Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

The right to bike

While this blog has waxed ambivalent on Critical Mass before, I have to say I was heartened to see that the British House of Lords has over-ruled attempet at police restrictions on the event. Essentially, the police wanted to require “prior notice of the ride’s date, time and route and the names and addresses of the organisers” for every CM ride. The law lords say CM is not bound by the Public Order Act, which would have allowed suched restrictions.

Why Belgium does it better (part 2)

Part two of this two-part post on why Belgium does it better has to do with bike paths. Or, rather, what we in Canada call bike paths. In Belgium it’s more like a expansive network of exclusive bike roads linking all of the Flemish-speaking region.

Last weekend, my girlfriend and I took off from Brussels for a two day bike trip through part of the Flemish region, taking the train back to Brussels on Sunday evening. I had heard that bike touring was good in Belgium, but coming from some experience bike touring in Canada, I assumed that this meant that there were plenty of country roads and generally polite drivers.

But, no, that’s only the beginning. In fact, in the Flemish region, there is a huge network of bike-exclusive roads, which you navigate by going from one numbered checkpoint to another. Actually, to be clear, the routes alternate between bike-exclusive paths and shared use as a minor road, which hardly differed from the bike-exclusive paths. The entire network is in a fantastic state of maintenance, and extremely well sign-posted.

I’ll give a brief photo journey of the trip. Coming out of Brussels, we went through the Foret de la Soigne, just outside the Brussels city centre, which boasts great scenery and a comprehensive set of trails for walking, running and cycling. It suffered a little bit on the sign-posting front, but made up for it in beauty.

From there, we connected onto the Flemish network, which largely passed through the country-side. There, we probably saw more apple orchards in harvest than cars.

So, why is it possible for Belgium to maintain this system over Canada? There’s no doubt that it benefits from the proximity of one town to another. However, there are certainly areas of Canada that have the same layout, and we don’t see a similar system.

More importantly, it benefits from the culture in Belgium. People bike here. They bike to work (although that is somewhat less the case in Brussels itself given how crowded the city is with cars). They bike for recreation. They bike to get groceries. They bike as families, as couples or alone. On Sunday morning, we saw at least a dozen bike teams, in matching jerseys, biking around the Flemish region. Some appeared to be quite competitive, others didn’t.

There simply isn’t the same barrier here to bicycling as a mode of transport. It’s done recreationally on a much wider scale than in Canada, but bicycles are also used for practical purposes on a routine basis, which probably in turn fosters their recreational use.

It’s this culture of bicycling in Belgium that allows them to sustain such an impressive system of bike routes. It’s this culture that explains why Belgium does it so much better.