That's not part of your culture? “Mir sinn hei net zu Amsterdam” and other false pretexts for which you preferred the traffic jams to the bicycle...
Photo Credit: The remarkable Tristan Schmurr Cycle Luxembourg’s First Overnighter Intrigued by the freedom and ease that a bivvy bag can...
“Mir sinn hei net zu Amsterdam” and other false pretexts for which you preferred the traffic jams to the bicycle this morning.
This article originally appeared in French in Forum 374 and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Why don’t Luxembourgers cycle? Through construction sites and traffic jams, it can divide urban travel times by half. Despite this, the proportion of cyclists in urban transport in Luxembourg remains marginal compared to other European cities. Those where cycling has taken off prove it: the only way to encourage cycling on a sustainable basis in everyday travel is a continuous and coherent network that makes cycling safe and enjoyable.
Of course, there are obstacles that will always remain quite significant for some people and make other means of transport seem more attractive to them. Even in the most cyclable cities where people can easily cycle up to ten kilometres, it is not the best answer for all trips. These reasons, which may be true for a few people, are often generalized to the entire population and justify, in a counterproductive way, insufficient investment in inadequate infrastructure, which ultimately consolidates the role of the car in transport.
Always a good reason….
It’s not the topography. Yes, a flat city favours cycling, but it is not a silver bullet, and valleys are not insurmountable. The city of Aarhus, despite the clichés about Denmark, has steep hills and an incessant sea wind that has nothing to envy to the côte d’Eich; the modal share of cycling is 18%. Grenoble, the flattest city in France, has difficulty reaching 6%. Cheaper electric bicycles are spreading, and the Grund and Pfaffenthal elevators are full: we know how to get out of our valleys.
It’s raining, then. Or it’s too cold. Or too hot too? We’d get to work stinking of sweat. So how would the people of Amsterdam who work in suits do it? They wear a big coat in winter. Waterproof pants, sold for a few euros at bike shops, allow you to ride in the rain. What about not sweating? No, the offices are not equipped with showers: you simply drive slower than a sports cyclist, just as you would walk rather than run. In Copenhagen, green waves for bicycles on the main roads even avoid having to accelerate after each red light, to reduce fatigue.
Shopping and children to carry exit the picture as soon as you see two children crossing the red bridge in the bin of a cargo bike or a cyclist in a supermarket with her bags. Anything that fits in a shopping cart can, in the worst case, fit in a bicycle trailer.
Anyone can dispel these myths by cycling their daily commute during the week-end. The path will be a little different at first, but the problems we imagined often aren’t.
More cars and parking spaces are needed to encourage trade? On the contrary, everywhere on earth, all studies show that soft mobility is good for business. Where is it more interesting to open a new store in the City, rue Philippe II or rue Joseph II?
The most pernicious platitude, because it is more difficult to verify for oneself, is that the problem would lie in our culture. In the end, the Luxembourger would have to be forced if we wanted to exceed the few % modal share by bicycle, even in the city. He or she would never ride a bike, even if the problems were rare and the benefits obvious.
In addition to mistaking people for idiots who are unable to make rational decisions about which mode of transportation to use, the culture argument also has a short memory. Luxembourg roads were full of cyclists a few decades ago, while bicycles were heavy and less advanced. The Luxembourger is therefore not congenitally unable to travel by bicycle. It is a circular choice over decades to favour the car that makes everyone have a car that makes the car favour the car that really makes everyone have a car.
Creating a coherent network
If all these reasons are pretexts, what makes some cities more cycle-friendly than others? Just ask non-cyclists what demotivates them, which several studies have done: the main factor discouraging cycling is the fear of car traffic. It is not just a question of accident statistics; to attract new cyclists, cycle routes must also make them feel comfortable and safe. This is particularly true for the sections of the population that are more rarely encountered on Luxembourg’s cycle paths; young men, who are naturally more audacious, are less sensitive to such risks.
The best way to convert non-cyclists to cycling is what European cities with the highest cycling rates all have in common: complete networks of separate cycle paths. The share of cycling in transport declined with the introduction of the automobile, even in Denmark and the Netherlands, until these countries began to build cycling infrastructure again. Elsewhere and more recently, Seville, which had no tradition of cycling in transport, has adopted Nordic best practices to expand its infrastructure, and increased the number of cyclists by a factor of ten. The most important factor in predicting the success of a bike-sharing system is the quality of the cycling infrastructure. Why do self-service bicycles make up to twelve times more trips per day to other cities? There is no reason to think that this is not true for cycling in general.
The city of Copenhagen, with almost 800,000 inhabitants, invested nearly €19 million in its already well-developed cycling infrastructure in 2017. How much did Luxembourg invest in 2018?
However, it is not enough to build any cycling infrastructure everywhere at any cost and blindly copy examples from the past. The choice of some technical guidelines over others is a political choice. Elected officials cannot replace experts and traffic planners, but must be aware that not all bicycle paths are created equal.
