If you haven't yet watched this short documentary about cycling in Brussels, you should.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

The Belgian and de facto European Union Capital is among the most congested cities in Europe, quoting the number of journeys by bicycle in Brussels at a tiny four per cent, with a reliance on cars a huge cost to the city's economy in lost productivity.

The imagery of unmoving traffic, grey skies, car accidents, and damning appraisals of how it is to ride a bike in the city - Copenhagen's former Mayor Klaus Bondam describes his impressions of riding in Brussels as "extremely scary" despite being "a very experienced city cyclist" - all paints a bleak picture.

But in the context of somewhere like Sydney, Brussels perhaps isn't so bad.

Sydney's Lord Mayor Clover Moore, a long-time campaigner for bicycles as viable alternative transport, spoke to Cycling Central in September about what the city has and is already doing to increase and promote bike use, particularly in the CBD.

Melbourne and Brisbane are also looking to improve their bike infrastructure, including the implementation of bike share schemes, though both have had underwhelming success as yet.

Moore's efforts have seen bike trips grow 82 per cent in the past two years, a figure revealed in May, and repeated by Moore in the interview. That growth is expected to continue, as the network of designated bike lanes widens into greater Sydney and ongoing promotional campaigns take effect.

That statistic does, however, come with a grain of salt. Eighty-two per cent is an excellent figure, but it does come from a very low base. An independent assessment, commissioned by the City of Sydney in 2011, on Sydney's daily bike trips in and out of the city, estimates that despite the growth, bikes still represent less than one per cent of all trips in the city.

That's a whole three per cent lower than Brussels.

If you've ever ridden in Sydney, those numbers are not all that surprising.

I'm not saying commuting in Sydney is impossible, far from it. I do it three times a week to SBS HQ in St Leonards, as do many of my colleagues. Door to door it's quicker than public transport or driving, but it's still not something for everyone.

Rightly, the perception of riding in Sydney remains a fairly dangerous way to get from A to B, and compulsory or not, I'd suggest you'd be tempting fate not wearing a helmet.

As Moore concedes judging Sydney's bike networks now is like looking at a half-complete highway. Nothing can be assessed as yet.

Overwhelmingly Moore's efforts have been beneficial to Sydney, but there's a long way to go. The biggest fight is shifting the cultural tide that has seen successive State Governments prioritise cars, and the building of roads to accommodate them for the best part of the past half century. In the latest State Infrastructure plan, that culture looks likely to continue.

Back in Brussels that situation is not dissimilar.

"Lots of people used to ride bikes in Brussels," says Roel de Cleen of the Brussels Cycling Federation.

"The wrongful prioritisation of vehicular mobility as the ultimate mode of transport, the investment made in car roads, and the relentless promotion of cars, that people switched to driving.

"Here in Brussels this coincided with the elimination of many bicycle paths."

Bike share? Helmets? Insignificant compared to changing investment and culture.

One of the strongest contributors to cycle safety on the road is a the number of riders on the road. More riders, makes drivers more aware, and with more common interaction there are on the whole less problems.

Getting to that ideal situation requires the incentivisation (continued and extended) of those forms of transport. Public transport is already subsidised by state governments, but would it be such a stretch for cycle commuters to get tax incentives?

According to cost-benefit analysis commissioned by the City of Sydney, for every commuter switching from car to bicycle on a daily commute the decongestion benefit is $4.07. That's $4.07 the community as a whole is better off, so where's the love?

Carbon credits? I don't see why not.

Fitter employees and lower requirements for parking at work, maybe the workplace should chip in as well?

I'm not expecting any of these things to actually occur. It'd be nice, but I am realistic. That said, would it be so hard for a passing driver to say 'thanks'? To say 'I appreciate you're not a car on the road'.

Yeah I know. Dreamin'.