The American Chamber of Commerce in Belgium asked me to write an op-ed about urban mobility in Brussels for their newsletter/website. You can find the entire text below.
Brussels is a typical example of a car city that was built to meet drivers’ demands rather than to fulfill the criteria of a city that takes care of its citizens.
A weekend trip to the seaside, shopping or bringing your kids to school – our motorized friend appears as a most loyal machine that is able to bring us anywhere. As a result, many European cities were built taking into account the comfort of driving a car in the city: wide streets, central lanes and sometimes even highways were constructed. Brussels is a typical example of a car city that was built to meet drivers’ demands rather than to take care of its citizens.
A recent study by Agoria, the Belgian technology industry association, highlights that nine out of 10 people who work in Brussels need 25% more time to reach their destination today than in 2012. Brussels is getting clogged with cars. The fault lies not with the car commuters but rather a miscalculation by consecutive governments which supported and encouraged car use, financially as well as infrastructure-wise. The lack of alternatives, such as protected cycle lanes and car-sharing schemes as well as cuts in public transportation funding, makes it impossible to change this extremely dangerous situation.
Dangerous for companies because they're losing both time and efficiency, but also for Brussels' citizens. Air pollution accounts for thousands of premature deaths in Europe. In Brussels, concentrations of black carbon on large streets are usually 20 times higher than on car-free Sundays. Additionally, noise pollution also puts lives in danger due to higher stress levels.
THE HUMAN SCALE
(Re)designing a city on 'the human scale', as famous architect and urban designer Jan Gehl calls it, is a difficult task which requires brave and visionary politicians, responsible citizens and smart companies. The freshly elected Brussels-Capital Regional Government is pointing heads in the right direction with investments in cycle lanes, more public transportation and plans for 10,000 commuter parking spots around Brussels.
The main problem, however, is the municipalities (the Brussels-Capital Region counts 19), which are still powerful and often block smart decisions. Projects such as constructing new tram lines, organizing additional car-free squares or even creating cycle lanes can all be blocked or delayed by mayors that refuse to adopt a holistic approach when tackling mobility issues. For example, plans to build five new parking lots in the city center are completely counterproductive when you are developing a scheme that connects commuter parking sites to public transportation.
Gradually, many Bruxellois and I hope that we will enter the liveable city era, where the human being is at the center of attention. We need to move forward, raise citizens’ awareness on the health, social and financial costs of a 'car city' and at the same time continue to drive politicians in an alternative direction. Companies can play a big role as well, by offering a mobility budget instead of over-subsidised company cars (in Belgium €2763 per car per year) or by adopting greener behavior such as buying electric bikes and perhaps fishing where the fish are: on the Brussels labor market.
We live in the most congested city of Europe, full of traffic, air pollution and aggressive drivers. A lot of us are getting literally sick of it. That's why The Pang collective launched this amazing video to encourage everyone from grandma to baby, from shopper to green bobo to start the Vélorution in Brussels. Share this video!
My infographic about cycling expats in Brussels was quite popular. It was picked up by several Belgian media and also The Bulletin and New Europe reported on it. On top of that I was asked by TV station Belgique 21, which targets French expats living in Belgium, to give an interview about the current cycling situation in Brussels. You can watch the interview below.
Belgians love cycling. Since Eddy Merckx we've had more cycling champions than we’ve played World Cup football games. Needless to say, cycling is a part of Belgian DNA. And although everybody loves cycling as a sport, it still hasn't become a habit to use a bike instead of a car to bridge short distances. That's one of the reasons why a lot of cities in Belgium lack decent cycling infrastructure and thus cycling culture.
As an experienced cyclist in Brussels I have fallen victim to insults and aggressive behaviour quite a lot now. Moreover it’s extremely frustrating that roads, even big avenues, lack sufficient and safe cycle lanes. In most cases you have to share the road with cars on so-called cycle lanes, which are often driven or parked on. The suggestion marks (painted bicycles on the road) are even worse and have no legal force. They just warn drivers that cyclist 'might ride here too'.
Brussels is rich in its diversity, and among different cultures living here there's also a well-represented (EU) expat community living and breathing the city. I know that a lot of my friends think similarly about the current, often dangerous situations on the road.
But what's the opinion of expats regarding cycling in Brussels? To determine this I launched an online mini-survey which focused on bicycle safety, cycling lanes, the bike-sharing system Villo! and the possible solutions to the problem.
In total 202 people responded to the survey in a period of nearly three weeks (24 January - 12 February). Promotion was principally done via Twitter. The results below are quite striking!
I want to thank graphic designer Bert Sap for designing this infographic.