The way infrastructures are designed, their design, makes all the difference. Where we build cycling infrastructure, we must adopt the habits and best practices of countries with a high proportion of cycling. For example, these guidelines would avoid dangerous intersections, or two-way bike paths that statistically double the number of accidents at intersections. However, the Ministry of Transport guidelines already warned 16 years ago (!) about this problem.
There are more and more cyclists in all cities; is the evolution of cycling in transport in Luxembourg accelerating thanks to our investments? The rate of change relative to other European cities could be both a measure of our progress, and an instruction from the executive to planners, just as a central bank receives an inflation target. This would avoid the Potemkin infrastructure, built only to make it look better than it is.
However, the construction of a real coherent, continuous and high-quality network in Luxembourg, despite the advantages it would bring, also faces persistent preconceptions.
Planning to be replanned
Traffic planning is often based, at the technical level, on a theoretical traffic model. This model does not take into account pedestrians, cyclists, the way in which infrastructure influences traffic volume, or substitutability, i.e. the possibility of switching from one mode of transport to another when it becomes more attractive.
What may seem very theoretical and abstract is nevertheless simple: today there are no tram users in the Gare district because there are no rails yet. Once the tram is built, those who switch from their cars to the tram will no longer create traffic jams. What is obvious for the tram will happen, whatever the means of transport made more attractive.
A blind confidence in this model, which betrays a certain short-sightedness, is therefore opposed to the construction of cycling and pedestrian infrastructures, on the pretext that a reduction in car capacity would create traffic jams. However, providing a quality alternative offer would even help to reduce car congestion by reducing conflicts at intersections and encouraging alternative ways of getting around for short journeys.
There is therefore “not enough space” to build cycling infrastructure. There is a fixed budget of metres wide on each road, and the choice of their allocation, which favours some modes of transport and disadvantages others, is political and not technical. So much the better if every meter, every second of red light, has been effectively used for the car so far! We know how to allocate our resources according to needs, but this does not prevent the allocation from changing as those needs evolve. Even the narrowest streets in the country have room for pedestrians and bicycles.
370 Luxembourgers die early each year from the consequences of air pollution. The streets of Luxembourg are exploding at the seams: they can no longer support the almost totally automobile traffic of a country of nearly 600,000 inhabitants where nearly 200,000 border residents return every morning.
Fortunately, some political decisions are beginning to move in the right direction. Free parking spaces at the workplace continue to attract tax-efficient company cars, but they are competing with very generous carrots on bicycles. The new law on bicycle paths provides for routes through urban areas.
An efficient transport system lubricates the labour market. Reducing the average annual 33 hours of traffic jams in Luxembourg City would not only be one less annoyance, but would also improve the quality of life and, ultimately, the country’s competitiveness.
There is no good reason why a real bicycle network should not be built. It’s time for a big push on the pedals.
Guillaume Rischard lives in Luxembourg city and travels by bike every day.
Waking up hearing the birds sing and looking directly down across a spring-flowered meadow towards a heavily wooded valley we couldn’t help wonder if the cows – also just waking – know how lucky they are.
Yes the clouds were grey (we were in Belgium after all!) but we were warm in our bivvy bags after a dry and comfortable night’s sleep out in the open. We had taken along a tarpaulin and decided to fashion a “basha” out of it to protect us from the promised nocturnal rain. A heavy, but short-lived, drizzle came just as we were settling down and it felt justified. In fact this was all the rain we had on the whole trip which seems extremely fortunate, given all the recent weather.
A massive all-night thunderstorm had presumably (and understandably) put many people off, and when we finally met on the northbound train at 6pm on Friday evening we were but two. All the way up the sky was dark and grey and the rain lashed the train windows. Upon alighting at Kautenbach, however, the rain had stopped and there were even some blue skies.
There is something almost magical about rushing off after work, fighting the crowds at the city centre station, jostling on a busy commuter train only to suddenly find yourself cycling in a deserted tree-lined valley, a river gurgling below and an evening’s ride ahead. An hour ago we were at our desks! Now we are alone, breathing clean air and relishing the rain-fresh smells of forests and fields. It’s a stunning way to leave work behind.
We followed the charming Wiltz into Belgium before heading north, skirting Bastogne to find the hidden ‘bivouac zone’ where camping for one night is permitted. The light was just beginning to fade by the time the tarp was up, and we cooked up a pot-luck vegetable stew, anything anyone has brought along goes into this and the half bottle of wine was an addition to the pot well worth the weight of carrying it! Not sure anyone has ever enjoyed a stew more than we did that night.
Another advantage of bivvying is how quick and easy it is to pack up in the morning. Savouring the views as we enjoyed a heartening breakfast and then we were soon we were off, once more into the wild delights of the Ardennes and northern Luxembourg.
An adventure well worth having, and one that is so easily accessible for anyone in the Grand Duchy. We will try to repeat this event; look out for future announcements and join us!
