A Tale of Three Cities – Brussels: Biking because I could

As I mentioned in my previous post, I vacationed in Europe this past March. My friend and I visited Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam. While I was there for vacation, most of my photos are of transportation. In the first part of this series, I discussed meeting my daily step goals walking around Paris. In this post, I reflect on traveling around Brussels by walking, biking, and riding public transportation.

We took the train from Paris to Brussels. While I love Amtrak, riding the Thayls in Europe was the next level of train experiences. I liked that my seat was assigned, which meant not having to walk up and down the aisles of the train to find a seat. They also screened all bags and passengers before boarding the train. After an hour train ride, we arrived in Brussels. To get to our accommodations in Brussel’s city center, we took a subway train to the neighborhood and walked the rest of the way.

My transportation takeaways are:

Most streets are for People

Brussels was a nice change of pace. In Paris, people walking and biking were a priority only on the streets for biking and walking. On streets with cars, people were walking and biking at their own risks. However, in Brussels it seemed like people walking and biking were a priority even on streets with cars. Most of the secondary streets in Brussels are for walking and biking only or walking and biking priority. I could walk from where we were staying to other places around Brussels without ever interacting with a motor vehicle. Even on the main roads, people drive slow and give priority to people walking and biking.

The density and street layout of Brussels encourages a walking and biking lifestyle. Brussels was design prior to the invention of cars, so most of the buildings have retail on the bottom and residential or office on the top. Most streets are narrow and/or are cobblestoned.

I couldn’t NOT Bike

In Brussels, I couldn’t get on a bike fast enough. The bike infrastructure and the friendly behavior of people driving was all the temptation I needed to get on a bike. Brussels has a bikeshare system with stations every few blocks along the main roads. There were a few streets where the bike lane has a painted buffer. For other streets, they have wide lane with a dashed bike lane in the center to keep people biking out of the parked car door zone on the right and have 3 feet of clearance from moving vehicles on the left. Many of the one-way streets are signed two-way for bicycles.

The bikeshare system was easy to use. It took me about two minutes from start to finish to rent a bike. For a 24-hour pass, the price was only $1.71 (USD) and a $150 hold on my credit card. I biked around for about 20 minutes. For my first ride, I identified the bike number I wanted to use and the system released that bike for me. I received a code to use from 24-hours for any other rides.

The signage for bicycles was at an appropriate eye level for people biking. Even without knowing the language, the bicycle signage used a clever system of arrows and pictures to clearly show which streets I could bike on and the best routes for me to travel. The most amazing part about biking was no one parks or stops their car in the bike lane. For example, while biking I encountered a truck that was unloading in a car travel lane and not in the bike lane.

More Information is Better

The public transit system was easy to use and generally intuitive. My favorite feature of Brussel’s system was the next train arrival information displayed outside the train station on the street. In the DC region, if you want to know next train arrivals you either need an app on your phone or you must walk into the station. I wish WMATA would adopt a similar display system outside their metro stations, especially at locations where I have an option between bus and rail.

In the next post, I will discuss Amsterdam, one of the world capitals of biking. Did I bike or not? Find out in a few weeks!

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.

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What is Inclusion?

In 2016, I have given talks of various lengths about transportation/urban planning and equity. Over my career, I have found that when people hear the words diversity and inclusion they default to race and income, often confounding the two. For example, I hear people mention low-income, minority communities. However, as we work on different project and I grow as a professional, I have learned that diversity and inclusion does include race and income as well as other factors. In transportation, I believe that a system that is diverse and inclusive gives everyone independence, options, and assurance that they can get to point A to B safely, timely, and reliably.

On Friday November 4, 2016, I had the privilege of being the keynote at the Annual Harrisonburg & Rockingham Bike-Walk Summit. This year’s theme was “Stronger Together: Building an Inclusive Biking and Walking Community”. As the keynote, I framed the conversation and provided food for thought. The afternoon sessions where small group discussions of how to take my talking points and apply it in the Harrisonburg & Rockingham County context.

Here are some points that I shared with them to consider when building an inclusive biking and walking community.

