Why a critical mass is critical for a sustainable city. / by Kwinten Lambrecht

Each last Friday night of the month cyclists worldwide take the streets for a bike tour in their city. The main goal? To raise awareness about the vulnerability of cyclists in the busy streets of cities that were transformed into car paradises tens of years ago. A full explanation on what the Critical Mass is about can be found in this nice Facebook Live video that Marco Ricorda aka Marcorecorder and I shot just before taking of on Friday 26 May.

Critical Mass Brussels - Lambyk

Why so critical?

After a stop at Place Meiser, where a cyclist was almost killed, the temperature was increasing rapidly. Not only because of the nice weather but also because the police got involved, gently asking us to move on. On the Montgomery roundabout (a nightmare for cyclists and pedestrians) two citizens, driving respectively a Porsche Cayenne and a Porsche Boxer, felt that they had lost enough of their precious time because of cyclists getting in their way. They started to shout and insult and even threatened a guy that next time he would 'kill him'.

The police got nervous, some photos were taken, a police officer completely lost it and started pushing and punching a young man who was holding a camera. The police officer in question, probably still massively stressed after Trump's visit, arrested the young man 'administratively' and yelled at other cyclists (we were more than 200) to "allez, vas-y rouler un peu". From her tone of voice you could feel that the police officer did not have a big affiliation with two wheels. Perhaps except during weekends. After some diplomatic interventions, the Porsche guys left (with roaring engines) and cycling citizens (with bells) went for a drink.

It wasn't the nicest and most human scene to witness but it brings me to a couple of points I'd like to raise:

  • The saying 'You are not stuck in traffic, you are traffic' is (again) super relevant in this case. People often get mad, nervous or start honking when you are cycling in front of them, even when you are alone. Not all of them of course, but many car drivers went completely crazy because they had to wait for a couple of cyclists while each and every day they are stuck in traffic, usually alone, together with thousands of other cars. Where's the logic?
  • This kind of incident is absolutely not worth repeating since it's not a battle between cars and bikes, but human beings. I could easily opt to drive around in a car, because I'll be able to listen to music and have air-conditioned seats but many people opt for the bike because it is fast, reliable, healthy and good for the city. People underestimate the power of sustainable transport as a driver for growth, better air quality and less social costs for example. 
  • You cannot blame car drivers. They are being pushed in this comfortable position, with magnificent company car and even prepaid cards to purchase fuel by our own politicians who are supposed to serve the greater good. We can also add to that years of disinvestment in public transport and decent cycle lanes. Conclusion? Our governments have turned us into car addicts.
  • Last but not least: let's not create a 'community' of cyclists, because it will make 'us' look more like activists. Instead, talk about 'Brusselers using the bicycle'. We need to get rid of the bike as a symbol for hippies and green boys, because in the end anyone will enjoy the benefits of a cycling city.

See you at the next critical mass? 

Critical Mass Brussels - Lambyk