The European Commission’s new Urban Mobility Framework, presented in December, is a huge opportunity for EU cities to move away from polluting, congestion-prone motorised traffic towards greener, more sustainable modes such as cycling.

By Philip Amaral, ECF policy and development director

The new European Urban Mobility Framework (UMF) released by the European Commission on 14 December 2021 is a major advance for urban cycling, according to analysis by the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF).

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Never before has the commission prioritised urban cycling and other active modes of transport so strongly in such a key document. It is truly an opportunity for mobility and transport in European cities to be revolutionised away from polluting and congestion-prone motorised traffic and towards cleaner, more sustainable active modes such as cycling, walking and public transport.

An entire section (2.5) in the UMF is devoted to walking, cycling and micro-mobility. Urban cycling is one of the cleanest and most efficient modes of city transport. Over the past year, millions of urban- dwelling Europeans have adopted cycling as a main means of transport. ECF is pleased to see this reality – and cycling’s enormous further potential – reflected in the UMF.

Here we highlight three positive elements in the new UMF. The first two are cross-cutting principles that can underpin policies that achieve more cycling, and the third one is a specific action that cities have to take to increase active modes of transport.

Moving beyond electrification of vehicles

In paragraph 3, the commission underlines that deploying zero-emission vehicles in urban areas will meet only a part of these objectives – and that a “clear priority should be placed at national and local level on the development of public transport, walking and cycling, as well as connected, shared mobility services.”

This reflects what ECF and many others in the active and sustainable mobility sectors have been saying for a long time: a singular focus on the electrification of motorised transport will not deliver the EU’s climate goals. For that to happen, we need more urban cycling, as well as more walking and more public transport. This paragraph reflects in a commitment in the COP26 Transport Declaration, achieved as a result of intensive lobbying by ECF and its partners:

“We recognise that alongside the shift to zero emission vehicles, a sustainable future for road transport will require wider system transformation, including support for active travel, public and shared transport, as well as addressing the full value chain impacts from vehicle production, use and disposal.”

The commission’s assertion in the UMF does two things. First, it brings the framework into line with the latest agreement by transport ministers at the UN level. Second, it sets a clear direction for the future of urban mobility in Europe, which is a future that provides access to an equitable mix of transport modes, with a priority for active modes and public transport.

The right to equitable mobility and transport

We also applaud the commission’s emphasis on mobility as “a critical aspect of social inclusion and an important determinant of human well-being, especially for disadvantaged groups,” and that transport is “an essential service in the European Pillar of Social Rights.” 

This is another important principle that should underpin all future policies on urban mobility in Europe. Everyone should have equitable access to transport that is clean and sustainable. We must move away from motorised transport as the dominant transport mode. This means cities must provide more access to urban cycling and quality cycling infrastructure. 

European cities required to encourage cycling

We particularly welcome the commission’s initiative to see that urban cycling continues to increase by proposing that cities identified as urban nodes be required to draw up sustainable urban mobility plans (SUMPs) that, among other things, foresee an increase in the city’s modal share of active transport modes, such as urban cycling. This requirement is found in the commission’s proposed revision of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) regulation, released the same day as the UMF.

A SUMP is an important policy document that can enable a city to achieve a more sustainable mobility and transport system. However, SUMPs have the reputation of being well-written plans that are not implemented. To counter this, the commission proposes that cities should specify in their SUMPs the legal, fiscal, financial and organisational measures needed for implementation. The commission also proposes that EU funding for mobility and transport be made preferential for cities that have SUMPs or similar plans.

We hope that this kind of partial conditionality, linked with the commission’s specific requirements for what a SUMP should contain, will lead cities to produce not just plans that boost walking, urban cycling and public transport, but policies and actual projects that change the mobility infrastructure landscape for the better.

Ensuring that the UMF’s ambitions become a reality

ECF is delighted that all its advocacy recommendations are included in the UMF. What is important now is how the commission plans to make its framework come alive in practice. The commission will need to deliver on its commitments to frame guidance for cities to create measurable increases in urban cycling. Cities, regions and member states must take on these recommendations and implement them as quickly and effectively as possible.

ECF will continue to work with the commission by making recommendations on the kinds of guidance they have committed to produce in the UMF, and working with our members to urge cities to implement the content in the UMF. This is how we make a collective effort to reduce road transport CO2 emissions, cut congestion and road deaths, improve urban liveability and create a more equitable system of sustainable transport and mobility for urban inhabitants.

This article was first published on the European Cyclists’ Federation’s website.