Bruges: Belgium’s best cycling city in the making

Impact StoriesELEVATE

People cycling in front of a setting sun on a cycling route in Bruges

Image from Stad Brugge by Jan D’Hondt licensed under Image provided by the City of Bruges

Over the next several weeks, we will share stories from CIVITAS projects on-the-ground that implemented innovation uptake and e-mobility solutions as news items. These are also compiled in a publication and infographic.

This short story examines the case in Bruges (Belgium), which was also the subject of an episode of Mobility Marvels, the CIVITAS podcast. For more information, listen now.

Read all short stories as they are published at:



Growing future Cycling Capitals

At its core, the CIVITAS Handshake project is all about mentorship. The project brings three world-renowned cycling front-runner cities – Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Munich – together with 10 cities committed to following their lead. Through the Handshake mentorship programme, the three current Cycling Capitals and a consortium of active mobility experts impart know-how and motivation to their mentees.

The result? The project is helping to ensure that when people think about the world’s best cycling cities, the cities of Bordeaux, Bruges, Cadiz, Dublin, Helsinki, Krakow, Manchest, Riga, Rome and Turin immediately come to mind.

Spotlight on Bruges

In 1972, cycling was a mere footnote in the City of Bruges Structure Plan, which stated simply: “bicycles are the appropriate means of transport in Bruges”. The plan did not feature any policy recommendations linked to cycling, and remained predominantly car-oriented in its vision for Bruges’ development. Now however, 50 years later, Bruges is on the verge of being considered Belgium’s best cycling city and an example for other local authorities to follow.

Bruges is the third biggest city in Flanders. Located near the sea and with a vibrant community, its main economic activities are linked to its harbour and to tourism. Today, cycling makes up an impressive 42% of the city’s modal split, making bicycles the second-most used means of transport for commuting to work or school.

Still, the city faces challenges related to cycling infrastructure and road safety. Bruges’ city centre is a UNESCO-protected area, presenting hurdles related to urban development and upgrading mobility infrastructure, and the historic centre features extensive cobblestone paving, which can also make cycling uncomfortable. Furthermore, the city is still working to improve weak links in its cycling network, which has struggled to keep pace with a booming cycling culture.

To comfortably and safely accommodate the rising numbers of cyclists, and to create even more comprehensive cycling infrastructure, a new, innovative concept was needed. That’s where CIVITAS Handshake came in. Joining Handshake provided Bruges with the opportunity to rethink its cycling network, and to help the city move towards the ambitious goal of becoming Belgium’s best cycling city.

A new approach to cycling

In the context of Handshake, Bruges hosted several workshops, group activities, and reflections with international experts to reshape its cycling concept.

Bart Slabbinck, Project Coordinator in the City of Bruges’ Mobility Department and site manager for Handshake, recalls that one of the main debates during these discussions related to which cycling concept the city wanted to follow. On one hand, the city was drawn to optimising “flow”, prioritising fluidity and speed; on the other hand, they considered it important to focus cycling on the idea of “places”, which emphasises urban life and human interaction. Following intense exchanges, the city determined that the core aim of its network should, in fact, be “less speed, more city”. This core aim positions cycling not as the ultimate goal, but rather as the perfect instrument to help achieve the goal of having a vibrant city.

The approach of “less speed, more city” has been the guiding principle behind the development of Bruges’ new cycling network concept, called the FR30. The FR30 seeks to strengthen the city’s cycling network, while embracing its larger sustainable mobility vision. Ultimately, it will make travelling by bicycle more direct, intuitive, and comfortable.

The FR30 includes a concept on how the local cycling network can be upgraded, with an ambitious plan consisting of over 75 actions. Since the action plan was launched, several activities have already been realised, including strategic studies that are keeping Bruges on a steady path towards progress.

Houtkaai Street provides an example of Bruges putting this new vision to work. The street is a beautiful waterside route, which thus became too popular among cyclists and pedestrians, causing tensions amongst users. Enlargement of the cycling path was impossible due to physical constraints, forcing the city to innovate a new vision: the road would become a cycling street, and what had been the cycling path would be transformed into a foot path. A road filter will be created at the so-called Waggelwater Bridge to enable traffic to safely “cross” the cycling street, and the new foot path will be linked to Bruges’ famous Vestenroute – a 7 km-long pedestrian path along the city ramparts.

Bruges’ 19th century Christus-Koning district has also seen changes that embrace cycling. The area already had a neighbourhood mobility plan when the FR30 vision was launched. Following the new vision’s ideas, the neighbourhood plan was restructured; beginning with a citizen survey and co-creation workshops focused on main street design, this restructuring led to the realisation of two extra cycling streets in the area.

A similar connection between the FR30 and neighbourhood mobility plans was forged for the Filips De Goede-laan, Bruges’ first cycling street. Thanks to a participatory process with local citizens, public support was secured to re-design the street. It is now set to be transformed from a too-straight and too-wide street with too much through-traffic, to a one-way cycling street. This change, foreseen to be completed in 2023, will not only support cycling along this relatively narrow street, but will also offer the opportunity to enlarge the “Stil Ende” park, an important habitat for local wildlife.

A highlight: redeveloping the railway station

A highlight of cycling improvement in Bruges has definitely been changes at the railway station. This area records the highest number of cyclists within the city; however, the area requires both cyclists and pedestrians to traverse a tricky and unsafe ring road intersection. To improve liveability and safety of the railway station area for all road users, and to enhance the quality of the place – which is also the main gateway to the historical city centre – a redevelopment vision was set in place.

A study produced a set of solutions for a complete redesign of the railway station area, including: pedestrian and cyclist passages under the ring road connecting to the station; an underpass at the UNESCO roundabout towards the city centre; a new space dedicated to intermodality; and a “Kiss & Ride” zone in the station’s car park. Mr. Slabbinck reports that citizen responses to the proposed solutions have been “unanimously positive”, and that the project is seen as a “big step forward” in terms of safety of cyclists and pedestrians. What’s more, this redesign will have a positive impact on motorised vehicles, improving traffic flow on the ring road.

From economics to Bikenomics

Through Handshake, Bruges also carried-out a socio-economic evaluation for cycling solutions based on the concept of “Bikenomics”. This method combines standard welfare analysis techniques – such social cost-benefit analysis and economic impact assessment – with other qualitative and quantitative methods to provide cities with holistic insights about the welfare effects and social impacts of cycling solutions. It also provides local decision-makers and cycling leaders with the necessary tools to test, optimise, and justify their implementation.

In the City of Bruges, the Bikenomics procedure was applied to better understand the renewed bicycle connection between St. Michiels and the city centre. The analysis compared the sum of total costs (construction and maintenance) and benefits (monetised effects). Even despite the fact that the results did not take into account qualitatively assessed effects (such as comfort for cyclists and pedestrians, subjective perceptions of road safety, etc.), they still indicated a positive balance, showing that the quantified benefits are 1.5 times higher than the costs. In other words, investing €1 in the cycling project would provide a return of €1.50.

What’s more, the Bikenomics methodology demonstrated that some of the easiest and least expensive solutions – such as installing bollards to convert a road into a cycling street – would result in the great return-on-investment. As Mr. Slabbinck put it:

“You don’t have to have the biggest budget, the biggest pockets of money to realise cycling infrastructure and to shift mindsets.”


Further Readings

Local contributions from Bart Slabbinck, Project Coordinator in the City of Bruges’ Mobility Department and Handshake site manager.





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