In Estonia cycling has a very low share from modal split of everyday rides staying around 1-5% (in most cases 1-2%). Tartu city with approximately 8% has the highest share of cycling from modal split. Current Estonian city and transport planning practices have remained car oriented and the share of private cars is still constantly growing in Estonian cities (in Tartu about 1,5% annually). In modal share Estonia has faced substantial shift towards higher share of private cars in daily travels and decrease of other modes, especially walking and public transport. This has put a lot of pressure on cities’ environment and traffic safety. Due to the rising share of private cars more and more green areas have been converted into parking lots for cars decreasing the share of green spaces in the housing areas. Also continuous urban sprawl around Tallinn and Tartu has put enormous pressure on city centres to provide good living environment but at the same time keep access to the working places that are mostly located at the city centres. In Estonia during the previous EU financial period 2007-2013 cycling was mostly considered as recreational activity which has been reflected in the infrastructure investments and logic – cycling roads are fragmented and locate mostly outside the city centres.
The bigger cities (including Tartu) have now started to understand the need for taking an action for making urban transport system more sustainable, and the need for integrating cycling into their transport policies. This has been a neither quick nor easy change and quite often include contradicting aims (providing new and wider roads as more parking for cars while trying to decrease the number of cars in the city centre). The results has been in rapid rise in private cars. Also the general mentality of inhabitants is that cars will provide individual liberty which cannot be hindered. At the institutional level the understanding about the need of putting more emphasize on sustainable transport and the need to increase the share of cycling is there and is written in several strategies. Also educational programmes for spatial and transport planners already include cycling inclusive planning. Though supporting the bicycle inclusive planning lacks political support, especially at the national level – public statements still support building large intersections in the cities and caution that car owners cannot be discriminated. But the most noticeable gap lies inside the municipalities where bicycle planning is poorly institutionalized between planners and engineering departments, and different department do not fully understand their role in it. It also goes hand in hand with not fully understanding the needs of cyclists as there are only handful on municipal officers who use bicycle for commuting. In addition to public sector there is also a great need for educating and informing developers to guarantee access and reasonable parking facilities in housing and commercial facilities. Current situation is that even newly built apartment houses do not have bicycle parking facilities but foresee at least 1 car parking place per apartment.
When it comes to cycling infrastructure then it mostly falls under the responsibility of municipalities. However, the national level is responsible for setting the overall targets for GHG emissions, investments and traffic safety. National level is also responsible for coordinating structural funds. But the main responsibility for achieving higher share in cycling as a mode of transport lies with the local municipalities. In Estonia Tallinn was the first city approved a cycling strategy in autumn 2017. Tallinn will also be the first to implement SUMP (planned to be approved in 2019). Tartu on the other hand has the highest share of cycling as the everyday mode of transport. Tartu is also the only city in Estonia were cycling infrastructure as well as cyclists are visible. Also the size of the city and its status as the university town provide a good case of testing the impact of removing barriers. In Tartu the modal share of cycling was by census data about 8% in 2018. The share of cyclists is started to rise over last 2-3 years. In January 2019 was finished drafting of Cycling Strategy of Tartu City and it is expected to be approved by City council in the end of 2019. Tartu also started implementation of bike-sharing system in early 2018 and the system (750 bycycles and 69 stations) will be opened in the summer of 2019. This all is expected to rise the modal share of cyclists up to 40% over next 2 decades.