Brussels aims to boost cycling with new paths

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Cyclists will get to enjoy new cycling paths, bike storage boxes as the government aims to entice more people to cycle instead of drive.

7 May 2008

BRUSSELS - Brussels will build kilometres of new cycling paths, install bike storage boxes in public spaces and expand its bike rental programme by next year in a push to get people on bikes and relieve the city's clogged streets, a government official said Tuesday.

The city will also host a major international cycling conference in 2009 that should garner political and public support for cycling, Brussels' Mobility Minister Pascal Smet said.

Organisers of the Velo-City 2009 conference want Brussels to follow the example of cities such as Paris and Munich, former hosts of the biannual conference, where the gathering kickstarted major cycling projects.

"Brussels is the capital of Europe but at the moment it is not the capital of cycling. This must change," Smet said before outlining the program of Velo-City 2009, which includes a bike ride down a closed-off highway.

"For decades, car has been the preferred means of transport. We want the conference to be the turning point for both the public and the political class," he said.

Brussels authorities have introduced popular car-free Sundays when cyclists and pedestrians rule the roads, including highways and bypasses within the city, and launched a bike-rental programme, with stands where people can hire bikes for a nominal fee dotting the city centre.

The city has begun by letting cyclists ride in both directions on one-way streets. Also, car owners who hand in their license plates get free transport on buses, subway and streetcars.

Smet said boxes where cyclists can store their gear for a monthly fee will be installed in public spaces and there are plans for lifts for cyclists - similar to ski lifts - to be built in hilly parts of the city.

More than 60 percent of the city's 1 million people drive to work.

Only 4 percent of all journeys in Brussels - a compact but hilly city - are bicycle trips. That compares with 6 percent in London and Paris, 35 percent in Amsterdam and 55 percent in the west Belgian town of Bruges.

Brussels aims for 15 percent by 2015. It wants to increase the total length of cycle paths to 310 kilometres up from the current 100 kilometres.

[AP / Expatica]

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