Life as a cyclist in Brussels has improved in the last few years

We continue our five-parts series on Brussels’ ever-burgeoning bike culture, teaming up with Bike for Brussels to shine a light on the Capital-Region’s growing adoption of bicycles as a viable urban mode of transportation.

Photographer Thomas Ost (c).

Simon Laval

In today’s society, cycling has become an act of citizenship. The shorter the distance, the more practical it is to cycle rather than drive or even opt for public transport. And besides occupying a large amount of public space, cars are also one of the main sources of pollution. True, it might prove difficult to be carless if you have a family or often go beyond Brussels, but I know that more and more of the capital’s residents manage to do so. Having said that, cyclists need to stay attentive and respectful of traffic laws, just like everybody else. There’s still much work to be done in that respect: bike-lanes are still quite dangerous, which satirically leads to “wild” cycling. It would be great to see more of an understanding and sensitisation between drivers and cyclists, and more secure and proper bike-friendly spaces being allocated. Brussels could definitely take a few notes from neighbouring cities such as Paris and their pleasant take on bike banks, or Barcelona’s soft approach to mobility. Or even Amsterdam – I know it’s cliché but their urban and geographical plans really allow for a dynamic, cyclist-friendly city. When I first arrived in Brussels over a decade ago, cycling was a purely recreational activity I picked up on the weekends. It allowed me to discover the city, like a tourist in my new home-base. It was only once I started to cycle to my business meetings that I soon came to notice Brussels’ inherently aggressive driving. What’s more, now that I regularly move between clients based outside of the city, my attention’s been directed towards the SNCB / NMBS’ impracticality for cyclists. It’s really quite baffling how and why the state and our national railway service won’t offer better, softer travel multimodality for its users. A train ticket for those bringing two-wheels on deck amounts to 5 euros per trip or 8 euros per day. Of course, I can appreciate that public services have costs to cover yet at the same time, I don’t think that the price conveys a constructive message to the public.

Simon (1979) is an all-round communications shizzler.

Katia Xenophontos

I grew up in the Flemish countryside not too far from Brussels, and was on a bike from a very young age. But once I resettled in the capital, I became one of the many car-users, using it to go anywhere – even to my local supermarket, located a mere kilometre away. When traffic became especially unbearable three years ago, I decided to leave my car at home and cycle to work instead. Starting with Villo and eventually buying my own bike a few months later, cycling quickly became an addiction. And after two long years of self-reflection, I finally sold my car six months ago. It’s been a huge relief, and I don’t miss it whatsoever. And if I do really need a car, I can always just use one of the many car-sharing services on offer. Life as a cyclist in Brussels has improved in the last few years, mainly because the number of bikers has increased, and continues to do so. We’re now finally being noticed and taken into consideration. And yet, there’s still much to be done in terms of biking infrastructure, like separate bike-lanes on large roads, and improved parking facilities for those without enough space to store it in their homes – as is the case in the Netherlands. Or Copenhagen, who developed the Cycling Embassy of Denmark precisely to help other cities follow their example. Also, more measures should be taken to raise awareness regarding our current mentalities: we need to end the persistent war between drivers and cyclists, and understand that we’re all just trying to get from point A to B. Courtesy is required from all. End of the day, every bike equals one less car on the road, and thus less traffic for the driver. Another sentiment I hear often is that there are car-owners who would cycle – or let their children do so – if only their safety were better guaranteed. I’m confident we will get there one day though, especially considering that improving the infrastructure will require investments that are actually quite feasible, in comparison to other areas. In other words, the benefits would hugely outweigh the costs, with reductions in traffic congestions, noise and air pollution and accidents. And let’s not forget, cycling truly is the best way of travelling short distances: it’s fast, sustainable, cheap, silent, and healthy. I’m even convinced that more cycling would mean an important re-dynamisation of local economies in the long run. My advice for any first-time cyclist in Brussels would be to prepare their itinerary with Bruxelles Mobilité’s cyclist-friendly carte vélo to avoid large roads without protected bicycle roads, and to take classes like those organised by non-profits such as Gracq or Pro Vélo. But most of all, to learn to anticipate anything and everything.

Katia (1972) is a freelance translator and copywriter who cycles to work every day.