EUCG welcomes the appointment, for the second time in his career, of Meneer Pascal Smet as mobility and transport minister in the newly constituted government of the Brussels region. Rifling deep into the darkest recesses of our email archives, we were thrilled to discover that back in 2003 and 2004 we wrote to him brief Smet 2004-10-04 and others: Lettre au Ministre Chabert eucg 2nd letter dit Loi 2004-01-11) in his first stint in office. We asked for action to improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians on Rue de la Loi, like the lack of proper markings on the bike paths, and the dangers of crossing the side streets: all problems which 10 years on have now been consigned to history.
Or may be not.
We’d respectfully encourage the minister to take another look as he settles back into the job.
(This research was carried out by a recent intern at the European Commission, for which EUCG records its sincere thanks.)
The performance of Villo! stations around the EU buildings in Brussels was monitored and mapped for one working day in June 2013. ‘Total bikes’ means is the total number of working docks at each station. Data is served by a developer portal of JCDecaux, and was gathered by the WhereismyVillo!
Here is the average performance of the 17 stations near European Commission buildings per one working week in the month of June 2013. ‘% availability’ means the proportion of docks where a bike was available: so 0% means 0 bikes available, 100% meaning all bikes were available.
As you can see the main problem is finding a bike during the afternoon. In the morning the service works quite well (probably because a service van replenished the station first thing in the morning). But during the afternoon, between 13:00 and 18:00, it becomes much more difficult: six out of the 17 stations ran out bikes completely at 14:00. Later during the evening the service improves.
EUCG would be interested in your experiences with Villo! in the EU quarter. Feel free to leave a comment or drop us a line.
On the weekend of 19-21 July, 50 staff from the European Commision will be doing a 3-day charity cycle to raise money towards a children’s home of the St Francis Foundation in Romania and a women’s empowerment project in rural Uganda. They will cycle a route of 200 kilometres from Brussels, on to Ghent and Antwerp and back to Brussels).
Click here for more info on how you can make a donation and sponsor a cyclist.
In Belgium you are more likely to die in a road traffic accident than in two-thirds of other member states of the EU. If Belgian roads were as safe as the UK, for example, 450 accident victims would still be alive today.
And yet the police and radio stations, both commercial and publicly funded, systematically collude in helping dangerous drivers to avoid detection for speeding. It is symptomatic of a culture which tolerates irresponsible driving.
That is why, today, the EUCG and advocacy group Parents d’Enfants Victimes de la Route have issued an open letter calling on politicians, media outlets and the police for an immediate end to this unethical and dangerous practice.
In January, I passed the sad remnants of a bicycle that had been involved in an accident with a car (I hope the cyclist is ok) on the boulevard de l’Industrie on my way to work. It was not a comforting sight, even though I know that there have been no casualties among cyclists in 2012 and 2013 inside the Brussels region.
Is it relatively safe in Brussels to ride a bicycle? Nobody knows. Neither the Brussels region nor the Belgian federal authorities collects reliable data on the share of trips by bicycle or the length of those trips. The data on the number of injured cyclists is distorted by underreporting, so it is impossible to judge whether a change in these figures is meaningful. The number of cycling fatalities is (fortunately) so low in Brussels that it cannot be used to monitor changes in safety for cyclists.
A fact is that Belgium as a whole had the second highest number of road fatalities per inhabitant in the EU-15 in 2012 (only Greece scores worse). Twice as many people died on Belgian roads per inhabitant as compared to the Netherlands, UK, Sweden or Denmark.
Then again, the Brussels region had the lowest number of road fatalities per inhabitant of all Belgian provinces in 2012, a similar level to that of the Netherlands. But Brussels is a city and the Netherlands is a country. Urban areas typically have lower road fatality rates as vehicles are forced to slow down by congestion and speed limits. It is unlikely that the behaviour of people driving in Brussels is much safer than in the rest of Belgium, especially given that many of these drivers live outside Brussels. The infrastructure in Brussels was primarily designed in an era when accommodating more cars was the only concern and this is changing only very slowly. The maintenance of the road infrastructure is also poor (and fragmented over 19 communes and 1 region). For the six different police zones enforcing traffic laws to improve safety is a low priority.
So what is my conclusion? Riding a bicycle in Belgium is probably dangerous, but Brussels is one of the safer places to do so. Not because drivers are well-mannered and considerate. Not because the infrastructure is good or because the police is targeting dangerous drivers. Just because drivers cannot go fast enough to be as dangerous as they are in the rest of the country. So please remain careful while you ride and support our call for a change in the driving culture in Belgium.
Around 50 members of the EUCG attended this year’s AGM. We were pleased to welcome representatives of the Brussels regional administration and the European Commission’s Office for Infrastructure and Logistics (the OIB). (Copies of their presentations from the EUCG committee are available on request.)
