Cycling in Brussels: smart move or crazy idea?

Cycling numbers for Brussels are surging. Flandersnews wanted to find out about your cycling experiences in Brussels. Here they are! The gist of the stories is that it is faster and that it keeps you fit, while safety and air pollution are the main concerns. "I choose to cycle to work because it's much quicker and less frustrating than driving or taking the bus", says Simeon. "Air pollution is a problem, however."

More people are taking the bicycle in Brussels - though their number is still very small compared to the number of motorists in the capital. While traffic jams have become a daily ordeal for motorists, cyclists venturing out in the city can go about a lot more efficiently, but they have to face some potential dangers and inhale poor-quality air.

It also remains to be seen whether their number will keep on growing - triggered by last year's March attacks, the effect may ease in the course of this year. Cyclists are hoping figures will keep on surging, which may cause a change of mentality among motorists and get more people on their bicycles. 

Flandersnews asked you about your impressions. "If you can make eye contact with drivers, it's generally safe." Here are some stories.

Clare: "When drivers behave well I always smile"

"I've been cycling in Brussels ever since I arrived here over 7 years ago. I already cycle-commuted in London and Edinburgh before I moved here so it was nothing new."

"I cycle because it's the quickest way for me to get to work and also because there's a real sense of camaraderie amongst the other cycle-commuters at work, which makes it enjoyable. I cycle all year, come rain or shine (good waterproof clothing is essential!)"

"The thing that I really don't like is the way that some car drivers treat cyclists as though we are the reason for their mobility problems and endanger our lives by driving too close. I really wish they understood that I'm a sister, an aunt, a daughter, a friend etc....My life matters to other people and it's ridiculous to try and force me off the road with a car."

"When drivers do behave well towards me I always smile and thank them in the hope that it will encourage them to continue to behave well towards other cyclists. Air pollution is my other problem. As an asthmatic, it can make cycling tough but I enjoy it too much to stop. I hope the authorities start to take the air quality here more seriously soon."

Aoifie: "Cycling makes sense with young children"

"We live in the city centre and cycling makes sense with young children; it's the easiest and quickest way to transport little people. I do cycle more since the attacks but more because it's convenient and I want to get fitter than for security reasons."

"Brussels is a tough city for a cyclist. The infrastructure isn't great - cycle paths either don't exist or end suddenly (Boulevard du Jardin Botanique from Place Rogier uphill is a good example, you're forced to cycle on the pavement), tram tracks are a menace to bicycle wheels and narrow streets rammed with parked cars mean there often isn't much place for both cars and cyclists to co-exist safely."

"And on top of that there's the rain and the hills not to mention the taste of smoke in your mouth. I often wonder if the extra exposure to diesel fumes destroys any health benefits of the exercise."

"Brussels would definitely be a nicer city with fewer cars but it's hard to urge people to cycle; it feels dangerous when there isn't a clear path for a bike or drivers behave aggressively. I definitely hesitate cycling with my kids in heavy traffic - but I hope the city they grow up in has cleaner air and more cyclists.

Simeon: "Much quicker and less frustrating than the car or bus"

"I started cycling in Brussels 25 years ago, mostly at the weekend to visit the forest and surrounding countryside. The variety of leisure cycling amenities is fantastic. Since 2008 I have cycled to work each day, leaving my car at home."

"I choose to cycle to work because it’s much quicker and less frustrating than driving or taking the bus. I live near Dailly and work in the centre of town. People say that it must be dangerous, but I stick to the roads with cycle paths and to the less busy streets."

"I like the way bicycles can cycle against the traffic in some streets, you can make eye contact with drivers, and in general it’s very safe."

"Air pollution is a problem however; I would love to see the number of cars being reduced in the city. It’s important to stay visible, stay audible with a bell, and stay safe. Drivers are sitting in comfortable sofas with music and are frequently not paying attention, or have poor driving skills. It annoys me to see how many people drive while on the phone. When you cycle you notice how little it rains in Belgium. One bike, one car less!!"

Harry: "Temperament rather than choice"

"I am a cyclist more by temperament than by choice. My daily ride from Hoeilaart to Hallepoort takes me about 40 mins which is about the same as if I were to travel by train, but I’d rather steer my own course any day … even (or perhaps especially) when the rain is sheeting down."

"In the Zoniënwoud at this time of year, in the milky light of dawn, deer can be glimpsed through the trees. Here is a time for reflection and a gentle awakening."

"Then with a rumble of cobblestones one is hurled onto Rooseveltlaan. This is a racetrack. Head down, gears snapping, cars and bikes flare fast past embassy flags, run free down the hill by the university, across the anarchic junction and up the hill by the Abbey."

"For the final stage, Avenue Louise, you'd better be awake. (...) Anything can come at you … from any angle. Cars, buses, trucks, trams, scooters, kids dragging parents, dogs dragging kids, garbage trucks stop without warning, taxis swing across to catch their fares. Now it is time to focus the mind!" (photo above: Harry at the Europaplein at the Central Station).

Peter: "Risks of cycling are likely much higher than the risk of a terror attack"

"I am a British expat, have lived in Uccle since 2005. To travel into the city, I mainly use public transport or bicycle, or a combination. I use the bike more often in summer. I work at home so don't commute daily. I use the bike for both personal and business travel, sometimes with Villo, sometimes my own. Why?
- good for environment and air quality
- healthier for me (except for breathing pollution)
- generally cheaper than driving and parking, but not my main motivation

The March attacks did not change my view of cycling or use of public transport - except perhaps just afterwards. Risks of cycling are likely much higher than the risk of a terror attack.

Positives:
- Villo, its App and price.
- Free travel of bike on tram and metro

Negatives:
- Lack of good secure parking spaces for bikes, especially for public buildings
- Having to pay 5 Euros for bike on SNCB train (in Brussels).
- Lack of enforcement of cyclists need to be seen at night. Too many children cycle to school in dark winter with no lights or bright clothing.
- Near impossibility to insure a bike against theft.
- Car drivers believe they own the roads.