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Cool Points for Belgium

December 29, 2009

Today, I’m happy to be part Belgian.

That’s not the case every day. Sure, the country has luscious chocolate and even more luscious beer, but it has also definitely got its demons. Exhibit A: its cruel colonization of the Congo. Then, of course,

Bikes in Brugge

there are Brussels sprouts, which were a hated part of my childhood (but which, it must be noted, I rather enjoy these days).

But today, I put cultural brutality and members of the cabbage family aside and celebrate my heritage for this reason:

Belgians are bike-lovers.

Small, mid-sized, and large communities in Belgium—from the Flanders north to the Walloon south—are teeming with cyclists, pedaling to and fro, rain or shine, with handle-bar baskets or rear panniers. They range in age from just out of diapers to gray and grandmotherly. They carry school books, groceries, family members.

Belgian towns and cities have rows and rows of bike racks (which are usually packed) and brick-paved bike lanes. In the capital city of Brussels, citizens can rent a bicycle 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from one of 50 rental stations around the city. Today, while visiting my sister, who lives in the college town of Leuven, I saw a bicycle roundabout!

Is this heaven? No, it's Leuven, Belgium.

Perhaps most importantly, drivers seem to actually pay attention to the bike lanes, watch for cyclists, and respect their presence on roadways. I can tell you, from first-hand experience, this is not the case for cyclists on many roadways in the United States.

While many countries in Europe and elsewhere share Belgium’s commitment to alternative transportation, I believe my grandfather’s homeland stands out as a model for thriving bike culture. So, today, Belgium, I salute you—and your bike roundabouts.

What about you?

What nation, state, city, or community do you salute for supporting cycling or other car-free transportation options?



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