Three cyclists from Liège who painted bicycle logos on a narrow street to remind people of the presence of cyclists on a dangerous road were acquitted in court.
The Rue Hors Château in Liège is a particularly dangerous road for cyclists. Though it was renovated in 2019, repeated requests for bicycle markings were ignored, and so cycling activists from the local “Actions Cycloyennes” collective took matters into their own hands.
They painted 23 logos on the night of 25 February 2019, using stencils and cans of white paint.
“In a world where public authorities do too little to make the journeys of the most vulnerable safe, this kind of action is far from isolated,” wrote Luc Goffinet and Alexandre Hagenmuller of the Groupe de Recherche et d’Action des Cyclistes Quotidiens (GRACQ), which represents cyclists in French-speaking Belgium.
“Faced with the lack of reaction from the public authorities, some members of the public are taking action.”
Caught in the act
The activists were caught in the act by surveillance cameras and intercepted by police. After refusing to pay a fine of €100, they found themselves before the Liège correctional court, for “malicious obstruction of traffic” and “destruction of public property.”
“These two charges are questionable, to say the least, since the painted bicycle logos in no way restricted traffic in the street, nor did they give any indication likely to cause an accident,” Goffinet and Hagenmuller said.
“They simply indicated to cyclists their safest place on the road, and warned other users of the possible presence of bicycles. Degradation of public property also seems to be an excessive accusation, as the paint used was not permanent.”
They pointed out that the City of Liège has since made an equivalent marking of the road as a cycle lane.
During the trial, the prosecutor emphasised the risk of “anarchy” if every citizen decided to take the initiative to put cycling markings whenever a municipality doesn’t respond to their requests.
The defence, which contested the mention of “malicious obstruction of traffic and degradation and destruction of heritage” obtained the reclassification of the facts as “unauthorised graffiti.”
The court granted the suspension (for 3 years) of the required sentence of 46 hours of community service.
Guerilla activism from cyclists
Cycling collectives that practice civil disobedience like Actions Cycloyennes are far from rare – others include Guerrilla Bike Brussels and Extinction Rebellion.
In Brussels, similar actions were taken with Rue de la Loi.
GRACQ says their motives are primarily road safety, but increasingly climate change, as well. An open letter signed by cycling advocacy groups from countries across the world argued that “the world needs much more cycling” in order to reach climate goals.
When it comes to actions like the unauthorised painting of bicycle logos on roads that must by law share the street with cyclists, GRACQ says that the end often justifies the means.
“Are these actions legal? No. Are they legitimate? The question may arise when, despite repeated calls to correct a serious safety problem, public authorities are slow to propose solutions on the ground,” they write.
“Between legality on the one hand and their safety on the other, citizens feel legitimate to make a choice.”