Brussel

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

Brussels' political structures boost exclusion by Kwinten Lambrecht

Brussels

You probably know the feeling: friends from abroad ask you to explain how the political system of Belgium and Brussels in particular work. "Well, in Brussels you have 19 different municipalities that own certain competences or share them with the 'central' Brussels regional government." Your friends look at you with raised eyebrows and then either start laughing or ask you how things can actually move forward here. And it's true; cities like Paris, London and even New York have one single Mayor, and a holistic approach to the way the city is planned and governed.

Brussels is different, it's a bureaucratic monster, things get done here but it takes an awful lot of time, 'thanks' to our political structure. Nowadays, the critical mass against these 19 municipalities 'fighting' with the central Brussels government is growing and there's a simple reason for that: citizens want to move forward. Citizens feel the potential of this great place, some politicians prefer status quo to protect themselves, and not their citizens.

After this long introduction I would like to come to the point: the political structures of Brussels pave the way for exclusion. Even better: participation encourages exclusion. The following example below illustrates why.

The alderwoman of cleanliness (or garbage?) of the municipality that I am living in, Ms. Karine Lalieux, organises every 3 months a 'rendez-vous' with people that are living in my neighbourhood to talk about cleanliness. Great initiative! But... as I am living on a regional street, the Alderwoman could not care less about my opinion. I am receiving this letter 'just for my information', since my street is not part of Madame Lalieux' action domain. How schizophrenic can your politicians be? In the heads of politicians these boundaries may be clear (because they want to stay in their luxury position), but citizens don't care whether a massive pile of garbage is being dumped on the corner of a regional or municipal street. Below you can find a Twitter conversation that happened last year, read and feel the kafka!

Karine Lalieux
Kwinten Lambrecht Twitter

Another striking example, without getting too 'dividing', but I want you to reflect on it: in Brussels we usually vote for politicians from our own language 'community'. This means that Dutch-speaking citizens vote for Dutch-speaking politicians and vice versa. In the end, this drives exclusion as well. Why? Because a politician like Fadila Laanan, who is the Regional Secretary of State for cleanliness, couldn't care less about my opinion because the chance that I will vote for her in the future, because I am Dutch-speaking, is nearly 0%. In reality I could of course vote for her, but that's the way Brussels' politicians reason nowadays. Just reflect on it: you are always in one or another way excluded.

We want our politicians to work at the service of the city, in the interest of the city and its citizens. So, let's stop accepting this madness. It will be more efficient, holistic, clearer and way cheaper!

Cher Alain by Kwinten Lambrecht

Alain Courtois_Letter_Brief_Lettre.png

Cher Alain, dear Alain,

Look at you, standing bravely on a piece of no man's land between diesel fumes. Well done, you made it to the papers with a nice quote announcing that you would block the construction of cycle lanes on the dangerous Avenue Franklin Roosevelt, even if you had to block it physically.

I will be honest with you, cher Alain, I've had it with politicians of your generation. You are from the same angst generation as the ‘Brexiteers’ and Trump voters among us: conservative, anti-change and changing your opinion whenever it serves your personal interests. You are using fear as an argument to counter progress. 

You are a sports fan, given your previous role at the Belgian Football Association, but you don't want people to use the bike, exercise and stay healthy? You want, and I quote, 'traffic fluidity' in Brussels? You are the Alderman for sports, but you don't want people to move around actively? What is your agenda, Alain? 

I see, you are the Alderman of 'Seniors' too, perhaps they are more receptive to your messages like 'invasion of the bicycle' and 'bullying cars'? We all noticed on your infamous Facebook page that your Senior fans were cheering for you, and your tough language: 'Send that Flamand back to where he belongs!', 'Is he still sick?', 'Well done Alain!'. You are scoring goals for your voters, Alain, well done.

Cher Alain, let's try to use a different argument. What is your view on the impact of car use in our, your city? What about the lungs of your, our children and grandchildren? Do they deserve brown fluids in their lungs or traffic fluidity? Many cities around us, not far away even, are approaching public space, mobility and city life in a completely different way nowadays. Academics, visionary Mayors, researchers, citizens all over the world are striving for a better city. Why? Because we love living in cities, not driving. Thanks to politicians like you Brussels will never be able to lead by example on these matters, but will have to follow with years of backlog.

Cher Alain, how is still possible that you and your 18 other colleagues in other Brussels' municipalities can block or destroy holistic plans, based on arguments such as "that street should be 30cm wider, so we cannot construct cycle lanes"? Your generation of inward-looking politicians will make our generation, which is not afraid of change, lag behind for years to come. The consequences of your short-term 'status quo' policy will have a disastrous impact on us, citizens, and your, yes Alain, your city.

 

Will this be the future of Brussels? by Kwinten Lambrecht

Cars take up space, a lot of space. Very slowly cities are starting to understand that providing public space for human beings to live in will actually increase life quality and air quality. It will make you want to engage in conversations, it will make kids play with each other without constraints. Public space should be given back to the public. 

In Brussels, we are far from an ideal situation. But we're hopeful; Google Amsterdam, Rotterdam or Utrecht 20 years ago and you'll see the difference. Dutch cities teach us that a shift in public space will shift behaviour.

Let's look ahead at Brussels. Imagine the Chaussée de Charleroi or Waterloo or practically any 'Boulevard' in Brussels. 

Brussels today.

Brussels today.

Okay, there it is!

Now... Close your eyes and dream of what your city could look like. What should it consist of? Ready? Now open your eyes and scroll down.

Brussels tomorrow?

Brussels tomorrow?


A big thanks to Johanna Medvey for her illustrations of the beautiful houses and to Dami De Jonge for showing us what the future could look like.