  1. Be inclusive of persons with disabilities: Often when talking about biking and walking, persons with disabilities are excluded. There are opportunities to include persons with disabilities in active transportation. For example, the organization that I co-founded, Black Women Bike, has visually impaired women that ride with us. We use a tandem bike and a pilot, which is a sighted person.
  2. Engage non-traditional partners: One way to accomplish this is engaging non-traditional partners in transportation planning. For the District’s multimodal plan, moveDC, we engaged advocates that serve low income, homeless, veteran advocates, youth, immigrants, disability/mobility, and LGBTQ populations.
  3. Use images that reflect the community: Photos and images are an easy way to make people feel included. Often on marketing materials the person biking or walking is a fit, young adult. If there is diversity, it is what I call the United Colors of Benneton diversity, which is one person of each race, but they are young models. Photos should reflect the diversity of the community including race/ethnicity, age, abilities, size, shape, professions, and neighborhoods. One way to get photos is to set up a group on a photo sharing website to crowdsource from the community.
  4. Don’t fight, invite: In my work with Nspiregreen and Black Women Bike, I’ve heard all the arguments against “cyclists”. I’ve learned not to fight. Instead, I invite them on a bike ride. Every time I’ve done this it has disarmed people. What I’ve realized is that some people perceive biking as something that is for young, physically fit people. The root feeling is exclusion. After describing how they can bike despite age and physical ability, people are curious and start asking more questions.
  5. Take meetings to the streets: The best way to engage people is to go to the streets. This could include farmer’s markets, bus stops, transit stations, events, festivals, and the literal street corner.

After hearing the report out from the interaction sessions at the summit, I was able to respond and leave everyone with final thoughts. The take home message from the day is that diversity and inclusion has to be intentional, authentic, and built into the planning process versus trying to retrofit after the fact. Diversity describes who is in the room during the planning process.  Inclusion is when people feel heard, they were part of the process, and the outcomes meet the needs of their community.

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.

 

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How to Bike for Transportation

With the upcoming year of SafeTrack, you may be scrambling to figure out how you are going to get to work. As you are going through your options, did you consider biking to work?

Before I give tips, I must confess I don’t bike to work regularly. About two years ago, I biked to work 3-4 times a week, except rain and hot summer days. Then, I moved close to a metro station, so I started taking metro to work which then became my time to read. In addition, until a few months ago, there was nowhere to lock my bike at work. However, I do bike on the weekends regularly. I say all of this because I know how hard it is to bike to work. It’s so much to think about, but I’m here to demystify some of it for you.

  1. Decide what bike to ride: You could use your personal bike, borrow a bike, or use Capital Bikeshare. If using a personal or borrowed bike, make sure to check your brakes and make sure you have adequate air pressure in your tires. Whatever you decide, you can change day-to-day. You can use your personal bike one day and Capital Bikeshare another day.
  2. Figure out where you will store your bike for the day: This is the most important step for me, because I do not like biking places where I can’t lock my bike securely or bring it inside. Check out the scene at your office. Are there biking racks in the parking garage or is there a bike room? If there is a bike room, do you have to fill out paperwork to get access? Will your boss allow you to bring your bike in the office? If you use Capital Bikeshare, where is nearest station?
  3. Plan your route and try it on the weekend: When I first started biking, it took a while to transition my brain from the best route for driving to the best route for biking. When biking, sometimes the best route may be a neighborhood street that has low traffic volumes or cutting through a park. Whatever the route, grab a friend or two and try it out on the weekend when you aren’t pressed for time or stressed about getting to the office for a meeting.
  4. Plan your outfit and pack your bags the night before: Some people bike in work clothes and others shower/change at work. Personally, I don’t like biking in the summer because I don’t like being sweaty and showering in a public shower. However, with SafeTrack, there may be days that I bike then shower and change at the office. Regardless of which camp you decide to join, packing and planning the night before saves time and reduces stress. If there is no shower in your building, you can try paper showers or baby wipes and some strong deodorant. You could also join a gym near your office for the purposes of showering (Don’t laugh. I’ve seen it done before).
  5. Bike to work: You’ve completed Steps 1-4 and now you are ready to bike to work.

Simple right? Well I know you have a bunch of other concerns (*cough* excuses *cough). I’m going to tell you something that many others may not tell you.

  • Biking to work doesn’t mean you have to bike home: You could bike to work and then bring your bike on bus or metro to go home. Check out WMATA’s rules on bringing your bike on public transportation.
  • Biking to work doesn’t mean you have to bike the entire way to work: You could bike to the bus. You could bike to a metro station that isn’t being impacted by SafeTrack. You could bike to a carpool. You could carpool to a bikeshare station. You could… The options are endless.
  • Biking to work doesn’t mean you have to do it in all weather conditions: I admire my rain, sleet, snow, and heat biking friends. I do not bike in when liquid is coming from the sky or heat.
  • Biking to work doesn’t mean you have to do it every day: You can bike as many days as you want.

Give biking to work a try. If you need more resources, check out the Washington Area Bicyclist Association for tips on surviving SafeTrack.

 

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.





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