The city of Gent, in Belgium, removed cars from the CBD some time ago – Here’s what the people of Gent think of their bicycle city.
Brussels is not the easiest city to ride in: the large number of cobbled streets make for, not an unpleasant, but a jarring journey and still Belgium’s bicycle planners are pushing on through the pain barrier.
While Brussels is struggling with getting politicians and the people to take a bike, other Belgian cities have taken bold bicycle steps including in Gent where they stopped cars from entering the main shopping streets in the city center.
Indeed, just pushing on through the pain barrier of change is what Brussels’ Bicycle Planning Officer, Ulrick Schollaert, considers is the ultimate secret to creating great bicycle cities.
He’s currently pushing through the pain barrier with the 19 councils in Brussels to reach 20% cycling by 2018, and thanks to the Minister doubling the budget he now has 11 million Euros to spend on bicycle infrastructure.
Brussels is now following in the bicycle path of Gent and actively discouraging car use. The latest measure being the reduction of the main boulevard from two lanes to one for cars, and it only took fours years to get it happening!
Schollaert says the key reason for the slow transition of Brussels to bicycles, and indeed cities around the world, is that car drivers don’t pay the real price of car driving because governments heavily subsidized the costs to make it affordable.
“If car drivers were compelled to pay the real costs of their car driving, that would get them to change their mode of transport. It would get them to think a lot before they take their car”, says Schollaert.
In contrast to the Minister for Transport’s gentle invitation to ride a bicycle, the real secret to creating great bicycle cities says Schollaert is to get tough on car driving.
“Of course you need [bicycle] facilities, but as long as you build facilities and don’t reduced the attractiveness of car driving you will only get so many people transferring to cycling.”
“A good cycling policy is made of two elements: you need cycling facilities, but mostly you need measures to reduce the attractiveness of car driving. You have to get tough on that.”
“Less parking space and make it costly to park a car. Make it complicated for car drivers, more complicated than for cyclists, and always make good cycling facilities on major roads to show car drivers that cyclist are taken in to account and they are valued road users”, Schollaert says.
Schollaert has a point, but I wondered if discouraging car use really was as tough on people as he suggested, so I went to Gent to find out.
Needless to say when the idea to stop cars entering the city center was first floated in Gent there was much opposition, but ask Gent’s residents now what they think and there’s nothing but bicycle love!