Analysing cycle infrastructure legislation across 11 countries

By Aleksander Buczyński, European Cyclists’ Federation

What types of cycle infrastructure are common throughout Europe, which are unique for specific countries and where legislation can be considered the best practice?

The European Cyclists’ Federation and Sciences Po compared the legislations of 11 European countries and their impact on cycling infrastructure developments. The analysis included not only definitions and signage, but also obligations and prohibitions applying to different groups of users as well as to public administrations in Belgium, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, and the UK. The study also analysed regulations from Austria, Denmark, France, Norway, the Netherlands, Romania, and Switzerland for selected solutions. 

Some types of cycle infrastructure – defined in the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic – seem to be relatively unified across the different states. The common elements are cycle track, defined as an independent road or part of a road designated for cycles, and cycle lane, which means a part of a carriageway allocated to bicycles.

However, in the 50 years since the adoption of the convention, new forms of cycle infrastructure have been developed. For these solutions, there are some similarities, but the legal regulations vary from one country to the other. 

For example, cycle streets usually imply a speed limit of 30 km/h and permission to cycle side-by-side. However, in Luxembourg and Belgium, they also include a prohibition for car-drivers to overtake cyclists, and in the Netherlands the speed limit has to be set with different signs.

In other areas, Belgium provides the best practice on contraflow regulations, Germany favours cycling in bus lanes, while France leads the way in exemptions from traffic lights for cyclists.

Interestingly, countries that adapted their legislative framework to accommodate space and cost-efficient solutions addressing the whole range of cyclists’ needs saw an increase in the number of cyclists. At the same time, the political will to invest in “heavier” and more expensive types of cycling infrastructure grew significantly. 

The national legislation comparison is available on pages 174-199 of the MORE report “Road space re-allocation – Streets as contested spaces”.

The comparison was quoted in a report for the UN Economic Commission for Europe, presented in the UNECE Working Party on Transport Trends and Economics September session.