For those of us who live along Brussels' busy streets and its neighboring cities, Sunday, 18 September, began in a rather unusual way. Rather than waking to honking car horns or halting brakes, Brussels residents were greeted with quiet. If there was any noise to be heard, it was not from the typical cacophony of screeching engines and rattling old mufflers, but from the joyous notes of laughter shared by cycling families.
"Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike."
Do you know who said this line? John F. Kennedy did. You, too, can enjoy this simple pleasure without even owning a bike. For a few years now, bicycle sharing schemes are popping up like mushrooms: more than 200 all over the world, according to the New Zealand Herald. Their aim is to make bicycling available for the masses at a reasonable price. This is intended as a contribution to "soft mobility" and as a complement to public transport. You can just go to one of the stations of the network and grab a bike whenever you need one. You pay for the time you use the bike and you don't have to worry about maintenance and repair. A study on Bicing, the sharing scheme in Barcelona, has even shown that "[as] a result of physical activity, 12.46 deaths were avoided [and] annual carbon dioxide emissions were reduced by an estimated 9 062 344 kg."
Unless you come from public transport heaven you will find that public transport in Brussels is not that bad at all. The Belgian capital is well-covered with bus, tram and metro lines, that will get you from A to B without you having to break the bank.
Have you ever considered getting rid of your car?
Let's face it - we all like the convenience of having it just outside the door waiting to be used and take us wherever we want to go. But who wouldn't want to be rid of all the hassle that comes with owning a vehicle: filling it up with expensive gas, checking tyre pressure, refilling window cleaning liquid, standing in line at the Contrôle Technique, expensive insurance, repairs... the list goes on forever. What if there were a way to use a car whenever you really needed one without assuming the responsibility of ownership? Well, there is: it's called Cambio.
Save fuel up to 20-30%, drive more safely and cut your green house gas emissions!
- Shift to a higher gear as soon as possible (above 2000-2500 revolutions);
- Drive smoothly: try to keep a constant speed (cruise control where possible) and avoid breaking and speeding. Anticipate the situation in the traffic: let your car “roll” without touching the gas pedal;
Billing itself as the ‘car drivers detox center’ (le centre de désintoxication pour automobilistes), Cyclo has been promoting cycling in all sorts of clever ways for over 10 years now. Not only do they rebuild used bikes into better-than new condition, they also help equip the unemployed with skills that get them back into the workforce. Workers rotate in a 3-year program that starts with them working alongside a professional mechanic rebuilding bikes and has them finish by managing the shop, sales and all.
When I first moved to Brussels three years ago, I used to commute by bike across the Place Flagey to Avenue Louise. Every morning I would pass a woman heading in the other direction, wobbly and uncertain on her brand new mountain bike, helmet firmly fastened, reflective vests and lights all over, a look of terror in her eyes as if she was being forced to swing dance in a mine field. I realized in watching her, just how intimidating biking in Brussels can be. But trust me, it can be done! With some simple guidelines, biking in Brussels can become such a safe, efficient, and pleasant way to get around the city that you’ll never move any other way – and that’s to say nothing of all the pollution you’ll save by doing it.
But where? How about just about anywhere! Belgium has some of the best networks for cycling in the world, offering paved, accessible, well-signed and maintained routes throughout the country. Yes, throughout the country! Cycling is one of the few true Belgian national values, though of course, even in this regard there are some regional differences to get to know.
In the winter, we talk about winter smog. In the summer, ozone pollution is the one to watch. Winter smog and ozone pollution are very different in nature, but both are related to man-made pollution. The good news is that we all can contribute and help to prevent these phenomena. The summer ozone, however, needs a much more long term approach. What is it about?