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Fast moving bicycles and scooters replace cars as main dangers in pedestrian zones
With the arrival of the pedestrian zone, cars have been out of the picture on the central avenues in Brussels for a while. Nevertheless, the police are afraid that cyclists will take over the dominant role on the streets, according to a report by Bruzz. Hundreds of fines have already been issued this week to scooter riders and cyclists travelling too fast in pedestrian zones.
In a pedestrian zone, a driver – for example someone in a delivery van – is only allowed to travel at walking pace, according to the highway code. Cyclists and scooter riders are also considered 'drivers' and they often drive far too fast, according to the police.
Since last Wednesday, the bicycle brigade of the Brussels Capital Ixelles police zone has issued 250 fines for scooter riders and cyclists who drove too fast in the pedestrian zone. This is all the more significant when you compare these figures to the whole of 2021 when 1,003 similar fines were issued.
So why the increase in offenders? "We stepped up the checks because excessive speed of cyclists and scooter riders in the pedestrian zone was becoming the main complaint," explains David Stevens of the bicycle police of the Brussels Capital Ixelles zone. The complaints reached the police via the city council or via social media.
"Now we check almost every day. Of course, there is also a big difference with, for example, the beginning of the year, because the number of fines is also related to the weather," says Stevens.
But the better weather and the increased frequency of checks are not the only reasons why there are more and more fines for the fast cyclists or scooter riders in the pedestrian zone.
"In the pedestrian zone, the pedestrians are king. Scooter riders and cyclists are welcome, but they have to adapt," says Stevens. That doesn't happen all the time, and according to Stevens, there's a psychological reason for that. Now that the dominant car has disappeared from the picture, the next fastest road user adopts that role, he says.
Law of the jungle: the fastest demands space
This idea is also supported by traffic psychologist Gerard Tertoolen. "The traffic is a bit of a jungle, where the law of the strongest counts,” he says. “In traffic, that's the law of the fastest. The one who can move the most brutally and the fastest demands space."
According to Tertoolen, traffic can even become more unsafe once cars are removed from the equation, as has happened in the pedestrian zones. "On a normal road, the car is of course dominant, and everyone stays in place. When you take the car away, everyone demands all the space and less attention is paid. For example, it can sometimes become more unsafe, while it seems safer."
The Flemish Cyclist’s Union also acknowledges the problem. "From the moment the space is redistributed, and the car is removed, you see that the cyclist thinks he can do more. But that is not what we stand for,” a spokesperson for the Fietsersbond said. “We ask very clearly to take pedestrians into account, and not to think you are king of the road."
The police therefore consider the current level of checks to be necessary. "We want to avoid a situation where pedestrians always have to look behind them to see if they are not at risk of being knocked over,” says Stevens. “The excuse with the speed demons is often that they are in a hurry, but then you have to take a different route."
The Fietsersbond advises cyclists who want to ride through the centre of Brussels at a higher speed to choose a different route, such as between Porte d’Anvers and Porte d'Anderlecht, where a new bicycle street has been introduced, but where there is also a lot of car traffic. The circulation and redevelopment plan for the city centre’s ‘Pentagon’ should also bring an improvement.
Despite awareness campaigns with banners above the streets and markings on the road that warn cyclists and others to slow down, there's only a small possibility of slowing traffic down. "It's something we have to constantly repeat, but we want to reach as many people as possible," says Stevens, who wants to focus even more on raising awareness.