Balloons, bikes and boulevards – touring Brussels with the Big Bike Event

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Photo by Kevin MayneAt the end of last month a special cycling event was held in Brussels by the combined EU delegations of the Benelux – Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg. Called “The BIG Bike Event” It was to show support for the idea of a European Cycling Strategy, and a bit to showcase the leadership of those countries, especially the Dutch who have just had our successful Velo-city and Luxembourg who hosted a critical event in development of the proposed strategy back in 2015.

It had a VIP feeling with ambassadors, ministers and MEPs who met at the Dutch Embassy and then set off for a guided tour of what is happening for cycling in Brussels, a fairly important backdrop for anyone working on cycling in the EU bubble! The main bike tour was also launched by Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc, so it got the top-level seal of approval outside the Commission and cycling on to the EU Parliament.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Photo by Kevin MayneIn keeping with the policy of I leave the official reporting to my colleagues over at ECF but I decided just to add some words about the bike tour.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

This was something of a treat on several fronts. Not least is that guilty pleasure of cycling around the city in a VIP group who gave us the full road closure treatment. Rue de la Loi, usually one of the most horrible racetracks for cars into the city? No problem – fully closed for 100 cyclists.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Guilty pleasure? Well we do know what this ride is really like on a normal day, and to be honest I sometimes wonder about giving a false impression to some of the guests about how far any city still has to go to become cycling friendly if you don’t see the real story. But it was great, and the contingent of bike based cops did a great job, no police cars were involved at all.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

The next good part was to have the guided tour given by Pascal Smet, the Brussels Region Minister for Mobility and Public Works. He is a bit of a divisive figure in some sectors of Brussels politics because he is leading the sort of changes in the cityscape and the patterns of mobility that others have been scared to do for years. This means kicking parked cars and traffic out of squares, pedestrianizing, adding bike lanes and being committed to knocking back the impact of cars all over the city region.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Our tour was a real odyssey around the battlegrounds of change – starting at the dreaded Schuman roundabout at the heart of the EU district (due to become traffic free) and on to the inner ring road of the city which is to be narrowed and have several lanes returned to walking and cycling. At each featured point Smet gave a short talk with his team waving picture boards of the “before and after” and the key points of battle.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

In the heart of the city we stopped on Boulevard Anspach in from of the old stock exchange (the Bourse) to hear about the pedestrianisation of Anspach and extension of the city pedestrian area which is still be fought in court by some in the business community. Sitting on bikes and mingling with passing shoppers it is just hard to imagine why anyone would want to keep the horrible environment that existed until just a short while ago in this space, it was a great cycling experience.

Here’s a quick gallery of some other Brussels landmarks along the way, just to complete the picture.

Finally I just have to say that going for a bike ride with colleagues is still the best way I can possible imagine spending an afternoon. The idea to decorate the ride in balloons was just genius, because it made the colourful parade a lot of fun and we never stopped smiling and waving at pedestrians the whole way round.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

To conclude – just for the ECF team – a small gallery of faces from our team and members that I discovered when I went through my photos – mostly smiling! (As ever click on images for larger versions)

Hope for cycling in Brussels? I do not despair!


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