Philippe Herkrath, vice president of the ProVelo association, stresses the importance of cycling if we want to prevent mobility from collapsing in urban areas. The promotion of two-wheeled cars goes through the establishment of a suitable and safe infrastructure.
They were nearly 800 cyclists to demonstrate on June 4 to demand a bicycle network worthy of the name and better coexistence in road traffic. During the pandemic, a large number of people discovered the bicycle as a means of transportation. According to Philippe Herkrath, an activist at ProVelo, it is urgent that politicians have the courage to put two-wheeled cars on an equal footing with four-wheelers.
What place does the bicycle occupy today in Luxembourg in mobility or even in society?
Philippe Herkrath: The bicycle has found its place as a daily means of transport. Over the past ten years, we have seen an increase in the number of users of around 10% per year. This year, the number of cyclists could jump by 60% compared to 2021. So it seems that people who discovered or rediscovered two-wheeled engines during the pandemic remain in the saddle. We can also see that cycling plays a major role in the National Mobility Plan 2035 (PNM), especially for short distances. In cities like Luxembourg or Esch-sur-Alzette, it is important to use a bicycle to avoid paralysis.
In addition to the increasing number of people who have ridden bicycles, what are the lessons to be learned from the pandemic boom?
The pandemic has accelerated things. Abroad, we have seen the establishment of pop-up bike paths. We realized that custom infrastructures can be created quickly without having to perform, upstream, lengthy planning. We hope that this lesson will also be learned more in Luxembourg.
Did not the success of the bicycle during the pandemic surprise the politicians a bit?
For many years, our association has claimed and promoted customized infrastructures. The bicycle is the means of mobility of the future, and we must therefore invest more in safe cycle paths. Everyone is aware of this, and studies also show it: With appropriate infrastructures, more people are encouraged to use bicycles. At the moment, and despite the current boom, we see that many for safety reasons are still hesitant to get around the city by bike. I think politicians now recognize the importance of cycling, but they are still struggling to clear the space to create secure infrastructure.
For a very long time, bike paths were bounded by simple markings on the ground or plastic poles. Was this a scheduling error?
It is a bit normal that we, with a limited number of cyclists, are more reluctant to take a seat from the car to build a safe cycle path. In the past, politicians may also have been more in doubt about the role of the bicycle in tomorrow’s mobility. So we did what seemed realistic, but today, with the number of users exploding and the role the bike has been given to ensure mobility in 2035, we need to take space away from the car and the one accessible to cyclists and pedestrians.
Has it become audible to give less space to motorists?
It is simply no longer possible to force cars and bicycles to share the same lane or, in the case of bicycles and pedestrians, the same sidewalk. We need separate, secure and quality infrastructures.
In urban areas, efforts are intensified to provide more space for bicycles. At the same time, ProVelo and other activists regularly condemn hiccups, such as bicycle streets in Luxembourg, where motorists do not respect the priority reserved for bicycles. In Limpertsberg, a new separate but partial lane has again been taken over by cars as a car park. How do you explain this?
It is not easy to give an explanation. The exchange with municipal officials is present. As for rue Pasteur in Limpertsberg, we have made it clear to city councilors that this is a bad solution. We are of course pleased that work is being done to remove parking spaces. In this particular case, however, cyclists, pedestrians and cyclists continue to come into conflict. In our view, it would have been preferable to block the entire rue Pasteur from car traffic. The political courage to take this last step still seems to be lacking.
Can the cycle path laid out on the Kirchberg plateau serve as a model for future projects?
The track adjacent to the tram route is a really good solution. It is important to have a continuous cycle path, clearly identifiable and separated from the rest of the traffic. Nevertheless, you should always take into account the type of road infrastructure that presents itself to you. The very wide Boulevard Kennedy is not comparable to what one finds in residential areas. As mentioned in PNM, we must instead rely on solutions where the car can no longer move from point A to point B by taking the shortest route. Access to the neighborhood must be limited to those who live there or who specifically go there. This would calm car traffic and therefore free up enough space for pedestrians, children playing on the street and also bicycles.
One of your requirements is also the generalization of 30 km / h in urban areas. To promote this cohabitation?
