The Belgians invented the cycle network system and it’s paid off handsomely. When the mines in the Belgian province of Limburg began to close one by one, mining engineer Hugo Bollen had a great idea. Putting funds into building cycle paths could generate work, and stimulate the Belgians to appreciate their land more. “The more people cycle through their area, the more they will come to value it…and valuing it will lead to nature and landscape being preserved.”
Hugo’s fietsnetwerk (cycle network) officially opened in 1995. By 2007 Limburg had 1860km of signposted cycle routes, 700km of it car-free. The idea spread to the rest of the country, which now has a staggering 13,000km of signposted cycleways. Holland, Germany and Denmark have followed the Belgian example enthusiastically.
Even Hugo probably didn’t foresee the economic boom his cycling infrastructure would bring. Over 700,000 cyclists visit the Limburg area every year, and this directly generates income in the region of more than 16million euros.
We invested a couple of hundred euros of our own in Belgian food, accommodation, trains, bike hire and alcohol last week.
Money well spent, I say!