Barry Sandland/TIMB – A mass of cyclists occupying the work area on rue de la Roi offered the difference in life on a Friday night.
Brussels cyclists took advantage of road works along Rue de la Roi to have a massive street party – while cars were jammed in their confined two lanes alongside. The event took off when Critical Mass riders arrived at the GRACQ event – deck chairs, green turf, a few beers and cookies. Everything needed to make a bicycle lifestyle far more enjoyable than being inside a steel can.
Rue de la Roi has been undergoing construction for some weeks now. The usual four lanes, already quite full at peak hours, are now snail slow areas where drivers still insist on bringing their cars. Meanwhile, there has been some advocacy that the restrictions in place now might be extended to provide a better bike path along the thoroughfare. Bikes are a considerable presence on the shared sidewalk/bike path that runs on either side.
Changes are going to come. It is all just a matter of time. The simple reality that something new will come is in the age bracket at the events. When you ride Critical Mass, the overwhelming number of riders is late 20s. Considerable numbers in their 40s. And then, well, you can count the 50-plus on your two hands (maybe not). But the youngest riders are the base for the future and the people who will vote – and politicians who oppose fundamental changes to city designs and the lifestyles on offer will discover their faltering, ageing support base cannot carry them to a win. Oh, and the male/female ratio looked close to close to 50/50 at the start.
It should be noted, in the recent UK elections, two London politicians who opposed bike paths, instead speaking loudly for a car-dominated landscape, both lost their bids for a seat in Parliament. One was Labour, the other Conservative. Changing traffic infrastructure to accommodate cycling is climbing in the public’s demands and awareness, both at the municipal and national level. Fighting for a car-centric city is simply a declaration of a career coming to an end. Car-obsessed people simply shout louder.
Brussels has the same car-centric obsession that dominates too many cities. First solutions are always more parking spaces and a more lanes. Further down the discussion is the creation of a better environment for cycling. More parking stations – a couple of those steel hoops to lock up will accommodate about six to eight bikes – in the same space one car would fit. Rarely happens. Even in cycling mad Belgium. They are also slow to learn that if a city creates an environment for cycling, they get more cyclists. That means fewer cars. It is the proverbial win/win.
Critical Mass is one of those brazen pro-cycling events designed to demonstrate the presence of cyclists on the roads. Not as some weak, inferior object that can be pressed into submission, but as a viable, fast transport that will only get safer with numbers. Hundreds of cyclists occupying the streets, taking a ride around. And always, there are the angry car drivers who see them as nothing but an obstruction to their fast passage. And whose blaring car horn is met w the chimes of dozens of bike bells, answering their abrasive call. Meanwhile, it is lost on drivers that the bike is far faster in the city. They are obsessed with their next 50 metres and lose any sense that their number to bumper existence is just gridlock.
The police get few bonus points, either. Critical Mass was stopped twice last night. Once with at least four cars blocking the routes. A long discourse and, of course, the cyclists continued their journey – this time with a police car at the rear, escorting them, to the end of the commune where there were another few cars filled with police who wanted to have a chat.
I have never seen police stop any mass of driver because their passage has caused traffic delays. Now that would be insane.