The reduction in the permitted speed leads to a calming of the traffic. The dangers are diminished. Transit traffic is declining. However, infrastructure must keep up. At the moment, we still often have the following absurd situation: In zone 30 with fairly wide lanes, you can continue driving and the police then claim that they will not control the speed, because the infrastructure is not adapted to the respect of 30 km / h. Guilt punishes vulnerable road users.
The report on road accidents that occurred in 2021 shows an increase of 10% in seriously injured cyclists. How do you explain this number?
I think the greater number of cyclists on the roads contributes to this balance. People who have rediscovered cycling also still lack exercise and therefore ride with less confidence. Given the small size of Luxembourg, the fluctuations are significant. In 2020, we had to mourn three fatalities, but none in 2021. In the end, we can conclude that the greater number of cyclists, combined with the lack of adequate infrastructure, increases the risk of conflicts between road users.
In 2021, the police conducted a major awareness campaign for mutual respect along the way. Where is the biggest problem? On the side of motorists or on the side of cyclists?
The problem of cohabitation is real. There are cyclists who walk on the sidewalks and think that this place belongs to them. Although I can partly understand that the cyclist prefers to drive on the sidewalk, we can not tolerate that he does not respect pedestrians. It must also be admitted that cyclists do not respect all the rules on the road. Cyclists should therefore not be excluded from the more generalized phenomenon of traffic violations. The message of mutual respect is certainly not bad. Nevertheless, it is conceivable that even greater emphasis was placed on the fact that there is a huge difference between putting a person in danger in a vehicle weighing two tonnes and doing so with a vehicle weighing just under 10 kg. .
In response to a recent parliamentary question from the Pirate Party, Minister Henri Kox clarifies that over the past six months, no report has been prepared against motorists who have not respected the distance of 1.5 meters while overtaking a cyclist. Do the police adequately protect cyclists?
The 1.5 meter provision has been enshrined for four years now in the Traffic Act. It is therefore necessary to provide means to check that this minimum distance is complied with. We had conversations with the police where they explained to us that they did not have the right equipment. In other countries this material is used. It should therefore be assessed whether there is a regulatory gap or whether there is a technical defect. For us, it is clear that we can not tolerate that a provision of the Traffic Act can not be controlled. Being overtaken too close by a car is considered one of the biggest dangers for cyclists.
In addition to this aspect of road safety, what are the main shortcomings of the infrastructure for non-urban cyclists?
First, the network of cycle paths is not always coherent. There are dangerous crossings. Secondly, the existing tracks, especially between Esch-sur-Alzette and Luxembourg, force you to take major detours. Currently it is necessary to travel about 30 km. With an express track you can reach 15 km. It can make a big difference whether a person chooses to cycle rather than a car or not.
Is the concept of multimodal corridors that Mobility Minister François Bausch is advocating going in the right direction?
We have to see what the express lanes will finally look like along the Dudelange motorway and the one leading to Esch. For the cyclists in question, however, it should be a quality leap and therefore also lead to even more bikes in the city.
Do we also need to ensure that companies make facilities available so that cyclists can park but also take a bath or change of clothes?
This is an aspect that needs to be considered. However, a study carried out by the Automobile Club of Germany comes to the conclusion that the sanitary facilities of the workplace do not play such a big role for cyclists. Those who take a bicycle to go to work have quite a short distance to travel or have a pedelec, which makes the journey more comfortable. Having a safe cycling infrastructure and being able to park your bike safely, which can sometimes cost thousands of euros, are aspects that weigh much more.
What about the options for allowing cyclists to board trains?
We are in contact with CFL. They intend to increase capacity so that cyclists can take the train. But if we really plan to become a country where 10% of journeys take place by bicycle, it will at some point become impossible to offer sufficient capacity on the railway. It is much more important to provide secure parking facilities at the stations.
Can you define the next priorities so that the bicycle becomes a long-term means of mobility?
In the political camp, we are now well aware that the bicycle is an integral part of tomorrow’s mobility. We have benefited from a mobility minister from the ranks of the Greens, but it is less a question of parties than of people. There is still a gap in the design offices. Very often, planners still have one background car oriented. So it still takes some time before the perspective of cycling becomes more integrated in these offices or mobility services.