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Tensions rise between drivers and cyclists in Brussels
With the near-deserted streets of lockdown Brussels a distant memory, increased traffic as people go back to work and school has exacerbated traditional friction between cars and bicycles.
Worse, the last few days saw several reports of aggressiveness towards cyclists announced on social media: “This weekend, four cyclists have been physically attacked by car drivers… hatred towards people on a bike and especially women is worrying,” one Facebook post said.
The Covid-19 crisis resulted in a huge increase in cyclists. Bruzz reported 75% more of them on the streets the first week of September, compared to the same period in 2019. In parallel, initiatives to promote cycling in Brussels including road closures, increased space for parking and a wealth of new cycle lanes have mushroomed.
The sea change from the old "car is king" days has clearly not pleased all road users, who have set up Facebook groups to voice their concern. The biggest, “L’automobiliste en a marre’ [Drivers are fed up]” numbers 16,500 members.
“The message we want to make clear is that car and motorbike drivers pay enormous taxes,” said the group’s creator Lucien Becker. He claims measures to boost take-up of cycling have resulted in a situation where the car driver is very unfairly treated. And he judges some new developments, like cutting speed limits [the whole of Brussels will be a 30kph zone from 2021], as “absurd”.
He regrets the angry messages posted on his Facebook group, emphasising the rules state they should be “kind, courteous and non-violent”. But he admits that posts – a recent one proclaiming “The only good cyclist is a dead one” - are “relatively uncontrollable”. This week, one cyclist’s post welcoming a new cycle lane, shared on the group, received a flood of violent insults, even accusations that the cyclist was collaborating with political parties.
Aurélie Willems, secretary general of Gracq, the association representing daily cyclists, explains “there is a certain frustration and irritation. We are coming out of the ‘all about the car’ model. This results in conflicts between different road users in many towns in transition.”
But despite the problems, she remains positive: “Normally, the next stage is an adaptation to the new town and its new methods of transport, leading to a general calming down of the situation.”