It is no secret to anyone living in Brussels that our contemporary agglomerations are in desperate need of alternatives to the ubiquitous personal car. Beyond the appalling air pollution to which everyone is subject, congestion is simply one of the most despairing urban phenomena. And it is all more absurd when one sees that around 7 out of 10 cars have a single occupant. Studies in the US – a country where cities were built for cars – show that there is no real solution to congestion: if you add more roads, more people flock to these roads, congesting them again. Brussels is unfortunately also the victim of tens of thousands of commuters coming from Flanders and Wallonia every day, as well as perverse incentive such as company cars, which are ultimately subsidized by all citizens.
Some alternatives are already working well in Brussels, including both municipal and private sector bike and car sharing. The STIB has even bought their first electric bus. But greater efforts are needed to make our cities more livable. The European Mobility Week, from the 16th to the 22nd of September, seeks to support these efforts, disseminate best practices and seek commitments from stakeholders, from civil society organisations to government, as well as private companies and NGOs. It will be kicked off by the yearly Car free Sunday this week. It is a great time to explore the city and imagine what a world would look like with less cars.
The Mobility Week’s focus this year is on multi-modality. While Brussels has relatively good public transport connections and train systems, they are not well integrated and few people see them as a viable alternative to driving, especially if they live out of town. Some technologies are coming to the rescue. You have probably spotted the Brussels-based Ahooga lightweight electric and foldable bike, which can easily be taken on public transport, or the futuristic one wheel electric scooter which takes people whizzing past you. This allows you to overcome one of the greatest fear people have from cycling : sweat. You will not avoid the rain but then again you will not be wasting time stuck in traffic.
While efforts to improve public transport are more than welcome, I think that in the end one of the biggest obstacles we face is our love for convenience and aversion to change. But convenience changes meaning : I invite all drivers to observe the amount of time – and temper – lost in traffic, and consider cycling before the autumn sets in. You might be surprised with the time you save and how nice it is to incorporate some sport in your day to day life.