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Car-free day or 'bicycle day' takes place 'incident-free', says mobility minister
Brussels mobility minister Elke Van den Brandt welcomed that Brussels’ 18th “Sunday without cars”, took place without any significant incident. Police patrolled the city to ensure that a car-less city did not result in a riot of bicycles disrespecting road safety rules.
Den Brandt said that the event, which took place from 9.30 to 19.00, and was the largest of its kind in Europe, attracted a huge number of people. It was mainly Brussels inhabitants that took to the streets, but cyclists also descended from Wallonia and Flanders.
The minister added that 15,154 derogations were delivered to drivers to allow them to use their cars during the day, which was fewer than in 2019.
The event is the highlight of Brussels’ Mobility Week (16-22 September). Its theme this year is “a serene city”. And the Belgian capital is set to become more relaxed, with a 30km/hour limit to be imposed from January 2021.
Camille Thiry, spokesperson for the Brussels Mobility organisation, said the event was a perfect opportunity to discover, on bicycles, scooter or foot, the new cycle and pedestrian routes, for example from metro Trone to Madou or along Boulevard Général Jacques.
Cyclists questioned throughout the day by Belgian television network RTBF expressed their appreciation for their day of freedom on city roads. “I think it is the best day of the year,” said one. “We can really cycle everywhere. It’s great.”
Another fan said, “What is good about the bicycle is that you make progress almost quicker than you would by car. I think that the government should advance too. By creating more cycle ways and continuing to promote ‘soft mobility’.”
The rise of the electric bicycle – to make getting up those Brussels hills much easier – has also contributed to the increased popularity of cycling throughout the city, “for all those who are not really sporty,” said another interviewee.
Other people did say that the car would remain indispensable – for families needing to take children to different schools and creches, or for work reasons for example.
Indeed, results of an RH SD Worx Belgium study released the day before car-free Sunday revealed that 70% of people in Belgium would still drive to work rather than take public transport, cycle or walk. But the ‘staffing solution’ company research carried out on 25,000 people from 8 to 26 June 2020 also showed that fewer people in Belgium chose the car than in France and Germany. Moreover, in Brussels, the situation was reversed – as only 29% of the capital’s residents opt to drive to work.
Car-free day is not just a Brussels phenomenon. Some 22 Flemish municipalities, including Antwerp, Diest, Mechelen and Oostende, also took part on 20 September, although this was a big drop from the 49 in 2019.
Last Sunday, 13 September, Hasselt held its car-free event. Leuven and Ghent’s days are scheduled for 27 September and 18 October respectively.