Building the World Cycling Alliance
Recent years have seen a surge in pro-cycling advocacy around the globe. The work of local, national and transnational cycling organisations has in many places caused urban cycling to be seen as a sustainable form of urban transport and included in the agenda of many national government and international organizations. Now, one of the world's most bustling cycling advocacy organisations - the European Cyclists' Federation (ECF) - is going global by launching the World Cycling Alliance.
But why does the world even need a global organization to lobby for urban cycling?
The built form around us, the technology we use and regulatory frameworks channelling our lives are formulated in negotiation processes in which lobbying groups are engaged. When it comes to urban transportation, industries such as the auto industry have a very strong lobbying arm and can often outcompete interest groups that hold the stake for non-motorized transport.
Here are some numbers to show the situation for the United States: In 2013 the automotive industry spent about $58 million for lobbying in favour of itself. Compare this to the total income of all pro-cycling and walking organisations in the US combined which amounted to about $10 million in 2013 (and contains to the greatest extent non-lobbying costs such as costs for events or education).
If we seriously aim for cycling to become an inherent element of sustainable cities, we will need a strong international voice to argue in favour of non-motorized transport in general and urban cycling specifically.
There are globally operating networks in place to lobby for sustainable forms of (urban) transport already. Organizations such as Slocat or Embarq do amazing work and greatly promote active transportation. They are competent partners for many international organizations and other non-governmental organizations interested in sustainable urbanization. Yet, as they represent the entire "green" or "sustainable" spectrum of urban transportation, they have to speak for all their members.
Building up to the World Cycling Alliance
This is where the World Cycling Alliance can fulfil its mission statement and become a global voice in favour of urban cycling, acting as "a worldwide network of non-governmental organisations which aims to advocate cycling to international institutions (e.g. UN, OECD/ITF, World Bank). Additionally, WCA will promote and support the worldwide exchange of knowledge, expertise and co-operation of cycling associations and organizations."
The creation of the Alliance echoes the importance of sustainable and non-motorized urban transport in tackling the global urbanization challenge. Some weeks ago, UN Habitat and ECF sat down during the seventh UN Habitat's World Urban Forum in Medellin and signed an agreement to promote cycling worldwide through better coordination of plans and related policies. This agreement reflects the debate during the World Urban Forum about sustainable forms of urban transportation as a success factor for equitable urbanization.
Signing of the agreement at the World Urban Forum in Medellín. Bernhard Ensink (left), Secretary General of the European Cyclists' Federation, Dr. Joan Clos (center), the Executive Director of UN-Habitat and Manfred Neun (right), President of the European Cyclists' Federation.
In this international discourse non-motorized transport and especially cycling is increasingly put on the agenda as ECF Secretary General, Bernhard Ensink, confirms: "I see progress in this as at the World Urban Forum 7 cycling was much more visible and discussed than for example at the World Urban Forum 6 in Naples".
The signing of the agreement stamped cycling in the minds of policymakers and, more importantly, created tailwind for building the World Cycling Alliance - as Ensink states: "The agreement is a recognition of ECF's work by UN-Habitat and it is very important that UN-Habitat is committed to advocate with us for cycling as many discussions on sustainable transport are dominated by public transport and walking. It is a good step for us regarding our mission to have more cycling on the international agendas (not only on the European agenda)".
In late April ECF member organisations approved the roadmap for launching the WCA at their Annual General Meeting in Dublin. Thereafter, the ECF officially announced that the World Cycling Alliance would start to operate by the end of May 2014.
Members of the European Cyclists' Federation at the General Meeting in Dublin in 2014 at the official announcement of the World Cycling Alliance, with Irish Minister Brian Hayes officially stating his support for cycling for this week's European Parliament elections. (image: ECF)
What will the WCA mainly do and how will it initially develop?
"The World Cycling Alliance fills a gap in the promotion of cycling at the highest institutional level. This comes as a logical step as ECF has been active in the field for years, by organising the annual world cycling summits Velo-city conference series," says ECF President, Manfred Neun.
Indeed, ECF has participated in top international fora, such as the UN's Transport, Health and Environment Pan-European Program, UN-Habitat's World Urban Forum events and the International Transport Forum, linked to the OECD. With launching the World Cycling Alliance the European Cyclists' Federation is institutionalizing these international activities while building a global umbrella for its international member organisations.
The WCA will be governed by a Steering Board which in its final form will comprise the elected president of the ECF and members from different continents. As for May 2014, all ECF members, which include organisations from India, Russia, Taiwan, Canada, Thailand and Australia, will be the founding members of the Alliance.
The official launch of the World Cycling Alliance network will take place at Velo-city Global 2014 in Adelaide, Australia where the first Steering Board of the WCA will meet in person.
What will be important activities for the World Cycling Alliance once it starts operating?
Uniting diverse networks
The ECF has a very diverse network in place with many cycling advocacy groups represented. Additionally, ECF has been building networks such as Cities for Cyclists, Scientists for Cycling or the Cycling Industry Club, which are important assets to go global. These different voices and the collective knowledge can merge as one pro-cycling voice in the World Cycling Alliance.
Staying connected to the grassroots
One challenge for the WCA will be to remain connected to the daily work of many cycling advocacy groups. After all, the World Cycling Alliance aims to change the situation on the ground in favour of urban cycling. To achieve this, it will be important that the voices of smaller, more local pro-cycling initiatives will also be heard and their work complemented by lobbying on the international policy-making scale.
Seeking new alliances
The building of the World Cycling Alliance shows the gaps existent in urban cycling cultures across the globe. Within ECF (and the WCA) there are no organisations present (yet) from Africa or South America. This may be due to the fact that these regions often lack national cycling organisations, something that may concern the WCA and become a focus for it's future internationalisation efforts.
The World Cycling Alliance can support the building of strong pro-cycling advocacy organisations in these regions of the world, nonetheless the current urbanisation and rebuilding of cities is taking place to the greatest extent in countries of the global South creating a high demand for lobbying in favour of non-motorized urban transport solutions.
At this point we can be curious to see where the World Cycling Alliance will firstly engage itself and start to make a global difference in lobbying for urban cycling. There are ample opportunities in the coming years, for example in the preparations for the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) or the formulation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda.