 on air pollution and child health, underlines just how big the problem is. Nine out of ten people worldwide breathe polluted air, which is responsible for 7 million deaths every year, many of who are children. (WHO, Air Pollution and Child Health, 2018)

Prolonged exposure to noise from road transport in cities can also lead to health issues, including sleep disturbance, cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment and mental health problems.

Physical inactivity amongst adults and children is leading to health concerns, including obesity and increased risk of developing noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes, heart diseases, cancer, dementia, depression and premature death. Whilst not strictly a ‘transport’ problem, physical inactivity has been linked to increased urbanisation and declining use of active transport modes. The WHO’s Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health (2018) states that current levels of physical inactivity are partly due to insufficient participation in physical activity during leisure time and an increase in sedentary behaviour during occupational and domestic activities[1]. A number of environmental factors relating to increased urbanisation have been identified that may discourage participation in physical activity, including insecurity, high-density traffic, low air quality, pollution, and a lack of green areas and parks, footpaths and sports/recreation facilities.

[1] WHO, Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health. Accessed 06/03/19. https://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/factsheet_inactivity/en/

How cycling can contribute to improved health

A modal shift to cycling can improve health by reducing the physical inactivity of the people who cycle. More broadly the health of urban populations is improved from a reduction in air pollution and noise emissions from motorised transport.

[/collapsed]

[collapsed title=Economy]

Economy - coin above piggy bank icon

Economy

Motorised transport has several economic costs to society, including congestion, road casualties, physical inactivity, and pollution that causes damage to human health, buildings, ecosystems, agriculture.

How cycling can contribute to the economy

A modal shift to cycling benefits society and reduces costs through achieving improvements in mobility, congestion, environment, health and road safety – as described below:

  • Improve mobility - faster and more efficient commuting;
  • Reduce congestion – reduction of numbers of vehicles on the roads, more fluid traffic flow and reduction of hours spent in traffic jams;
  • Improve health, saving national health services' money;
  • Improve access to jobs – including increasing women's independence and flexibility;
  • Create jobs – including cycle tourism, retail, manufacturing;
  • Save employers money and improve productivity – fewer sick absences, increased productivity, reduction in costs associated with providing cycle parking rather than car parking;
  • Inject money directly into the economy via cycle trade – cycle production;
  • Boost vitality of town centres and local commerce;
  • Deliver goods efficiently – use of cargo bikes; and
  • Add value to neighbourhoods and communities – bikeshare schemes.

Cycling can also strengthen local economies in urban and rural areas through supporting local businesses, increasing property values, boosting economic productivity through a healthy and satisfied workforce, and enabling disadvantaged groups to gain skills and access employment opportunities.

Additionally, in times where finance and resourcing may be difficult for cities and local authorities, cycling, and the provision of associated infrastructure, is more cost-efficient and can cost less than other modes, while the financial benefits may be high.

[/collapsed]

[collapsed title=Accessibility]

3 way arrow representing accessibility

Accessibility

Accessibility can be defined as the ability of people to reach goods, services and activities - which is a key objective of most transport activities. To maximise social inclusivity in society, cities should be accessible for all. However, individuals can sometimes have difficulty accessing jobs, goods, services and activities as appropriate transport modes or routes may not be available, and running costs or ticket prices may be unaffordable.

How cycling can contribute to improved accessibility

Cycling has the ability to improve the accessibility of a city to a greater number of people relative to other transport modes, which may lack efficiency, availability and affordability.

The costs inherent to cycling (including the purchase and maintenance of bicycles) make it a relatively low-cost mode of transport, offering an alternative to other modes that are less affordable. It also provides an alternative to those who are unable to drive motor vehicles, due to age or disability.

It is an efficient and convenient form of transport that provides access to areas that have motorised vehicle access restrictions or do not have public transport. Cycling can be used to cycle to and from public transport nodes, acting as a first or last mile solution to complement and improve the use of public transport.

