Producers of a Belgian TV show that invited politicians on a bike ride as part of a discussion about how to make roads safer for cyclists had a surprise waiting for their guests – the show had gathered 500 relatives of people killed in road traffic collisions while riding their bikes.
The Brussels Times reports that the segment was included in the programme Make Belgium Great Again, which identifies problems within the country and tries to find solutions to them.
In the show which aired yesterday evening five politicians – each a senior figure from one of the main five political parties in Flanders – were taken on what they were told would be a “pleasant bike ride on a nice summer evening.”
Instead, the bike ride took in what have become known as 'moordstrookje' – chosen last year by dictionary publishers Van Dale as the Belgian/Flemish Word of the Year 2018 – and which translates as ‘murder strips’.
The term is defined as a painted bicycle lane on a dangerous street next to fast-moving cars, with such infrastructure often ending abruptly, forcing cyclists onto the main carriageway.
Following the bike ride, the show’s producers surprised the politicians with the group of 500 relatives of cyclists who had died as a result of such poor infrastructure.
All were wearing white t-shirts, many showing their relationship with the victim such as ‘mijn zoon’, ‘mijn dochter’, ‘mijn broer’ (‘my son’, ‘my daughter’, ‘my brother’). The victims themselves were represented by white ghost bikes.
Ellen Vanhove, who heads the programme’s editorial team, told the newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws, which has video from the programme: “We did not just want to make the umpteenth item about cyclists and traffic safety, we wanted to make an actual impact.
“In the end, we opted for this scenario. The politicians involved were not all equally happy about it, but the creases have been smoothened out now.”
She added: “We did not want to make it a policy discussion. The important thing is traffic safety here.”
One of the politicians, Ben Weyts of the New Flemish Alliance who until earlier this year was Minister of Mobility and Public Works, Brussels Periphery, Tourism and Animal Welfare in the Flemish government, said: “This hits hard. This always hits hard. I know that we are supposed to be able to solve it all. But sometimes I feel pretty powerless.
“There was a kind of auction at the last elections about the budget for traffic safety,” he continued. “Some people want €200 million, others €300 million. That is a good thing, but the problem will not be solved with money alone.”
Another of the programme’s guests, Alexander De Croo of the Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats party, who is currently Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister as well as Minister of Finance and Development Cooperation admitted after meeting the bereaved families that he would not let his children cycle to school on their own.
The segment ended by calling on people across Flanders to get on their bikes this coming Friday 1 November to call for €500 million a year for safer infrastructure, saying: “By taking to the streets together, we hope to demonstrate the importance we attach to safer bicycle traffic in our country.”
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.