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Cycling has made a comeback: has it returned to Brussels as well?

Notes de la rédaction

This is the press release related to the article from Amandine Henry, Thomas Ermans and Fanny de Smet d'Olbecke, published on June 2, 2020. Read the article.

June 3 has been declared “World Bicycle Day” by the United Nations General Assembly. This means of individual transportation had the upper hand in industrial cities for decades, before it was overshadowed by the massive surge in popularity of the automobile. For several years now, however, the advantages of cycling as a mode of transportation particularly suited to short and medium distances have been brought to light. The recent uncertainties associated with the use of public transport in the context of a pandemic have also made cycling popular again among many Brussels residents. Will this trend continue in future?

In order to answer this question, it is essential to have a thorough understanding of cycling in Brussels over the last few years as a point of comparison. Issue 144 of Brussels Studies explores the different sources and approaches which make it possible to quantify cycling in the capital and its evolution. The authors, Amandine Henry, Thomas Ermans and Fanny de Smet d'Olbecke, summarise in the form of a fact sheet the work which they carried out as researchers at Université Saint-Louis – Bruxelles, in the framework of their collaboration with the Observatoire de la mobilité de la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale.

The authors' finding is clear: regardless of the methods used to collect the data, cycling is growing in popularity in Brussels due to the journeys of Brussels inhabitants themselves, as well as to commuters who combine cycling with other means of transportation. Since the beginning of the peak-hour surveys by the association Pro Velo in 1999, there has been steady growth and even a marked change in the trend in recent years. Between 2013 and 2019, the number of cyclists passing through counting points more than doubled, with an average annual growth rate of 14 %.

However, these counts alone do not make it possible to distinguish the effects of a general increase in the number of journeys in Brussels (linked in particular to the capital's demographic growth) from a true increase in the proportion of journeys by bicycle. Since the first national mobility survey (1999), however, the various surveys converge to confirm an increase in cycling, both as a proportion of the population using bicycles and as a proportion of journeys. However, this trend is particularly marked for journeys by internal workers in Brussels, i.e. people who live and work in the Region and who cycle to work.

Will the incentive to adapt mobility to physical distancing measures reinforce the underlying trends observed in Brussels over the last two decades? Will the new cyclists continue their new habits once the warm weather has passed? To encourage them to do so, the continuation of the actions implemented in favour of cycling during the Covid-19 crisis and, more generally, structural policies to rebalance public space and develop dedicated infrastructures will play a major role.

Henry, Amandine, Ermans, Thomas, de Smet d'Olbecke, Fanny, “Cycling has made a comeback: has it returned to Brussels as well?”, Brussels Studies [Online], Fact Sheets, No 144, 2 June 2020. URL:
Tatiana Debroux, Editor in chief:

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