[/collapsed]

[collapsed title=Social / community]

Community icon

Social / Community

The issues outlined above that can be faced by a city all contribute to reducing the liveability of a city for its residents and reducing the appeal to non-residents of visiting a city.

How cycling can improve contribute to social/community issues

Cycling contributes towards improving the liveability of cities and the quality of life for city residents. Cycle-friendly cities are often considered to be people-friendly cities, which promote social interaction and create desirable places to live. As described in the ‘accessibility’ section above, bicycles can increase access to key services and destinations (e.g. education, employment, social activities), which can have a positive impact on quality of life.

[/collapsed]

The achievement of impacts / co-benefits is dependent on the implementation of a network of cycling infrastructure and associated measures, taking into consideration Core quality design principles for cycle infrastructure and networks as Link (safety, directness, coherence, attractiveness and comfort).

Files

[collapsed title=Key guidance, further reading and references]

EC (2017) European Urban Mobility: Policy Context

european_urban_mobility_-_policy_context
English
(3.12 MB - PDF)
Download

CIVITAS (2016) Smart Choices for Cities: Cycling in the City

smart_choices_for_the_city_cycling_in_the_city
English
(2.19 MB - PDF)
Download

FLOW Project (2016) The role of walking and cycling in reducing congestion: A portfolio of measures

flow_project_a_portfolio_of_measures
English
(8.39 MB - PDF)
Download

Hitchcock, G and Vedrenne, M (2014) Cycling and Urban Air Quality, ECF

ecf-cycling-and-urban-air-quality
English
(6.85 MB - PDF)
Download

Blondiau, T and van Zeebroeck, B (2014) Cycling works: Jobs and job creation in the cycling economy, ECF

ecf_cycling-works-jobs-and-job-creation-in-the-cycling-economy
English
(737.72 KB - PDF)
Download

Bodor, A and Lancaster, E (2014) Cycling for growth: Using European funds for cycling, ECF

ecf-cycling-for-growth-using-european-funds-for-cycling
English
(842.38 KB - PDF)
Download

Küster, F., and Blondel, B (2013) Calculating the economic benefits of cycling, ECF

ecf_economic-benefits-of-cycling-in-eu-27
English
(270.6 KB - PDF)
Download

We are cycling UK (2016) Cycling and the economy: Briefing 1F

cycling_and_the_economy
English
(1.13 MB - PDF)
Download

CROW (2017) Design manual for bicycle traffic.

[/collapsed]

[collapsed title=Key guidance, further reading and references]

EC (2017) European Urban Mobility: Policy Context

european_urban_mobility_-_policy_context
English
(3.12 MB - PDF)
Download

CIVITAS (2016) Smart Choices for Cities: Cycling in the City

smart_choices_for_the_city_cycling_in_the_city
English
(2.19 MB - PDF)
Download

FLOW Project (2016) The role of walking and cycling in reducing congestion: A portfolio of measures

flow_project_a_portfolio_of_measures
English
(8.39 MB - PDF)
Download

Hitchcock, G and Vedrenne, M (2014) Cycling and Urban Air Quality, ECF

ecf-cycling-and-urban-air-quality
English
(6.85 MB - PDF)
Download

Blondiau, T and van Zeebroeck, B (2014) Cycling works: Jobs and job creation in the cycling economy, ECF

ecf_cycling-works-jobs-and-job-creation-in-the-cycling-economy
English
(737.72 KB - PDF)
Download

Bodor, A and Lancaster, E (2014) Cycling for growth: Using European funds for cycling, ECF

ecf-cycling-for-growth-using-european-funds-for-cycling
English
(842.38 KB - PDF)
Download

Küster, F., and Blondel, B (2013) Calculating the economic benefits of cycling, ECF

ecf_economic-benefits-of-cycling-in-eu-27
English
(270.6 KB - PDF)
Download

We are cycling UK (2016) Cycling and the economy: Briefing 1F

cycling_and_the_economy
English
(1.13 MB - PDF)
Download

CROW (2017) Design manual for bicycle traffic.

[/collapsed]