10. September 2012 / Ricky Ray Ricardo
The video below, Brussels Express, is a beautifully shot 20 minute documentary about the boom of bicycle messengers in Brussels – a city where cycling only makes up 4% of all traffic – rather poor in comparison to its northern neighbours Amsterdam 38%(1) and Copenhagen 35%(2). The documentary highlights the severe mobility problems of the city, which is according to the video ‘Europe’s most congested’, and identifies the recent trend toward cycling as an important part of the solution. In Brussels a massive 70% of all car journeys are made for distances less than 5 km.
The documentary (which you should view in Full Screen) comes at a pivotal time in Brussels. Back in June this year, over 2,500 residents took to the streets of the Belgian capital to take part in the first of many illegal picnics; blocking traffic for hours at a time to demand more room for pedestrians and cyclists in the city centre. The event came in response to an open letter published on the 24th of May by Brussels philosopher Philippe Van Parijs (connected to the universities of Louvain-La-Neuve and Oxford) which called for civil disobedience, urging people to come along in their thousands to boulevard Anspachlaan every Sunday for a picnic in the roadway. In the beginning of his letter Van Parijs wrote:
“Furious. I can’t avoid getting furious when I realise how many cities
manage to transfigure their public squares, to upgrade their central areas,
to make it pleasant to stroll, to meet, to breathe the clean air on a bench,
to linger on a terrace, whereas in comparison, despite some progress –
too timid, too slow – Brussels, in this regard, remains awful”.
Social media accounts such as this Facebook page have since been set-up to organise regular displays of “civil disobedience” in the hope to bring about policy change.
Image: article, Le Soir Newspaper, published September 4, 2012.
Recently the mayor of the city, Freddy Thielemans, has in response to the protests decided to close Boulevard Anspach to traffic every Sunday in September between 12:00 and 2:00pm(3). This move is however viewed as evidence that there is no long-term ambition or plan to improve mobility in the city. In addition to this, as a part of the upcoming European Mobility Week (September 16 – 22) large swathes of Brussels will close to cars for Sunday the 16th of September. According to their website, The Car Free Day “aims at changing attitudes and opening a public debate on urban mobility”.
Below: PicNic the Streets event on the 9th of July 2012.