Cycling in Brussels has been surging in popularity the last few years with 16% more cyclists in 2018 compared to 2017 and an average 13% annual increase since 2010. The Energy Cities offices in Brussels and Besançon are doing their part in promoting cycling with numerous staff members cycling to work at least occasionally.
That is a result worth celebrating as this year’s European Mobility Week kicks off. This year puts the spotlight on safe walking and cycling and the benefits it can have for our health, our environment, and our bank balance. And if Brussels can become a cycling city (it’s not there yet, but it is improving) then any city can become a cycling city.
Like many European cities Brussels spent the post-war decades redesigning itself with the car at the apex of its mobility strategy. The result, unfortunately, was a city of urban motorways and more parking spots than the city of Paris. So how did it change and what lessons are there for other cities?
A big source of impetus for change is the alliance of interests who recognised that the status quo needed to change. Business lobbies have been supportive of reforming the current car-dependence as congestion takes an increasingly heavy toll on business. Clean Air advocates cite the 632 annual deaths in Brussels from air pollution as unacceptable. Cycling lobbies have spent years arguing that change is needed. Schools have asked that streets be closed to traffic to protect students.
And in the last few years these aligned ambitions have been transformed into separated, secure cycling infrastructure. And as the infrastructure has expanded, so too has the number of cyclists. And with more cyclists, there is a greater sense of security for users as they benefit from safety in numbers.
If you build it, they will come.
Of course, much more remains to be done and it will take time to build a network of protected bike lanes throughout the city. But considering the decades spent promoting the car, the transition of the last few years has been swift. Almost as fast as a cyclist zipping past a traffic jam!
Happy European Mobility Week everyone, travel safe!
September 17, 2019