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From couriers to transport professionals, documentary looks at how traffic came to rule Belgian capital and what can be done about it

Think of urban cycling on the Continent, and the first city that springs to mind is likely to be Copenhagen or Amsterdam; cities where large proportions of the population use bicycles to undertake everyday journeys, creating a streetscape far removed from Britain’s car choked city centres. But a new 20-minute film from Belgium, Brussels Express, shows that Britain isn’t alone in possessing cities where the car is still viewed as king.

Taking as its starting point the experience of Karl-Heiz Pohl, the founder of the city’s first bike courier company, the film includes brief interviews with figures including Klaus Bondam, mayor of Copenhagen from 2006 to 2010, who contrasts the experience of his home city with the very different reality he found in Brussels.

It also features local cycle campaigners and transport professionals who explain how Brussels came to be, as the film puts it, “Europe’s most congested city,” the effect of that on its inhabitants and pointers towards what can be done to change that in the future.

Beautfully shot by Sander Vandenbroucke - be sure to watch it full screen for best effect - above all it's a thought-provoking film, and one that will resonate with anyone who cycles - or perhaps even drives - in Britain's major cities.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

8 comments

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mbrads72 [165 posts] 3 years ago
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New ministers arriving at parliament by bike? Wow - that brought a lump to my throat! When that happens you know you really are achieving permanent culture shift.

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YourMum [13 posts] 3 years ago
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Hmmm, excellent thought provoking piece. I think I'll share it with my local MP

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sam_smith [64 posts] 3 years ago
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It shows this country is starting to move in the right direction judging by the words of advice for Brussels from Copenhagen's former Mayor of Technics and Environment, Klaus Bondam. It also shows that the UK is alot more switched on about these types of traffic problems than other parts of Europe and I was shocked that Belgium, the birthplace of many great cyclists is not very cycle friendly.

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Alan Tullett [1566 posts] 3 years ago
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I think it's the French part that has the problem. It said the Flemish part was much better with 10-25% bike traffic and most of the best riders are Flemish I think. Interesting piece. I wonder what towns like Lyon are like.

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Simon_MacMichael [2443 posts] 3 years ago
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Alan Tullett wrote:

I I wonder what towns like Lyon are like.

Here you go:

http://www.copenhagenize.com/2011/02/lyon-pushes-for-more-bicycles.html

It was the success of the bike rental scheme in Lyon that led directly to Paris adopting Velib', by the way.

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DrBike [3 posts] 3 years ago
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I lived in Brussels for 3 years and commuted by bike for most of that time, however I lived on the eastern side of the centre and commuted away from the centre rather than into it. A used a couple of different routes but the majority of the journey was on cycle lanes (either dedicated or painted on the road). That's way better than any commuting that I've done over here.

I rarely cycled into the centre, mainly cos when I needed to go there it wasn't a problem to go by public transport or car, but I regularly rode through the eastern and southern parts of the city where it was relatively easy to avoid the busier roads. I didn't ever notice a lack of cyclists in the cenre but then again I wasn't in the centre much during working hours.

However for a country that has cycling so close to it's heart you'd think that cycling would be a popular way to commute, the problem as I see it is that cycling is thought of as more of a competitive sport to take part in at the weekends rather than a way to get to work.

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OldRidgeback [2554 posts] 3 years ago
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Hmm, not sure it's Europe's most congested city. You should see Naples at rush hour.

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WolfieSmith [1246 posts] 3 years ago
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Beautiful film. Shooting a bike film myself at the moment and some of the stuff shot from the back of a motorbike is just so smooth and not easy to do at all. Love the comment from the fixie shop owner about the bad attitude to cyclists not being 'cool'.

Despite all the problems of trying to ride in London and the UK Over the past 25 years I can see that we are on the cusp of change right now.