What future for cycling in Molenbeek?

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©Barry Sandland/TIMB – People came from all over Brussels for a display of solidarity with the embattled commune after the Paris bombings – many were on their bicycles. But daily life in the quarter has a very low bicycle presence. Something that has to change.

Brussel’s cycling enthusiasts and advocates will be gathering tonight to discuss cycling in the the Molenbeek commune. In a recent ProVelo survey, cycling is at its lowest in the more economically disadvantaged areas of Brussels. In case you have not been reading the news lately and the stories about Molenbeek, just about every article tells you the area is one of the poorest in the city and the highest immigrant population.

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This is outside my front door in November last year. The day the police were doing raids in the area, looking for the Paris bombing connections. To be honest, I do not remember ever seeing cops on bikes on my street before or after.

Hopefully there will be some solutions to the bicycle paths that serve as double-parking space for car drivers. Or the disregard for cyclists riding (legally) against the one-way direction of cars. Not to mention the near constant intimidation by some car or other on your daily commute.

It is no oddity

that the area is so car-centric. Having a car is some kind of sign of wealth or comfort or convenience (if false). And the ProVelo survey makes it clear that, in these areas, cycling is done by better-off, educated, non-immigrant people. I live in Molenbeek and, while there are some cyclists from every group, the overwhelming numbers are WASP – and WASPs simply travelling through the quarter as they do the to-and-fro of house to work. You can see them on the road bikes, dressed to the hilt and pressing pedals hard to get through their commute. .. No offence taken. Just stating they are transient, not local.

©Barry Sandland/TIMB - Man with his cargo bike in Molenbeek

©Barry Sandland/TIMB – One of the locals I stopped for a feature on this blog – and w it Instagram and Facebook. Never had a bad encounter. You can always talk to someone on a bike.

For many who live in the area, riding a bicycle is often seen as a diversion for children – and something to be discarded once you become an adult. A friend of mine, Moroccan decent, would tell me about the teasing he would get since he was, and is, a cyclist. It was clear just about everyone was telling him to “grow up and get a car”. Of course, he is immensely fit and has a bit more money in his pocket every week. … No connection there.

You can see the commune fill with families on the Day Without Cars. But, save that, the overwhelming presence of bicycles in the area is with children. The issue now is how to make that culture a bit more present. Something daily.

It will be interesting to see the proposed solutions and tools available.

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