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Open letter to Brussels’ bicycle riders everywhere

Thursday, 23 September 2021
This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.

Dear Brussels-based bicycle users,

I’d like to start by stressing that this is not a tirade against bicycles. As someone who has worked for an environmental NGO and is a firm supporter of greener transport alternatives, I see cycling as a key piece of the puzzle we’re slowly assembling in our quest for a future in which climate change hasn’t made life on Earth absolutely intolerable.

Evidently, then, far from wishing to establish a senseless comparison between cars and bicycles, or to weigh up the pros and the cons of each option when this should be an obvious no-brainer to everyone, what I would really like is to expel a painfully weary, exasperated, and long-repressed sigh — and for you all to hear it.

It’s high time we all come together to convert Brussels into a pedestrian-friendly city. The first reason why we should do that is because we can: after all, the Brussels Capital Region covers about 162 km² of land, a measly number compared to the size of my own home city, which spans over 2,040 km² despite being the sub-capital of a relatively small country.

The second reason is because Brussels is a metaphoric minefield for pedestrians at the moment – sexual harassers, construction sites, leaky bin bags piled up high against the walls of commercial buildings, Lime scooters sprawled across the sidewalks, uneven pavements, long wait times at zebra crossings, embarrassingly reckless drivers, and, finally (and unsurprisingly), embarrassingly reckless bicycle riders.

It’s true — the city’s infrastructure is not ready for you yet. At least I like to think that is the reason why I sometimes see you whizzing past on the road, other times on the sidewalk, and other times on the bike lane, all the while confused as to where exactly you’re supposed to be.

But that still doesn’t offer much of an explanation about why some of you seem so insistent on preventing pedestrians from crossing the road when the light is green for them by pretending you don’t have brakes, or on ringing your bike bell when you want them to accommodate for your need to use the sidewalk which their taxes have also paid for, or on speeding past them and unnecessarily causing them to freeze up in fear that they will have to file a claim with their health insurance for physiotherapy sessions.

Oh, I’m sorry — did I sound somewhat passive-aggressive just now? That wasn’t, of course, my intention, but, you see, around one year ago, during one of my frequent walks, a young man on two wheels cut through the crowd fast enough for everybody there to recoil. If he’d turned only slightly to the left, the toddler who was obliviously standing in his way would have, most likely, gotten tramped under those two wheels. As for myself, I have obviously had my own share of heart-stopping, anxiety-inducing incidents involving bicycle riders, and even though I’ve always left them unscathed, I’m not entirely certain I can thank those riders for that.

One thing I am certain of, however, is that, whether partially due to a particular set of bicycle riders or not, Belgian pedestrians are at the bottom of the rank among EU countries concerning how safe they feel while walking on the street, according to the results gathered in 2018 by the E-Survey of Road Users’ Attitudes (ESRA).

In a city that’s already littered with tokens of chaos that simply make your daily life harder than it should be, I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t time for the topic of pedestrian welfare to take center stage for once.

One can only hope, I suppose.

Sincerely,

A very tired pedestrian