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Bicycles in urban environments


European Commission



Cycle sharing schemes in European cities


Riding bicycles is definitely a good thing.   It's the way to travel, and it's certainly going to be the way to travel more and more in future.   I have just witnessed myself, from a weekend in the Netherlands, that everybody is riding a bike:  the young, the old, you see babies in baby seats on bicycles.   Everybody seemed, this weekend at least, to be on a bicycle.   And in the Netherlands, well, it's a very comfortable way to travel;  it's also very safe.   There are special cycle tracks quite far away from the main road, and everybody seems to respect the rules.   The Highway Code, therefore, exists for cyclists as well as it does for motorists.   Red lights clearly also apply, as I saw, to the cyclists who stop at red lights and go at green.

This is very different from the situation here in Brussels, where pretty well anything goes if you're a bike rider, and everybody has to respect the cyclists:  it doesn't matter whether it's a one-way street or not, the cyclist chooses whichever way he or she wishes to go.

Now, cycle-share schemes are becoming very popular.   The scheme exists now in Brussels;  it also exists in London, in Barcelona, and there is a very famous one in Paris, which has been going for several years now.   These bicycles can be collected and deposited at different terminals.   What you do is you go to your terminal, take a bicycle, then you pay with a credit card, you cycle as long as you like – it's free for the first thirty minutes –  then you drop your bike off at another terminal, and as long as you haven't exceeded your thirty minutes it doesn't cost anything, and you are reimbursed and given your credit card back.   So, how does it work?   You get to the terminal and you look at the information at each terminal, where are there bicycles available, where the next terminals might be depending upon where you want to go.   And this scheme works ready very simply indeed.

It all began in the 1960s, actually in 1960 in Amsterdam, where somebody dreamt up the idea of issuing free bicycles.   These free bicycles were white bikes.   The white bikes could be collected and dropped off at any place you liked.   The idea was a very good one.   The trouble was, of course, people held onto the bikes:  there was a lot of theft and a lot of vandalization, as well.   Now things seem to work much better:  the theft has been reduced, and the best examples of such schemes certainly exist in Paris, but also in Amsterdam and elsewhere.

The countries that are most biker friendly are certainly the Netherlands and Denmark.   In the Netherlands, the town of Groningen, I read, had a very high percentage of people using bikes on a daily basis, in fact fifty-nine per cent of all journeys undertaken are by bicycle, which is probably a record.   Now, those two countries that I mentioned, the Netherlands and Denmark, are of course very well adapted to bike riding also because they are rather flat.   But it’s also because in both places, quite a few years ago – I’m going back to the 1970s now – planners started to think about planning their cities, about reducing the use of the car and promoting the use of the bicycle.   So, we’re going back quite a long time, the time it took to build proper cycling lanes.   Now, Amsterdam and Copenhagen are the shining examples here:   each has four hundred kilometres of separate bicycle lanes.   These are wide, flat, decently built and far from the mainstream traffic;  lots of parking places for your bike as well.   So, there’s no secret as to how it should be done, and one hopes that the City of Brussels will wake up to some of these facts.   You need a good infrastructure, you need planning and long-term planning, and you need to make sure that the Highway Code applies to everybody all alike, so if someone is in breach of the rules, be they a driver or a cyclist, they have to pay the fine.

Perhaps this is one way to approach becoming a bicycling capital, but there’s also a culture that needs to be developed, and that culture you can see it so clearly in the Netherlands, where you see all age groups on bikes.   I saw a great many people with white hair cycling merrily around, which means of course that they weren’t wearing helmets if I could see their hair, but it’s so safe there that there doesn’t seem to be even any great need for a helmet.   So, there we are, plans for my own retirement: get a bicycle and start riding.

Thank you.

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