I cycled in another country again! On a recent visit to Antwerp, Belgium, I used the local completely automated bike share system. It was the first time I ever used such a system and it was a great experience.
Antwerp is very close to the Netherlands, but when it comes to cycling it is rather different. Although people cycle more upright and more for everyday purposes than in many other countries, the infrastructure is on a totally different level. In fact, I was recently invited to come and visit Antwerp to see the cycling infrastructure and film it and write about it, because it could do with some attention and an upgrade. I will take up that invitation, but by chance I already did visit the city with my partner for a long weekend. We had not planned to cycle, but with that invitation in mind and being in a hotel that was a bit further away from everything we decided to test the Antwerp shared bike system.
The Shared Bicycle System in Antwerp is simply called “Velo”. And now that I have I can’t believe I never used it before! It is as simple as the name suggests to register on the website for a day or a week pass. As a temporary visitor an annual subscription card is usually too much. That is why we opted for the 10-euro week pass, that we could use on our four-day visit. We used our smart phone to go to the website (with roaming costs abolished in the EU that is easy and convenient nowadays), we subscribed and we instantly received a user code and password by mail. With these codes we could immediately take a bike at any one of the 153 bicycle stations of which one was right next to the hotel. In the city centre they are hardly ever more than 400 metres away from any given location. The usual system applies here too; the first 30 minutes are free, after that you pay 50 cents for the fist hour and then the costs increase rapidly. You cannot lock the bicycles, so you just cycle to the station nearest to your destination and put it back. You get another one for the return journey. We were able to keep all our rides under 30 minutes. Which was also due to the extreme cold. Having to wear two coats at the same time to keep a bit warm is no fun!
One of the rides was from the city centre (after a visit to the historic cathedral) alongside the river Scheldt, north, to the Red Star Line Museum. We decided to film that ride, both. So I had footage from the same ride from two different cameras. I combined these images, so you can even see yours truly in this video.
The infrastructure on this ride is quite good. It is a two-way cycle path following the river bank on the water side. There are but a few crossings, usually entries to a parking lot. And this path has priority over all those entrances. The path in the city centre has a concrete tiles surface, which is a bit old-fashioned even in Belgium. The reconstructed part in the north has very smooth red asphalt. There the path has been widened too. This level of quality is certainly not common everywhere in Antwerp. In our ride to the hotel we encountered a very different type of infrastructure. Routes are not very well connected. Especially around larger roads and building sites cycle routes tend to wind from one side of the road to the other and that makes finding your way far from intuitive.
But this ride was quite nice. It shows Antwerp is changing rapidly. Especially in the area towards the end of the video, called “Het Eilandje” (the small island). This former port area is being reconstructed into a high-end residential area. The area has cycleways on all the bigger streets, with a surface of nice smooth asphalt. All the smaller residential streets have a speed limit of 30km/h (18mph). That is a system that is very similar to the Dutch way of designing residential areas. Another thing the Belgians share with the Dutch is the moped problem. As you can see in the video mopeds use the cycleways in Antwerp too, but – lucky for them – their numbers are much lower.
All in all, this was a nice first impression of Antwerp cycling. I will visit Antwerp again this spring and film a more complete and more realistic image of cycling in that city.
Map of our short ride in Antwerp.
Video of our short ride in Antwerp.