As the bicycle celebrated its 200th birthday yesterday, I had yet another run in with (motorised) police in Brussels and their disregard for cyclists. Riding (slowly) through the predestrianised city centre, where cycling advocacy groups have just graffitied the asphalt with Bike Brussels stencils to encourage even more cyclists to the area, I rode up on a police car.
They, of course, are allowed to take a police car through the predestrian zone. No one is questioning that. They were blocked by a barrier, shown above, and the passenger officer got out to move it.
I was approaching on the right and took the side lane where bikes could pass. As I arrived, the office, without looking, simply heaved the huge gate out of the way – and directly into my path. These gates are large and heavy ands I never expected such a violent heave to clear the space. Even less that it would be done without looking for cyclists, pedestrians, people with baby carriages… the usual irritating non-motorised civilian population that slow Lord Car from their dominance.
Now, again, I was travelling slowly enough that I could flip the wheel, brake hard, and avoid the collision. And I shouted, “Hey! Faire attention!!” (Watch out!). and stopped to tell the police office that he should be more aware of cyclists. What he did was dangerous.
Had I been just one metre further along, a bare turn of the pedals, the barrier would have slammed me broadside.
“C’est piétonnier icic, monsieur.” (This is a pedestrian zone)
“Oui, main les cyclists sont permis, non?” (Cycliste are allowed, right?)
“C’est une zone piétonnier.”
You an see the conversation was already very theoretical. I abandoned all hope of a decent apology, a sense of contrition, a recognition that he could be more careful. He had only almost hit a cyclist and that did not register with him.
It also did not register that he was in a car… in the pedestrian zone… behaving as if he, above all other users, had priority.
I am not sure how it being a pedestrian zone (non-motor but bikes allowed) gives him excuse to simply throw huge gates into the path of cyclist. But then, I have not had the professional training of the Brussels police department.
But here in Brussels, there is a massive awareness gap between motorised police and the bicycle police. If I had my way, motorised police would be barred from the downtown pedestrian area. Bicycle police are perfectly capable of controlling the space without these lumbering masses of metal, treating the pedestrian zone, and the necessary obstructions, as simply interference to their right to move about.
And much thanks to the two pedestrians who saw the event and interchange who came to me immediately afterwards to reflect on the manners of the police and the unapologetic conduct.
And that is the rub. Had the police simply said, “My mistake, I did not look”, then everything would have ended better. Instead, I leave with the bad taste in my mouth that police in Brussels really do not care about cyclists. .. And if you have read this blog, that theme has come about a few times. And so have incidents where the police (always on bikes) have been decent and involved.
Regardless, today I will ride off through the pedestrian zone and enjoy the stencils encouraging more cyclists to use the city. And I will keep a cautious eye open for blind police cars.