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Belgium explores potential for more bike paths along railway lines

09:50 14/05/2024

Belgium’s federal government and three regions want more cycle paths alongside railway lines, hoping to double the existing number of them.

There are currently 130 cycling highways, or cyclostrades, in Belgium. To further develop them, the federal and regional authorities, along with SNCB and railway manager Infrabel, have drawn up a charter to improve coordination.

This is one of the key measures in the “Becyclist” plan, the first federal action plan to promote cycling.

“Cycling is an environmentally friendly, efficient, economical and fast way to get around,” the plan says in its introduction.

“Its benefits are both individual and societal: cycling is a means of transportation that promotes physical and mental health - and cycling is also a fast means of getting around, especially in urban areas or for distances of up to 5km.”

By improving the physical and mental health of users, cycling contributes to significant savings in health costs, the action plan states.

“As a non-polluting means of transport, it contributes to improved air quality,” the text reads. “Bicycles require little space, both to ride and to park – they reduce traffic congestion in urban areas and the pollution they cause. Cycling is also a key element in the fight against climate change.”

Cyclostrades - also called véloroutes or RER vélo - require a great deal of cooperation between municipalities, regions and the public sector.

The four ministers for mobility - one federal and one for each region - signed the charter with SNCB and Infrabel to make greater use of railway lines to develop such long-distance cycling infrastructure.

Currently, 1,300km of Belgium’s total 4,000km of cycle network are located along railway lines.

While Flanders already has 130 cyclostrades, Wallonia is planning to build more than 500km – the firstof which between La Hulpe and Brussels was recently inaugurated – and the Brussels region is planning to install them along the L28 and L50 railway lines crossing the capital from north to south.

“We need infrastructure that is practical, safe and efficient, without excessive gradients,” said federal mobility minister Georges Gikinet.

“Building cyclostrades along railway lines meets all these objectives, and we need to speed up their deployment.”

Contact people will be appointed to ensure coordination and framework agreements with public authorities will be created or updated to facilitate the construction of cycle infrastructure on land located on railway property.

"We need to be able to build a genuine network of suitable infrastructure enabling people to get to stations by bike in a safe and comfortable way,” Gilkinet said.

“This should encourage people to switch to more sustainable modes of transport, such as rail and cycling, or a combination of the two.”

Written by Helen Lyons