Traffic in Brussels is stressful. Many streets and intersections are poorly designed and/or poorly maintained. Enforcement of traffic laws is erratic and not focussed on road safety. The main concern seems to be to keep cars moving instead of creating a safe and attractive environment for people to live, work and play as well getting from a to b on foot, by bicycle or public transport safely. (Cycling priority 2)
The bicycle routes decided in 1995 are far from being completed. Many bicycle lanes and paths are designed and/or maintained in such a way that cycling there is unpleasant and unsafe. Completing and maintaining these routes should be the top priority. Other road infrastructure that facilitates cycling, including 30km/h zones, home zones and bicycle streets should be promoted. (Cycling priority 4)
Out and about
City cycling is always more enjoyable, and safer, when there is less motor traffic and especially where there is not fast traffic. Cycle commuters almost always find ways to get to work that avoid the fastest or the most congested roads, even though such routes may take longer.
Rules of the road
Here is a helpful one page summary about the rules and tips for cycling in Belgium (code, habits)-
“Les cyclistes et le code” (40 pages) is free to download to download here
Bike lanes painted in the road come in two flavours. You are obliged to use the ones marked with broken white lines, unless something either prevents you from using it or would make it dangerous to use. The Rond Point Schuman has a cycle path of this kind that is almost always impossible to use.
A circular blue panel with a white bicycle logo indicates that you must use the cycle path if the sign is visible in your direction — some cycle paths are two-way. Be careful on these cycle paths. You will be sharing them with pedestrians, dogs, and, in some cases, cars driving across them for access. Accident statistics show that cycle paths shared in this way with other road users are actually slightly less safe for the cyclist than a normal road, but almost all the cycle path accidents happen at junctions. The most dangerous part of a cycle path is where it crosses a road because motorists don’t always realise that a bike may suddenly appear in front of them. Many cyclists, however, assume that the cycle path gives them the right of way across the intersection – but it doesn’t.
The other kind of cycle path on the road is shown by a white cycle logo on a red strip of tarmac along the side of the road. This has no legal meaning at all, either for the cyclist or the motorist. It is merely a warning to motorists to watch out for cyclists – something that they should do anyway.
Since December 2012, a new law on rues cyclables has been in force. Although cars may use these routes cyclists have priority.
On the roads
Biking in Brussels is not greatly different from riding a bike in any other city. If a cyclist is injured in an accident, it is almost always because a car or other motorised vehicle was involved. Motorists look ahead and to the side for other vehicles. They don’t expect to see a fast-moving bicycle doing something odd. You are safest when you use your bicycle as you would any other vehicle, and ride where drivers expect to see traffic.
Staying safe is largely a matter of
- knowing the traffic code, especially the meaning of signs and markings specifically for cyclists, and obeying the rules (unless in some unusual circumstance they force you into danger!).
- observing road conditions, including wet leaves, tram lines, and modifying your behaviour to take them into account ;
- paying close and careful attention to the behaviour of other road users, including people inside parked cars and people walking their dogs ;
- making sure that you can see – and be seen by others. This particularly applies at night, when you must have your front and tail lights on, and should wear bright (even better: reflecting) clothes;
- staying vigilant at all times but especially as you approach intersections.
Most accidents in which the cyclist is seriously hurt or killed involve the cyclist taking a big risk (often breaking the law at the same time). Just a few “high-risk” cyclists make it look like cycling is far more dangerous than it is and create a negative image. The single most dangerous thing you can do, from the point of view of the accident statistics, is to ride through an intersection against a red light or stop sign. Somehow that makes sense….
Another potentially dangerous – but easily avoidable – situation is finding yourself between a big vehicle (truck) and the kerb: You are very likely to be in the driver’s dead angle, and you wouldn’t wish to find your traject been crossed by his at the same moment… Simply remember the old African saying: “Never get between the hippo and the water”. So: stay behind!
SUL (Sens Unique Limité) or BEV (Beperkt Eenrichtings Verkeer) are one-way streets open for cyclists in both directions. They are signposted with a board displaying a bicycle with two arrows going up and down under the blue square “one way” plate on one side, and an “excepté/uitgezonderd [cyclists]” board under the red “no entrance” sign on the other.
They make life considerably easier for cyclists who can avoid unproductive detours.