Seriously, get a bike (3)
When I first moved to Brussels, now more than 12 years ago, it seemed like I was the only biker in town. Whenever I met another fellow cyclist, I almost felt the urge to go up to him/her and hug her/him, in an outburst of happiness about the fact that there were other two-wheelers in town. (But I never actually hugged another cyclist, that would have been weird.)
Things have changed quite a bit since then. The number of cyclists has risen noticeably and their sight has become commonplace. No more hugging urges. At every intersection, you’ll meet a few others, braving traffic in their fluorescent vests and helmets. Bicycle stands are full. Even tourists throw themselves in the mad Brussels traffic on Villo rental bikes.
Still, Brussels is not a cyclists’ city. Only 4% of all short trips are carried out by bike. This is way lower than in major cycling cities such as Amsterdam or Copenhagen, or even most Flemish cities. (Walloons, it seems, are not so keen on cycling.) The aim is to increase this number up to 20%, but an awful lot of work needs to be done.
The hills, the cobblestones and bad state of streets in general, and mad drivers to whom cyclists are just annoying obstacles, if visible at all - none of that helps. Also, the amount of bicycle thefts in Brussels is staggeringly high. It’s a major problem, with professional gangs operating in the city. Over time, I have had six bikes stolen. Good bikes, bad bikes, expensive locks, cheap locks, it doesn’t matter … It becomes all too unreal when you read that police once even gave back a lot of stolen bikes to a gang of thieves they had caught, “because they couldn’t trace the owners, and trying to sell the bikes wouldn’t be profitable”. The fuck!? Only in Brussels, I’m afraid … (Link to article in Dutch.)
Still, numbers of cyclists are on the rise. Attitudes will have to change. Perhaps the street picnics on Anspach can play a small role in this.
A few weeks ago, the documentary Brussels Express premiered at Beursschouwburg. (The place was packed, I guess it shows it’s a hot topic these days in Brussels.) Sander Vandenbroucke made a 13-minute film about cycling in Brussels, the most congested city in Europe. More specifically, it looks at the bicycle couriers of Pedal, but it also tackles the broader issues. It’s a great documentary, beautifully shot, and with a great cameo by anti-hero Danny Smagghe. At the top of this post you can watch the trailer, the full film can be found on the Brussels Express website.