Last week I was curator number 13 of the I am Europe Twitter account. It's a project that was started by an Italian student (@arajacorp) and is similar to 'national' accounts such as @sweden for example. Through the account may nationalities can talk and engage beyond the so-called Brussels Bubble. Not only about European politics or the institutions, but mainly about life in general and the specificities of every country in Europe.
Here are some of my highlights:
- Crowd sourcing artists from my followers, resulting in new pins on my Art and Visuals Pinterest board
- The #AskaBelgian questions that I was able to respond to, from my favorite dish to Belgian politics
- Conversations about the next EU Commission President
- The various exchanges with loyal followers about the birds and the bees
It was a fantastic week and I will miss it, I truly believe that initiatives like these can bring people together and can shine a different light on one's perception of the world.
Below you can find all the tweets that I've sent during my week (6-13 April 2014).
I've been insulted and attacked quite a lot now so I decided to use this page as a diary in progress.Read More
The latest report on cycling injuries has just been published by the Belgian Institute for Road Safety (picked up on it via Brusselnieuws). Not surprising, the amount of injured cyclists is increasing year by year. Also the amount of deadly traffic accidents (involving cars or pedestrians) has increased from 45 to 58 victims.
The chart below shows that the number of injuries has increased from only 80 reported injuries to approximately 460 in 2013 (+500%). The only reason our Secretary of State for Mobility, Melchior Watheletet Junior, could possibly think of was the exponential growth of cyclists on our roads. Well, well...
VZW Foyer, the organisation that focuses on the integration of minority groups in Brussels, has come up with some very funny short videoclips about Brussels' mobility. Funny, but also harrowingly 'real' because these are the kind of situations that every cyclist in Brussels encounters on a daily basis. The clips put the fingers on the problem because the actors portrayed in the clips are tomorrow's generation, the children that want to live and love in a liveable and environmentally-friendly city.
What started as a master thesis project could become one of the biggest biking innovations of the last years. Back in 2005 two industrial design students from Sweden invented Hövding after the government had introduced a law that made biking helmets compulsory for children up to 15 years old. A lot of people argued that helmets should have been made compulsory for all age categories and this got the two female innovators thinking. As we all know, and certainly the fashion victims among us, wearing a helmet is not that sexy and trendy. Hövding could be your haircut saver!
Bikers simply need to wear a big scarf around their neck, and when the sensors track unusual shocks the airbag jumps out and shields the entire head and neck in a split second. Enormously inventive and completely safe and sound, according to research. Below you'll discover how a concept became reality in the Hövding promo video, made by Bikes vs. Cars director Fredrik Gertten. Enjoy!
Belgian newspaper La Libre Belgique recently published some interesting facts about intra-Brussels mobility. In the article called A Bruxelles, le vélo a encore du chemin à faire La Libre summed up the different transport methods in Brussels, below the result in a simple chart:
The statistics are quite striking; even for a small distance Les Bruxellois still prefer to use their car instead of green(er) mobility. However, it may be worth to have a closer look at the reasons behind this mentality. Below I've summed up five doubts and five bummers about biking in Brussels. The doubts incorporate the incentives that still outweigh the use of bikes, let's say the working points. The bummers on the other hand are the fundamentals, the arguments that put a giant 'nay' label on even considering biking in Brussels. Also working points I guess.
- Public transport in Brussels cannot follow the expanding number of commuters anymore, some communes are not well reachable (partly Ixelles, Woluwe, Uccle,...) and it's difficult to count on STIB's punctuality
- Old(er) people tend to use the car more often for small distances, while our generation does not even consider buying a car anymore
- Taxes: it is often more beneficial for employers to provide a car instead of extra net salary
- A holistic mobility approach is often not possible, due to the absurdity of having 19 different communes (and stubborn Mayors) and (sometimes more than) three different governments operating in the tiny Brussels Region
- The power of the motor-industry and the entire lobby which is strongly represented (main argument: 'the economy!')
- Not enough bike lanes (since 2009 only 23 kilometers were constructed, of which only 11 kilometers is separated from the road
- The Brussels Jungle: drivers will always take advantage of public space when they can. Parking on bike lanes is common practice
- Brussels' drivers are aggressive when they cannot move passed bikers. Bikers are often being hunted by cars. There's no biking culture (yet) in Brussels, while this is the case in other countries and major cities
- The lack of public transport integration and cooperation between the different companies like STIB-MIVB, TEC, SNCB, De Lijn etcetera
- Biking is way too dangerous because bikers are extremely vulnerable. Without any assertiveness you simply cannot survive. As a result you will barely notice children using a bike in Brussels. And this is a very bad sign because the earlier you start biking, the faster it becomes a daily habit and lifestyle