European Mobility Week must be more than painted bike lanes and whitewash

©Barry Sandland/TIMB - Photo of the Reyers viaduct and the vision for the future of cycling.

©Barry Sandland/TIMB – The vision for Brussels. Still basic on bicycles.

European Mobility Week is often a disappointment when I consider the cycling element – at least here in Brussels, the European capital. The week plays big on new modes of transport, e-vehicles, the developing presence of people on bikes. This year there were bike polo events, Alleycat races (both these are are underground level) and the massively participatory Sunday Without Cars. This year, I rode through the European Parliament area and saw the tubular billboards heralding the new life ahead.  And then I considered my actual cycling life during mobility week and in the past year.  It sucks.

©Barry Sandland/TIMB - Police car in the cyclists safety grid at a red light.

©Barry Sandland/TIMB – A constant to riding in the city is seeing cars occupy the red light safety squares that should be for cyclists.

During Mobility Week, I was severely cut off three times (once I had to slam my hand on the car hood to gain attention and prevent real injury); saw a tram driver harass a cyclist using the designated bike area when he wanted it (happens all the time); zigged and zagged my way through bike lanes all across the city where cars used the space for double parking or pick-up and drop-off areas: got harassed for slowly crossing a busy road on a pedestrian crosswalk (“I only have to stop for pedestrians!”); riding home one night on a side road clearly marked as a bike across the lane priority, while travelling at speed, I had a driver race up behind me and flash his lights repeatedly in an effort to press me out of the way. And throughout the week, I never saw a single police officer make any effort to move cars on from bike lanes, or provide any feedback to drivers’ use of bike lanes, red light bike squares or anything close to raising awareness in the motorised community.

Oh, I did manage to get another photo of a police car that crept into the red light cyclist box, rather than  respect the designated space for cyclists.

©Barry Sandland/TIMB - Velodossier video screenshot of bike path abuses

The vision for Brussels. Still basic on bicycles and pathways are just transient parking spaces.

Of course, there are cyclists out there who will think this is just standard fare, or less. But even that would be unfortunate. That this is just run-of-the-mill cycling.

European Bike Week preaches to the converted and relies on our enthusiasm to accept the white wash promotion as a tangible advance.

I feel as threatened today as I was yesterday. I feel as ignored. I feel as second class. Nothing had changed.

Brussels will tell you they are making advances. True. But the speed and scope of the “advance” could be debated. The city is fascinated by creating bike lanes that are little more than a strip of white paint on the road. Nothing much more substantial. Pedestrian zones have some fascination here, of late.

©Barry Sandland/TIMB - Concrete barriers obstructing bike path in Brussels.

©Barry Sandland/TIMB – Bikes paths and the constant obstacles to their safety

At the Euro a Parliament billboards, the new developments at Ryers viaduct in Brussels -0 see the main photo. It is heralded as the rebirth of a great urban boulevard. Look closely at the bike paths. And, again, cyclists have to negotiate key intersections w little more than a thin strip of paint as protection.

The bike lanes are just another haphazard collection of stripes painted on tarmac. Nothing physically protective. And the stripes are left behind once inside this four lane morass, so cyclists are left to their own devices.

If the city wanted to do something, a delayed traffic light giving cyclists 30 seconds of car-free movement would have been something. A bike lane that would at least signify their rightful presence in the intersection. Instead, cycling gets the same old same old. White paint and a few politicians heralding their advance in cycling presence in the city.

Far too much talk.

©Barry Sandland/TIMB - Painted No Cycling sign on the pavement

©Barry Sandland/TIMB – The vision for Brussels. Still basic on bicycles.

Brussels remains a city that favours motorised transport. Cars are more important that cyclists, despite the methodical advance, which is far more substantial than European Mobility Week propaganda.

It was only a year ago that I sat in the audience, during Mobility Week, listening to one of the developers of metro stations, as well as public trains and buses, show us the future of public transport. Cycling, cyclists, were mentioned just once. Neither the developers nor their clients (read city planners) considered cyclists important. In a post-present action Q&A, the presenter told us the client had not made it part of their requirements and his company did not feel not was their place to lead.

For 2017, I expect more painted lanes for cars to use as temporary parking. I expect verbal abuse if I am not in a bike lane, no matter its condition. I expect to have cars shave past me in 30kmph zones where I am doing 30kmph. I expect the constant aggression of drivers and the perpetual silence of politicians and police. I expect to be stopped for turning right on red where I have every right to do so. I expect drivers to occupy red light cyclists squares on the principle that, if they get there first, they have the right.

And I still struggle to find proper parking bays for bicycles. Last year, there was a furore and the city considered creating an underground parking bay at Place Jeu de Balles. It was defeated, eventually, but, with the cars refused, that was the end of the issue. If they wanted to improve the overwhelming presence of cars in the district, they could install parking stands for cyclists. Encourage more bikes – then there would be fewer cars. Meanwhile, the area has bikes on every lamp pole, parking sign, spare piece of fence. 

If you ride the city, most of the parking bays reach full capacity. Especially in the city centre. But the focus of city councils remains parking for cars. It is an outdated and uninspiring obsession.

European Mobility Week has to start moving beyond flag waving and platitudes. Start making real contributions to cyclists safety. It can start by enforcing the law. But I know what this appeal will bring about. Cars will continue unaffected and cyclists will get tickets for going through red lights. It simply will not get any better. Oh, to be proven wrong.

“I would not commute but bike in London”
UK roads policing lead for the National Police Chiefs Council, Suzette Davenport.
I really struggled reading this quote. That a police chief in the perfect position to effect change seems to accept the dangers on the road, versus making hard effort to bring about change. I am grateful cycling organisations have spoken strongly in criticism of the remark. Cycling organisations made its clear that road crime is not a priority for the police.

Facts about accidents
Look at the graphs and see the cyclist provoked accidents are with cyclists under 15 and under 24. Once riders reach maturity, the graph swings massively to driver-caused accidents.

Search YouTube
If you want something shocking, search YouTube for cyclist road rage and see how threatening it can be to ride a bicycle in Europe. Drivers who intentionally aim their cars at cyclists, who threaten physical violence, who attack cyclists – and often with no response from the police. A woman was killed at an intersection in London and the ultimate decision was that she was riding too slowly and so the driver would not be charged. See 

If cycling in Europe is going to change in a  fundamental, drastic way, then, over and above the infrastructure and painted bike lanes, the police have to take on their roles. They have to enforce the law, oblige drivers to respect bicycle paths, stop drivers who endanger cyclists, and actually charge people who would intimidate, threaten or physically harm a cyclist. As long as stories abound of violence being given a blind eye, then the real war on cycling will remain and it will favour the aggressor.

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