I had a very limited biking experience before coming to Belgium. Also I thought about other factors deciding whether to cycle to work. Which means working the pedals an hour and a bit every weekday . Is there a need for cycling if the public transport is € 1.50 from door to door? And the money saved on the bus I spend on extra food to replenish the burnt calories anyway. Add to that the wet and cold Belgian weather and very talented bike thieves who make you think twice about leaving your bike unattended. So why did I decide to cycle be it sun or rain?
Biking is so much more than mere moving from point A to point B. As with so many things in life, you only start to see it once you try it. The obvious personal bonuses are the exercise and the lower greenhouse emissions. But also bikers and pedestrians contribute to cozier communities compared to the drive-through towns made for cars. The city planner Jeff Speck gave a great summary of the bonuses in his Ted talk on “walkable” cities. Bikers and pedestrians, as opposed to motor vehicles, create proximity among people and industries in towns.
I love to go shopping with my bike in Antwerp. The roads offer many possibilities to stop for a bit and pop into a shop or even scout the goods while on the move. And this infrastructure transforms the face of the neighborhoods too. You see inviting smaller supermarkets and cafes appearing in place of faceless concrete boxes. This locality makes me connect with my community. Add to that the benefit of not swallowing micro-soot and nitrous oxide from the car exhaust. And the place is much more pleasing to the nose and eye compared to cities dominated by cars.
In many cities, you don’t even need your own bike anymore. In a busy city shared bikes will bring you cheaper and faster to your destination than any bus or taxi. I use Antwerp's Velo system when I need more freedom while going out or hopping on a train at a far train-station.
Especially at the beginning of my cycling journey, it was difficult to find a good flow. I had to make an obvious investment in the biking equipment. More importantly, the safety on the road was driving my learning curve. I didn’t feel well where I had to share the lane with a rushing minivan. And time after time I feel a fear of cars and observe it even among experienced bikers. That is why we should invest more into the research and building of bike-friendly infrastructure. Also, I saw more than five borderline accidents between cars and bikes in less than two months. That is why it is also important to prepare cyclists and drivers for the bike traffic. This will not only keep the cyclists safe but also encourage more people to bike.
Not only in Antwerp, but during many of my travels I’ve seen biking working well for people of various ages and skills. People bike in the windy Bristol, hot Barcelona, wet Antwerp, the tiny streets of Amsterdam City and the broad lanes of Paris. It works in all these different places and do you know why? Because people made an effort in building a safe infrastructure, popularized it and finally joined in using it. So instead of standing in a traffic jam for half an hour every morning, why not spend the same time keeping healthy and transforming your community? I chose to do so and I hope you will do too.