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Cycling moves up a gear in Saint Gilles

"Encouraging travel by bike in Saint Gilles is a priority, particularly because our local population is very young."
Catherine Morenville
Alderwoman for Mobility in Saint Gilles

Three projects supported by the Bikes in Brussels Fund, managed by the King Baudouin Foundation, are making people happy in the commune of Saint Gilles (Brussels). The projects combine infrastructure, through the creation of safe and comfortable cycles routes, and education, with an enlargement of the local authority’s ‘vélothèque’ and a cycling training programme in primary schools. These projects are in line with the ambitions of Saint Gilles to become more ‘cycle friendly’ and promote cycling for whatever use.

11 year-old Zussia sets off on his cycle and, despite hesitating for the first few metres, he manages without trouble to cycle around the Place Morichar, in Saint Gilles. “It’s true, I’ve got a few problems with cycling” he says, “I fell off my bike in 2019 and since then I’ve been a bit afraid.” Zussia is a pupil in a special school for children with sensory disabilities. Garance Holliger, his teacher, contacted Pro Velo, an association that promotes cycling, to estimate the level of each child and give a helping hand to those who are experiencing some difficulties.

Garance would like to take her pupils to have some lessons outside each week at the Roseraie, in Uccle, a green space with lots of trees. “A child of this age who can’t ride a bike will learn in just a few hours”, says Cédric Favresse, one of the monitors at Pro Velo, while encouraging Mona, a quiet young girl who says she had never had the opportunity to learn how to cycle, but is now gently zig-zagging along the pavement.

Bikes for school

Learning to ride a bike is above all a question of instilling confidence in the children so that they can cycle in safety. “Some children have blockages or traumatisms” adds Cédric. However, the other thing that holds children back is material. In some classes, the majority of children – especially the disadvantaged – do not own a bicycle. The commune of Saint Gilles has decided to remedy this, by creating a ‘vélothèque’, located in the grounds of the schools of Peter Pan and Les Quatre Saisons, where some 70 cycles have been made available to the local schools. The cycles can be reserved online, enabling school trips and cycling lessons to be organized.

The establishment of this ‘vélothèque’, as well as the training sessions given by Pro Velo, have been made possible thanks to support from the Bikes in Brussels Fund, whose aim is to encourage cycling in and to the Brussels Capital Region. The commune of Saint Gilles has received a grant of 106,000 euros, which is enabling the local authority to top up its budgets to develop three projects promoting cycling, in a commune that is proud of being ‘cycle friendly’. This is quite a challenge, given the density of population and car traffic in Saint Gilles. “These three projects are complementary to each other, their aim being to encourage bike use, which is an effective and inexpensive means of travel that is particularly well suited to the young population of Saint Gilles. In this context, the support we have received from the Bikes in Brussels Fund is really precious”, says Catherine Morenville, Alderwoman for Mobility in Saint Gilles.

Roads for cycling and bike racks

Another important part of the projects relates to cycle infrastructure. The residents of Saint Gilles have not failed to notice the two cycle racks in the shape of a car that have been installed in Place Bethléem and Avenue Demeur. The cycle racks, spread over a length equivalent to that of a car, can hold up to 10 cycles. “They are an amusing way of raising awareness about the place of the car in the public space” says Pauline Journieux, Mobility Alderwoman in the commune. The cycle racks were designed by Recyclart, a social enterprise, and complete the installation of the more traditional racks for parking cycles.

The commune is also developing ‘cycling streets’ which enable cyclists to cross Saint Gilles and link up with other communes. These streets appear on the first cyclable itinerary for a commune which, given the commune’s narrow streets, provide a good alternative to traditional cycle paths. In these streets, where the speed limit is 30 km/hour, cycles have priority over cars and they can be ridden in the middle of the road. “These routes, which change motorists’ normal habits, require clear, legible road signs, with road markings and sometimes arrangements that slow down the speed of the motorist, such as chicanes and containers with trees or plants” says Pauline Journieux. These are a series of investments that would not have been possible without the support of the Bikes in Brussels Fund. Seven cycling streets are planned across Saint Gilles, five of which have already been completed, at least partially.

These various road modifications, aimed at improving cyclists’ comfort and safety should promote the use of bikes in the commune. A use, moreover, learned from an early age. Hence the creation of the communal vélothèque and the cycle workshops at school. Back at the Place Morichar, children from the nearby school are tasting the pleasure of riding on two wheels. “I’m really eager to cycle. And we don’t have to work in the classroom doing this!” says Yassine, jokingly. However, what Yassine does not see is that today’s little escapade has a pedagogic objective. “With this sort of workshop, we’re not only teaching the children how to ride a bike; we are also showing them the importance of making an effort to do something. It’s about teaching the children not to give up at the slightest difficulty”, explains Garance Hollinger. The teacher will soon find herself at the head of a bunch of children ready to set off on their bikes in the labyrinth of the streets of Brussels!


More about the Bikes in Brussels Fund

Created at the end of 2018, managed by the King Baudouin Foundation, the Bikes in Brussels Fund aims to promote travel by bike within and to the Brussels Capital Region. The fund supports initiatives of associations, public bodies and public-private partnerships that encourage cycling by improving cycling infrastructures. Since its creation, the fund has already supported 29 projects across all of the Brussels communes and awarded almost 2.8 million euros. The Bikes in Brussels Fund call for projects is on-going, so projects can be submitted throughout the year via www.kbs-frb.be.

More about the Bikes in Brussels Fund

Created at the end of 2018, managed by the King Baudouin Foundation, the Bikes in Brussels Fund aims to promote travel by bike within and to the Brussels Capital Region. The fund supports initiatives of associations, public bodies and public-private partnerships that encourage cycling by improving cycling infrastructures. Since its creation, the fund has already supported 29 projects across all of the Brussels communes and awarded almost 2.8 million euros. The Bikes in Brussels Fund call for projects is on-going, so projects can be submitted throughout the year via www.kbs-frb.be.

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