Developing the European Quarter
The Brussels region presented the various scenarios envisaged for the European quarter. The aim of each scenario would be to make the area more pedestrian and cycle-friendly. However, the key decisions still had to be taken at political level and so were delayed at least until after the regional elections in May. Particular reference was made to
- the ongoing project for increasing accommodation and EU office space on both sides of rue de la Loi between Maelbeek and Arts/Loi
- Renewal and better access to parks ( Leopold, Cinquantenaire)
- Renewal of public spaces (Place juordan,and Heyne Garden,
- Better pedestrian and cycle ways linking the parks and the European area
- Greater cultural emphasis e.g. a the Parlementarium and the new Museum of European History (to be opened end 2015)
Commission buildings and mobility
The Commission noted that about 2/3 of Commission staff lived in Brussels region and within 10km of their place of work. We heard the latest thinking within the OIB on the possible locations of future Commission buildings in the next decade and explained the criteria that would be taken into account before making the final decisions. These included the need to reduce staff by 5% in the period 2013-2017, need for more efficiency and better use of space in buildings. Overall, the application of these criteria could lead to a reduction in the Commission’s building stock of about 70,000 sq. metres by 2023. However, the Commission would have to move out of a number of buildings as well. So it would need to develop a number of new office projects covering about 157,000 sq. metres, in the period up to 2022. Decisions on new office projects would take into account distance and accessibility to public transport (multimodal station, train, underground, tram, bus).
During the ensuing debate, members sought clarification on the Commission’s respect for regional rules on parking permits for buildings and on possible plans to restrict traffic in the Schuman area by reducing car lanes and use of tunnels.
The inconsistency of a very high ratio of 44 car parking spaces per 100 staff in Commission buildings compared to 30% of staff driving to work according to internal surveys was pointed out. The Commission also seemed to be buying or renting car parking spaces in nearby public car parks. The EUCG wanted equal treatment of all Commission staff.
A staff representative, speaking on a personal basis, said that his organisation was considering adopting a policy in favour of the abolition of reserved parking spaces as part of its more general policy against privileges. If such a policy were adopted, he would also be in favour of some of the freed up spaces being converted into bike parking spaces.
In reply the Commission confirmed that the Office for Infrastructure and Logistics was trying to reduce car parking but was meeting resistance from motorists. As for spaces in car parks, it was the Building provider who implemented this solution in some cases when the car parking spaces in the building did not correspond to what was in the terms of the tender. With regard to a policy of reserved parking spaces, the OIB had abolished this in its own building and it had also been abolished in the Berlaymont. The OIB encouraged Directors General to eliminate reserved spaces but could not impose this on DGs.
Overview of the activities of EUCG in the previous year
The President, Lewis Dijkstra , reported that in April the EUCG had participated in an action to highlight the lack of secure bike parking in Brussels and the Committee had coordinated comments on the draft Brussels bike parking plan. In September, the committee had held a lunch time debate on equal treatment of all Commission staff commuting to work. It had then finalised a document on this theme which was sent to Vice-President Sefcovic and the OIB as input into their preparation of the Commission’s next five-year staff mobility plan for Brussels. The committee had also cooperated with FietsersBond and Gracq to produce a trilingual brochure on cycling in Brussels and had signed the Flemish code of courteous conduct for cyclists.
In addition the Committee had continued to lobby the Brussels authorities for improved bike lanes in the European quarter. The Committee had also managed to persuade the OIB to buy pumps and patches for Commission garages and to implement an active policy of removing abandoned bikes cluttering up prime parking spaces in garages. The President also noted that during the year the EUCG had lobbied for the Commission to provide training courses to staff on cycling in Brussels but had not yet convinced it, despite the very strong demand from staff. The EUCG had also participated in various stands on information days, welcome days, mobility week etc.. and had leafleted buildings and counted bikes in garages in the weeks prior to the AGM. Membership was now up to 1600 (from about 1400 a year ago) in conclusion he called on volunteers for stands at future events to email firstname.lastname@example.org
The President also noted that although the EUCG would continue to lobby for further improvements, the Commission was already supporting cycling. It provided bike parking in almost all garages and had 239 service bikes available for use by staff in over 47 buildings. Furthermore the Commission had signed up to the Bike-to- Work and Bike Experience schemes and provided technical check-ups and bicycle tours during mobility week.
The president also announced that the committee had organised a competition among the leafleted buildings to identify the one with the best ratio of parked bikes to occupants. This turned out to be 27 rue Joseph II( DG Employment),with a ratio of 18.3%, possibly due to the fact that the bike racks were easily accessible, so that staff from less favoured neighbouring buildings also parked their bikes there. Overall the committee had counted over 1600 bikes used on a daily basis in the Institutions’ garages as surveyed by the EUCG.
In conclusion the President highlighted priorities for the following year including:
- Improving safety and comfort of cycling
- Encouraging the Commission to improve staff mobility policy, in particular by aiming for a 10% cycling share in commuting ( from an estimated 6/7% at present)
- Organising an open workshop on how to improve staff mobility (20 May: 12.30-14.30)
- Organising a lunch time presentation by Dr John Pucher of Rutgers University, New jersey, and the University Transportation Research Center, New York, USA
Overview of the finances
It was reported that the EUCG remained solvent with assets totalling € 70 cash including €27 in the bank account plus 10 fluorescent vests worth €50 and 15 maps worth €15
During the previous year year, the only expenses incurred had been €40 for the website domain and the hosting costs.
Election of the EUCG committee
The members present elected unanimously the new committee for 2014/2015, and re-elected
Lewis as president
In the ensuing debate Members raised the following issues:
- The need more showers and lockers in the institutions’ buildings.
- A suggestion to liaise with the stagiaires as well as new officials in the Institutions
- Congratulations to the Committee for their success in getting the OIB to deal with. abandoned bikes and also for the leafleting campaign
In conclusion, The President thanked members for their congratulations. He confirmed that the incoming committee would continue to follow up on the issues raised by members with the Institutions. He also suggested that a representative of the stagiaires should attend the first meeting of the incoming EUCG committee on Thursday 3 April in CCAB, rue Froissart at 13.00.