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European Cyclists’ Federation CEO on the EU Declaration on Cycling

For #11 of Zag’s Mobility Leaders: Women Making Moves series, European Cyclists’ Federation CEO Jill Warren outlines how the EU Declaration on Cycling should be implemented, and why 2024’s COP conference will be a deciding one.

Jill Warren is the CEO of the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF).

ECF is a Brussels-based non-profit comprised of 70 members across 40 countries. Promoting cycling as a sustainable and healthy mode of transport and leisure, the ECF represents cycling interests at the EU-level, a wider European level and beyond.

Last month, the ECF held its annual flagship Velo-city conference in Belgium’s city of Ghent which saw more than 1,650 registrations and attendees from over 60 countries.

Jill tells Zag what’s in store for the rest of the year.

Zag Daily: What was a key takeaway from Velo-city 2024?

Jill: “For me, one key message from the event was ‘just do it’. Don’t wait for the perfect time or a massive budget to prioritise cycling. There are so many things that cities can implement quickly and easily which will make almost instantaneous improvements. So just do them.

“Ghent is an inspiring case about how cycling can be developed quickly and very effectively in a city, and that’s why we selected it as this year’s host city. There’s no one size fits all, but Ghent shows that you don’t need to spend many, many millions on cycling to develop it. There was so much political support from Ghent’s political leaders who demonstrated the course of action they’ve taken, and what their commitment to cycling has brought them in terms of increased modal share, decreased emissions, and better liveability for Ghent’s citizens. That story was inspiring.”

Zag Daily: Another event for ECF this year is COP29. What’s your involvement?

Jill: “COP29 is an important year because last year was the Global Stocktake, and now all of the nearly 200 countries who belong to the Paris Agreement will be redoing their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The Paris Agreement commits these countries to ensuring emissions don’t rise above the 1.5-degree Celsius target level, and NDCs outline their commitments to accelerate decarbonisation. At ECF, and through the Partnership for Active Travel and Health (PATH) coalition which we co-founded, we’re heavily promoting cycling and walking to be included in those NDCs and we have made a template NDC with guidance for countries to use. 

“There are only eight countries in the world that have national walking and cycling policies as well as making commitments to walking and cycling NDCs. In terms of cycling specifically, there are more than 150 countries around the world who don’t have a national policy in force. What we’re doing is making sure countries know that enabling more people to walk and cycle safely is a quick, reliable and affordable way to decarbonize transport, so active mobility needs to have a place alongside all other measures being taken by countries.”

Zag Daily: Why don’t so many countries mention cycling policies in their NDCs?

Jill: “I believe it’s because historically and traditionally cycling hasn’t been considered a fully-fledged mode of transport worthy of this kind of policy instrument. Awareness is growing, and we’ve seen good progress particularly in Europe over the past few years. But we need to take that leadership and spread that best practice to other places after seeing how effective it’s been to have cycling policies backed up by commitments to invest in and implement them.”

Zag Daily: Speaking of progress in Europe, what’s the status with the European Declaration on Cycling?

Jill: “The European Declaration on Cycling is an inter-institutional declaration which has been adopted by the European Commission, the European Council – which is the Member States – and the European Parliament. It’s a strategic compass that lays out eight principles and 36 commitments on everything from having better infrastructure, to road safety and security, to data collection and strengthening the industry. The Declaration is truly historic because there’s never been anything like it for any form of transport at an EU level. The ECF worked closely with our industry partners, especially including Cycling Industries Europe, and other stakeholders to shape and influence it.

“Next is implementation. There are different ways we can do that such as continuing to raise awareness, pushing the Commission to integrate cycling in their legislative proposals, and advocating for new policy initiatives to make sure cycling is incorporated according to the Declaration. Another important way to implement the Declaration is through active participation in the European’s Expert Group on Urban Mobility, which was set up around two years ago, and in its subgroups. These working groups take initiatives forward and provide recommendations to the Commission in a collaborative way.”

Zag Daily: Are the principles and commitments outlined in the Declaration mandated?

Jill: “No, the Declaration is not a piece of legislation. It doesn’t have that kind of force. It’s an important strategic compass that will guide future action including policy and legislation in this area and it’s only the second time that we’ve seen something like this in the EU – the first was an EU Declaration on Digital Rights and Principles which acted as a template for how the European Declaration on Cycling could be developed. We want to see the Declaration’s eight principles and 36 commitments reflected in all relevant EU policy and guidance that can serve to grow cycling and a world class cycling industry.”

Zag Daily: How do you think this Declaration will transform cycling?

Jill: “This Declaration says that cycling is something strategic and worthy of investment and prioritisation. I hope it will lead to transformative growth in cycling levels by catalysing further action and guiding the EU and Member States in future policy decisions and support. I also hope it also catalyses more effective coordination and cooperation between levels of government at all levels. Implementing this Declaration is not something that one actor or level can do all on their own, but rather all parties must work together to create the conditions that enable and encourage more people to choose cycling for their daily mobility and leisure.”  

Zag Daily: What’s the biggest challenge you face pushing cycling at an EU level?

Jill: “All initiatives at an EU level can be challenging. I’m encouraged by the enthusiasm shown in the Commission and their willingness to keep moving on these topics. But the challenge is making sure that cycling always gets the attention and prioritisation it deserves and that the ambitious aims of the Declaration are progressed in the way we would like to see. It’s on us together with the Commission, Member States, cities and everybody who can influence further cycling developments to keep doing that.”

Zag Daily: What do you forecast for the cycling sector over the next year?

Jill: “We have a brand-new European Parliament that’s just been elected and we’ll have a new set of Commissioners. We don’t know who all these people are yet and who will be in the Commission’s leadership. They’ll all have their own signature policies and priorities, and we will need to see where cycling fits into those. If the emphasis is going to be more on industrial rather than environmental policy, then we will work with our partners and adapt accordingly to find the best opportunities to reach our goals.

“I think we will see the sector continue to evolve in a way that benefits more people.It’s pleasing to see how diverse and inclusive the cycling sector has become. We’ve moved beyond the middle-aged man in Lycra type of persona that some people often used to associate with cycling, and now it’s commonplace to think also of the mum riding with two or three kids, or the disabled cyclist who has a specially adapted cycle which might not necessarily be a bicycle. As we invest more in cycling across Europe and beyond, we are making it accessible for more people, and encouraging them to see themselves cycling. A lot of this was on display at Velo-city and it’s very satisfying to see that development.”

Zag Daily: Who is one woman in the sector you would like to highlight?

Jill: “Isabell Eberlein springs to mind. She was awarded this year at Velo-city with the Cycling Embassy of Denmark’s Leadership Award for Cycling Promotion. Through her company Velokonzept, her presence and influence in the wider sector and her commitment to diversity, she is recognised as a true leader. She is an inspiration who does so much for cycling, from her involvement with the Eurobike Show, VeloBerlin, Women in Cycling and beyond. I really enjoy working with her and have learnt so much from her.”

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