Connecting Europe with €44bn of pedal power

05.03.2014: Article and videointerview by Andy Carling, published on NewEurope_online on 2nd of March 2014

There are some unsung successes in Europe, such as Eurovelo, the ambitious bid to create 70,000km of cycle paths that cross Europe from Galway to Moscow and from the Barents Sea to the Black Sea.

This is being co-ordinated by the European Cyclists Federation (ECF) and New Europe spoke to Adam Bodor, who heads development of Eurovelo and also works on cycle tourism.

Bodor is pleased with progress to date, “around 80 percent of the network is already rideable, with signs and low traffic rules or bicycle passes where you can safely ride your bike to reach the destinations.”

More progress is expected and the momentum is set to increase, “Fortunately, the European parliament is very supportive of this network and many of the member states,” says Bodor, noting that the network is now included with the Trans European Network.”

Is this a sign of cycling becoming more mainstream? “Yes, absolutely. Cycling is mainstream even when we speak about transport or tourism. In case of tourism, the European Parliament published a study which shows that the economic impact of cycling tourism in Europe is around €44 billion already. This is a huge number.”

With an increased emphasis on green transport, reducing carbon emissions and improving health, is this massive benefit in financial terms is part of a sea change in how people live, says Bodor.

One of the routes is perhaps more than a cycle path, the Iron Curtain Trail follows the old border between Europe and communism, for over 10,000km. This is also a journey through European history.

“Beside the positive economic, health, and environmental impact, Eurovelo has its mission, especially in case of the Iron Curtain Trail, to connect the continent, because these long routes have similar visual identity. So, for example the Eurovelo route information panels are showing this common European idea all along the routes, joining the continent,” says Bodor.

He continues, “As you know the Iron Curtain Trail is running along the former Iron Curtain. Now it’s used as a touristic product for the people to explore the history and the nature which is very unique along the former border which was untouched by people for half a century, so it’s a unique opportunity to explore our history in a very friendly and healthy way.”

The enormous transformation of Europe since the fall of communism can be shown by this route. Where people were once killed for trying to reach freedom, it is now a place where families can cycle freely on holiday. “Fortunately more and more people do this kind of activity, so we are very happy that the member states realize that the importance of cycling tourism or in the case of the Iron Curtain Trail also to remember the people and their histories.”

The route has made great progress and Bodor says, “It’s very big and they started to sign those routes in case of the Iron Curtain Trail there are countries which are completely signed. Some will open the signage on the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain this year. So it’s a big opportunity for us to use for the development of the Iron Curtain Trail.”

But when it comes to promoting cycling, there is much more to be done, even with European help, “We would like to see now, how can we finance investment in infrastructure along these trans-European corridors. We also need on the national level, very strong coordination. You know these networks can only be realised if the member states support them. We’re still lacking some countries where we need a good coordination center. We also need cofinancing from the member states and a lot of efforts from the regional and local level to realize those investments.”

That’s a lot to ask for, but Bodor isn’t put off, “I’m very optimistic because more and more people recognize the importance of cycling and cycling tourism and long distance cycle routes. It’s a very good sign for us to be optimistic.”

There is a lot more to cycling as it reaches across many policy areas, from transport, to sustainability, ealth and more. Bodor says the ECF is trying to double the number of cyclists by 2020. “That’s our main mission and cycling tourism and the Eurovelo network has a very big added value to this work.”

He adds, “The Eurovelo network itself has an €8 billion added value when it’s realized and it only costs around €1.5 to €2 billion to complete it, so the return on investment is bigger than in case of any other mode of transport or form of tourism. I think is something that speaks for itself.”