Photo Credit: The remarkable Tristan Schmurr
Cycle Luxembourg’s First Overnighter
Intrigued by the freedom and ease that a bivvy bag can bring, but unsure how to start? Why not join us on Cycle Luxembourg’s first overnight cycle trip and give it a go!
A bivvy bag is a bag that goes outside your sleeping bag allowing you to sleep outside, really outside. A tent is great, but in the words of Alastair Humphreys, it is basically a poor version of being indoors. With the bivvy you fall asleep looking at the stars and wake up with dew on your nose.
We shall be leading a ride, with an experienced ‘bivvyer’, over the first weekend in June. In addition to your sleeping bag you will need a bivvy bag. If you do not wish to invest in a top quality one, a cheap ‘survival bag’ will suffice. This will retain moisture and you’ll probably have a wet sleeping bag in the morning, but for a one-night trip such as this it will be fine. If you really enjoy the night in the open you’ll probably want to invest in a better quality bag. If you hate it, at least you’ll have found that out and not gone to too much expense!
For much more on the whys, hows, and whats of bivvy bags please do check out what Humphreys has to say. He really knows his stuff.
We will meet on Friday 1st June 2018 at 18:00 and take train to the north, for around an hour. We will ride around 30km and camp at a location which is legally designated for camping, but has no services. After our night under the stars we will ride back to Luxembourg (Saturday 2nd June) which will be around 100km, but with the option of following the railway giving plenty of opportunities for a shorter route, if required. There will be a short amount of riding on non-paved roads on this trip, so super-skinny road tyres are not recommended.
Picture Credit: Alastair Humphreys
Equipment required, each person will need;
Sleeping bag; Bivvy bag (or ‘survival’ bag); sleeping mat (foam or inflatable, whatever you wish, but sleeping directly on the ground is no fun at all); torch; rain jacket; woolly hat (even in summer it’s better to wear at night); warm clothes (if it is warm enough at night without these, you can at least use your jumper as a pillow!); water; some food that doesn’t need to be cooked; toothbrush with toothpaste on it already and wrapped in cling-film; cup; spoon/fork; if you think you want pyjamas/pillow/more clothes and can take the weight, of course it’s up to you!
This list is freely adapted from here and we recommend you read it!
What if it rains?
In the words of Ronald Turnbull, the person who knows more about Bivvy bags than anyone else, “If it rains, you get wet”.
Wild camping is strictly forbidden by law in Luxembourg, and we will therefore be stopping at a designated camp place, or even a camp site.
All participants understand that there are certain risks involved in any ride and camping activities. They take part wholly at their own risk, and the organisers assume no responsibility whatsoever.
Join us for an informal and relaxed ride on Saturday 12th May as we join people all over the world riding the CycloFemme rides (more below regarding CycloFemme).
Where, when, how long, and who can ride is it in Luxembourg?
Organised by Cycle Luxembourg and led by Sevi we will be riding from Wasserbillig to Trier (and back for those that wish to). Although this ride celebrates women, it is open to all humans irrespective of their gender or cycling experience. Bikes can easily be rented, too!
We will meet at Wasserbillig Gare at 11:00 o’clock. Here there is free parking, or you can catch the direct train from Luxembourg at 10:33 or if you are on an intermediate station the stopping train leaves Luxembourg at 10:05 and stops at all stations.
Route and refreshment:
We will head along the north bank of the Moselle to Trier. This is a flat 15km and we our speed will be dictated by the slowest member of the group. We suggest bringing a packed lunch which we can enjoy along the banks of the river, and we will stop for drinks in Trier itself.
We will ride back along the south bank of the river, also flat and easy, and take the (new) ferry back to Wasserbillig where we will once more enjoy some refreshments whilst waiting for the return trains. Anyone is, of course, able to return by train from Trier if they are not confident of the distance.
There is no charge at all for this ride, however individuals are responsible for all their own refreshments and fares (a day train ticket in Luxembourg is 4€, coming from Trier it is considerably more, the ferry is 1.40€)
Is there rental bike possibility if I don’t have a bike?
You can rent a bike through Rent A Bike and return it back to Wasserbillig, or in Luxembourg at Velo en Ville in The Grund. Please note that the individuals are responsible for the cost of the rental bikes and more information regarding the tariffs can be found on the above website.
What is CycloFemme? From the CycloFemme website
“CycloFemme is a Global Celebration of Women created TO HONOUR THE PAST from the shoulders of those who stood before us, for the freedom to choose and the chance to wear pants. TO CELEBRATE THE PRESENT with strength and courage, voices raised, moving together. TO EMPOWER THE FUTURE of women everywhere, the backbone of positive social change.
The idea is simple
Each year on Mother’s Day (in the USA), self-led bike rides around the globe unite riders, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity or bicycle preference. Any ride length, type, and size counts, whether two friends, a team or a parade.
The act is powerful
We share an experience outside in our communities. We feel our literal strength. We lift, push and propel one another. And along the way, we discover—or rediscover— the joy in riding a bike.”