More cycling than ever before in Flanders

Summary

While electric bicycles have taken off in the region, mixed-use and bad behaviour means cycle lanes have become more dangerous

Pedal power

Cycling is booming in Flanders, especially with electric bikes, according to the latest figures from transport safety institute Vias. But there are concerns about the ability of cycle lanes to handle the increasing use – and misuse – this implies.

“In addition to creating better cycling infrastructure and raising awareness of all motorised traffic, it is important that all cyclists respect the highway code,” Vias concludes.

The institute asked a representative sample of 6,000 Belgians how they get around, with a particular emphasis on cycling. It found that 69% of people in Flanders travelled by bicycle in 2019, up on 63% the year before. This makes cycling much more popular in Flanders than in Wallonia (24%) or Brussels (30%).

Flanders is also leading when it comes to the use of electric bicycles, with 22% of respondents saying they had used one last year. This is streets ahead of Brussels (8%) and Wallonia (6%).

Life in the fast lane

In Brussels, however, the use of electric steps, monowheels and other alternatives is climbing fast, from 6% in 2018 to 12% in 2019. Vias speculates that this may be one reason for a fall in public transport use in the capital, from 72% to 64%

Unsurprisingly, cars remain the dominant form of transport across the country, used by 87% of respondents in Flanders, 82% in Wallonia and 64% in Brussels.

With cycle paths increasingly having to accommodate powered and unpowered bikes, Vias decided to ask about speed. A mixture of fast and slow cyclists could be dangerous, particularly since many cycle lanes are not wide enough to overtake a rider safely.

Cyclists who ride faster must certainly be careful when overtaking slower cyclists and adjust their behaviour

- Vias institute

Half of traditional cyclists reported staying below 16km/hr on average, while most of the rest travelled at between 16 and 24km/hr. Powered cyclists are more likely to be in this upper bracket, with around three-quarters reporting speeds up to 24km/hr.

But only 6-7% of both powered and unpowered cyclists report travelling over 24km/hr. While reassured, Vias warns that cyclists must adapt to the mixture of traffic on cycle paths. “Cyclists who ride faster must certainly be extra careful when overtaking slower cyclists and adjust their behaviour,” it says.

More worrying are the risks cyclists take. Half of bike-riders said they sometimes take to the road after drinking alcohol, with 57% pedalling pickled in Flanders and 23% in Wallonia.

Another 43% admitted that they sometimes ride the wrong way down one-way cycle paths, which is illegal. And one-quarter said they ride in the dark without lights.

Photo ©Laurie Dieffembacq/BELGA