Brussels Mobility is urging more people to use pedal power to get around, especially the city’s large expat community.
The city has a troubled relationship with the automobile and is now attempting to recover, having been carved up in the mid-20th century by an enthusiastic car lobby. To access the centuries-old heart of Brussels, you need to cross not only an outer peripheral motorway, but another multi-lane, multi-tunnel “inner ring” road.
The country’s tax system has also been blamed for a pro-car mentality. Corporate employees, even at entry level, are handed company cars to help offset income taxes, which regularly top the OECD list of highest taxes in the world.
To make things worse, the country has a very poor road safety record. Brussels Times reported last year that “Belgium recorded a total 32.2 injured motorists from traffic accidents per 10,000 inhabitants – almost six times higher than in Denmark, three times higher than in France, and 47% more than the EU average.” Brussels and Liège both feature ignominiously in Europe’s top 15 for most traffic injuries and fatalities.
2. Why cycle?
None of these facts make it appealing to cycle in Brussels, especially perhaps for newcomers unfamiliar with the roads. But in addition to other initiatives, including monetary incentives to ditch your car for a bike, now eight ambassadors from Bosnia, Botswana, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Slovenia have been recruited to help spread the message about the benefits of pedal power. Brussels Mobility wants to reach the expat population in Brussels, who make up 20% of the city’s residents and are seen as a growth market for cycling. The ambassadors will help with this task.
Interviewed by Belga, Danish ambassador Odd Sinding said: “It’s good for exercise and I can only recommend it. And actually it’s also a good way to discover Brussels. I’ve just discovered myself that in Brussels you have over 8000 hectares of green [space], making Brussels one of the greenest cities in Europe.”
Sinding confessed to not always using his bike, saying “I must say compared to Copenhagen I must still get used to manoeuvring between tram and bus lanes, but I see a huge and positive development in Brussels.”
Brussels Mobility minister Elke Van den Brandt (Green party) said on Wednesday: “Brussels has long been labelled a car city, but the capital is changing. Many new and safe cycling facilities have been created in the European capital.”
3. Why expats?
Explaining why the expat population is seen as key, she added: “The first cyclists in Brussels were often foreigners. We have a lot to thank them for, as they played a pioneering role in developing the cycling culture that is constantly growing in Brussels”.
Brussels has doubled its cycle paths over the last 10 years and now boasts 513 km of this kind of infrastructure (though many of these are still simply painted on roads that are too narrow to accommodate cars as well as bikes).
Belga news agency notes “the number of cycling trips in Brussels has tripled in 10 years and the number of cyclists in Brussels is increasing by around 13 per cent each year. At the beginning of June, a record 50,000 cyclists were recorded in one day.”
“Expats are the population group of choice to continue this trend, thanks to their huge growth potential within the Brussels cycling community,” said Bike for Brussels, a subsidiary of Brussels Mobility.