Thursday, September 27, 2007

There are Nine Million Bicycles in Belgium

One of the reasons I love living in Belgium is the cycling. Apparently there are just over 10 million people and, as the song goes "There are 9 million bicycles in Beijing…", last Sunday it seemed like Brussels had at least that number. Sunday was 'Car Free Sunday', part of European Mobility Week.

"All 19 Brussels municipalities took part, with cars, lorries and motorbikes - except those required for professional reasons - banned from the roads. This was a Europe-wide initiative and the EU estimates that around 1,000 cities and municipalities answered the call.

The event was a massive success, a day with very few cars on the roads, instead they were chock-full of cycling, rollers-skating hordes. People were travelling basically on anything on wheels that did not require to be petrol-driven. Entire families cycled past, the very little ones following their parents like obedient ducklings in their yellow safety jackets.

Many districts organised side-events to keep the populace amused. In the Brussels Park, in front of the Royal palace, the countryside came to town, and everybody and his brother was out. Free public transport for the day undoubtedly helped swell the numbers. About half of the street had been laid with grass and picnics were spread out to the sound of wine-bottles popping. If only it could be like this every weekend. But then again there is no guarantee of a strong sun beating down every Sunday."

(Extracted from an article by Paul Morris, Editor, Expatica Belgium
26 September 2007)

Here in Limburg, most of the terrain is pretty flat and we have a cycling network set up with blue signposts telling us the direction of the next post. The map costs €7.50 and it is easy to plan a route, whether through towns or countryside - allowing for pit stops, of course. I even found a website today of Flemish cyclists who plan their routes around stops for Gueuze beer. Drinkers after my own heart!

The children are encouraged to cycle to school and a teacher leads about 30 every day as they cycle home, all wearing safety helmets. They even have cycling tests at school and a large covered area with bicycle stands.

I also find it wonderful to see so many people of retirement age out cycling for exercise and enjoyment, not just popping out for a loaf of bread. I have been invited to join a local women's group who meet every Tuesday to cycle about 35km. Most of the members are much older than me but, as a very rusty cyclist, the most I have cycled recently was 7km so I shall have to practice before I can join the ladies.

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