One of the biggest childhood regrets that I have is that I never learned to ride a bike as well as I would have liked. The benefits of cycling go far beyond physical fitness and have had major economic and environmental impact in European cities. The impact of the greater use of bikes is being felt across Europe. Even in Malta, my country, traffic has overtaken immigration as the top issue of concern for citizens. So it would seem obvious to me that cycling needs to be given an increased profile and with it we need to ensure the best possible climate for cyclists to practise, be it through better safety legislation or through favourable taxation for bikes.
"If we succeed in instilling a safe cycling culture among the current generation of young commuters, it is likely that the percentage of cyclists on the road will continue to increase"
Cycling is on the increase and as politicians we need to make sure that we manage to keep up. We must do our utmost to ensure that bike-safety is part of this push for cycling to reduce our dependence on cars. If we succeed in instilling a safe cycling culture among the current generation of young commuters, it is likely that the percentage of cyclists on the road will continue to increase among future generations due to the dual benefits of improved health and improved environmental conditions.
Cycling is also a crucial sector for job creation and growth in Europe. Recent media reports in the UK's Guardian newspaper have said that "Europe's cycling industry now employs more people than mining and quarrying and almost twice as many as the steel industry, according to the first comprehensive study of the jobs created by the sector. Some 655,000 people work in the cycling economy – which includes bicycle production, tourism, retail, infrastructure and services – compared to 615,000 people in mining and quarrying, and just 350,000 workers directly employed in the steel sector."
We would be remiss not to see the recent surge in people taking up cycling as another measure to boost both Europe's environmental credentials and increase jobs. It is also true that more needs to be done to improve cyclists' safety. The European commission has said that it plans to review its infrastructure safety management directive with a view to further improving safety for vulnerable road users. Given that cycling road accidents most often happen in urban areas, the specific challenges of urban mobility must also be addressed and I have asked the commission to provide details of how it hopes to look into this.
Of course, we must respect the principle of subsidiarity and understand that some of the measures that, in my opinion, should be taken can only be taken on a national level. As yet, there is no 'European highway code' regulating the use of bicycles on public roads or streets. We need to work hand in hand with NGOs, sports bodies and governments to ensure that on a European level we are aware of the needs of cyclists and react accordingly.
In the meantime, I know that much to my three children's delight, my childhood regret will be short-lived and I will soon join the bands of cyclists around Malta and the rest of Europe.