How to double cycling in Europe


ECF’s Scientists for Cycling network is set to hold its annual conference on 10 June in Vienna. Scientists from all over the world will discuss ways to increase cycling in Europe and will present their ideas. We have met three of them and wanted to know how research can help people to cycle more often.


When Belgian Bas de Geus gets on his bike to commute to work in the morning, he knows why. “Not riding a bike is actually dangerous for your health”, he says, and he is being serious. Bas has good reason to believe he’s right. At the Vrije Universiteit in Brussels, where he is a professor of physical education and physical therapy, Bas has been doing systematic research about health risks and cycling. “We all need that daily dose of movement”, Bas explains, “and cycling is a perfect ‘vehicle’ to get it.” On the other hand, nobody wants to inhale the exhaust gases of buses and cars while riding a bike in the city. The question is how to weigh the positive and negative health benefits of cycling. After all, many people are concerned about their health when they get on a bike. Bas has been able show that it is indeed good for your health to cycle more often. But how to convince people to actually do so is another matter.

To find out why people cycle, apart from the obvious health benefits, is Peter Cox’s job. As a social scientist, he teaches and leads research about the processes of social change that cycling advocacy is part of. “A lot of studies about cycling have appeared over the last decade”, Peter says. He wants to show how these can help policymakers work with the great diversity of cyclists and cycling cultures.

Peter is excited about the potential that social sciences have in boosting cycling. “Social sciences have the capacity to help us understand and inform the processes of change that will bring about the doubling of cycling in Europe.”


Still, cycling needs appropriate infrastructure, says John Parkin, professor of transport engineering at London South Bank University. John is concerned about questions such as differences between the perceived and the actual risk of cycling. His research also focuses on segregation, the separation of road users to make them safer. He notes that ‘segregation’ has a number of different degrees. “Segregation can protect users, but it can also limit the users’ freedoms”, John explains.

But questions remain. What does segregation really mean? What methods of segregation do exist? When should you segregate? John’s work deals with emerging practices of semi-segregation as well as with priority at junctions. He is trying to find out whether it’s better to keep motor traffic separate from cycle traffic or to mix them.

The three researchers work together as part of the European Cyclists’ Foundation’s (ECF) Scientists for Cycling network. This large group of researchers and teachers from all over the world was launched in 2010 and aims to bring together experts from different disciplines engaged in research on cycling.

ECF president Manfred Neun explains how important it is to have such a network. “Research, research plans and scientific publications on cycling or cycling-related matters are often not sufficiently connected to other scientists”, he says. ECF hopes that Scientists for Cycling may help to bridge this gap.

Along with other researchers, Bas de Geus, Peter Cox and John Parkin will present their research at the annual conference of the network, which will be held on 10 June 2013 in Vienna. The subject of the meeting is: “How to double cycling in Europe?” That, to be sure, is a question that only first-class scientists will be able to answer.

Further information and registration for the annual meeting 2013 of ECF’s Scientists for Cycling network.


Velo-city 2013 Vienna | Cycling Stories


Karsten Marhold

European Cyclists’ Federation