Flemish cities clear lane for cyclists
The times when the car determined the mobility policy of a city are over. This is evident from an analysis of the administrative agreements of the central Flemish cities: more than ever, the bicycle will be central.
‘The bicycle city of Flanders’
No less than four of the thirteen central cities in Flanders have explicitly expressed this ambition: Mechelen, Louvain, Courtrai and Ostend. Bicycles are also given a prominent place in the other cities: the number of bicycle streets, where the car is only a ‘guest’, is being further increased, there must be more and safe bicycle paths and parking facilities, and there is also talk of the further development of cycle highways between the cities and their boroughs.
House of the Bicycle
In Courtrai there will even be a whole network of streets where the cyclist is the boss. A striking proposal comes from Mechelen, with the ‘House of the Bicycle’ in the centre of the city. There the commuter can safely park his two-wheeler and have it repaired. There are also lockers and showers, for those who want to appear cleanly washed at the appointment after a bike ride.
Antwerp becomes a walking city
Antwerp has the ambition to become a ‘walking city’, with many car-free zones. Louvain and Roeselare also pay special attention in their policy plans to walkers. Ghent needs less explanation here: the city is at the moment the most developed in protecting the vulnerable road user since the introduction of the mobility plan last legislature.
Times are changing
“The change has been made”, evaluates mobility expert Kris Peeters. “The car is no longer the starting point of the policy in the cities. Air pollution, traffic safety and traffic jams: cities are confronted much more sharply with these kinds of problems and it is no coincidence that they were also prominent campaign themes in the municipal elections.”
The Cyclists’ Association reacts with satisfaction. “It is positive that the cyclist receives so much attention’, says policy officer Wies Callens. “Our local departments lobbied hard during the coalition talks.”
The association does, however, still see possible stumbling blocks. “For the financing of cycle paths or highways, the provincial or Flemish level is to be taken into account”, says Callens. “Mobility Minister, Ben Weyts (N-VA), has promised an extra 100 million euro, but in fact five times more will be needed.”
The road code also needs to be adapted here and there to achieve the goals set. “And with a federal government in current affairs, something like this becomes less obvious.”
In any case, a lot of local citizens’ movements are ready to actively participate in the policy and to point out to the policymakers that they must also live up to their commitments.
In this respect, the main thing is to look out for Antwerp, says city and mobility expert, Dirk Lauwers, where the construction of the Oosterweel connection will put enormous pressure on mobility – and where the same project has proven that citizens’ movements, Flemish government and local government can work together well.
More daring choices
The Antwerp administrative agreement contains commitments for the development of public transport (completion of the metro, new tram lines, P+Rs) and bicycle connections (the new bicycle bridge across the river Scheldt and the Ring bike path), but at the same time more daring choices are needed, insists Dirk Lauwers.
Such as: the systematic reduction of the parking lanes along the main streets to widen cycle paths and also the reduction of the number of parking spaces in the centre, like Vienna, Barcelona or Copenhagen did, cities that are regarded internationally as the most livable in Europe.
The litmus test will consist of how many streets in Antwerp will meet the air quality limit for NO2 in the short term. It is now exceeded in one third of all streets.