Monday 15 December 2014

A Beer, Bivalve & Bicycle Beano In Bruges

So this year's Jolly Boys' Outing took me and some of the guys from work to the UNESCO World Heritage Site which is the medieval city of Bruges, the capital of the West Flanders province of Belgium.

I will be honest, we were there for the beer, but have camera, will snap and I thought it worth ticking off another European city which does cycling better than much of the UK - a conclusion I made on the coach when we were on the motorway heading into the city! I came to this conclusion at a point on the E403 where we went under a bridge which carried a cycle route over the road and onto a protected cycle way.

The cycleway (which seemed quite new) followed the E403 right into the city and I caught glimpses of priority over side roads, gentle chamfered kerbs, cycle tracks behind parking bays and cycle traffic signals, there were also 30kph zones on side roads. I also saw some less good things like Advanced Stop Lines and advisory cycle lanes on busy roads (but hey, who's ticking items off a list).

In the journey from the edges of the city to the coach park, I had seen many of the features one comes to associate with a place which is giving space for people to ride bikes and with no lycra, hi-vis or helmets to be seen; plus people of all ages (which goes without saying).

After a short walk, we were inside the city walls and it was canals, public squares, narrow streets and a few boulevards. Traffic was permitted, but was one-ways and limited access. 

Possibly because the place was packed, there were quite a lot of temporary road closures and so although the odd vehicle needed to get through, it was generally safe and at low speed. There were a few busier roads, but nothing really of note. We did the usual tourist things such as moules and frites (mussels and chips), shopping for chocolate and of course tasting lots of local brew. 

No, we didn't cycle (surely a reason to go back for a long and less beery weekend), but cycling was everywhere. Some infrastructure was old, but there seemed to be a lot of new stuff and obviously, the city has decided to continually upgrade as the newest was really some of the best I had seen.

Bruges was also very walkable and because it is such a tourist attraction, there has been a conscious decision to prioritise the pedestrian over a great deal of the city. In larger squares, cycle routes were picked out in the vernacular cobbles which was subtle, but provided guidance (although the cobbles might be a chore in places.)

Cycle parking was available in spades. A combination of huge areas set aside for cycle racks and scattered parking places was order of the day, although a little different to the humble Sheffield stand! 

Some stands held bikes by the handle bars with the front wheels off the ground and some by the saddle post with a little hoop for a lock to go through. I am sure someone will be able to tell me, but I assumed that the idea was to keep the bikes held in place while pannier bags and baskets were being filled.

So there you have it. An interesting city which gives you a flavour of how cycling can be prioritised. You can also view infrastructure of different ages and I guarantee that when I end up going back (as I will) the older stuff will be brought up to a modern standard.

We often hear that in the UK, many of our historic cities cannot be made accessible for cycling because the streets are too narrow. Well, we have bypasses (to keep through traffic away) and arterial roads alongside which we could build proper cycle tracks. We can limit the access to core areas to all but essential vehicles. We can use park and ride to leave cars on the outside of city centres and we can give pedestrians priority. It's not rocket science and I can drink to that!


  1. "Traffic was permitted, but was one-ways and limited access."

    I would like to gently point out that pedestrian and cycle traffic is... er... traffic.

    "...although the odd vehicle needed to get through, it was generally safe and at low speed."

    Bicycles are vehicles.

  2. Hi!
    As a Bruges local i came across your post on twitter.
    Interesting to see someone being surprised/enthusiastic about things we take for granted.
    But what intrigues me: What's the problem with advanced stop lines? Especially at the spot you're showing they're very useful because most bikers go left into the city.

    1. Interesting perspective.

      The successful operation of ASLs requires a rudimentary understanding of bicycle use by drivers, consistent and coherent application of cycle lanes and paths (Bruges has a network of these which is at least 3 times more continuous than in any UK city); and strict liability and passing distance laws, none of which the UK currently has. It's largely a "might is right" traffic free-for-all on unsegregated roads in the UK.

      See also

      UK Anonymous

  3. Left? I thought it was right to the city? I got the impression that the bike infrastructure in your city was pretty routine, but compared to most places in the UK (I am from London) it is amazing! My commute includes a bumpy cycle track by a trunk road and sharing with cars on a main road. The route I saw in Bruges would be bliss if picked up and dropped in my corner of London!

  4. I suspect that bridge is the one we went to on the APPCG study tour in the Spring. I'd post some photos here if I could!

  5. Also, we were told that on one cobbled street in Bruges the cobbles were taken away, the tops planed off & the cobbles replaced to makes a cycle friendly cobbled route!

  6. it's right to the city, I opened the link on my crappy phone and thought you meant the other side of the junction. However I still would like to know what's the problem with those advanced stop lines. As a daily user I think those things make traffic safer for bicycles.
    The bicycle lane on the busy road is one of the worst cycling places in the city. The road works at the station are going to improve that (
    Comparing our tiny city to a big city as London is not really fair to London. In Brussels, which is more comparable, bicycle infrastructure is as bad as in any major city. But even there things are slowly changing.
    As for my town, the latest bicycle infrastructure additions are a new bridge over the E403 (, free public bicycle pumps and spots for bicycles in an underground car park. We are not up to Dutch standards yet, but slowly things are changing.
    Good luck in changing London to a bicycle friendly city!

  7. Love the beer too which helps, must go to Daisies again.

  8. Kwak. Excellent beer choice.