Trage Wegen vzw

BILD0470 640x480Sideways has been initiated by Trage Wegen (literally: Slow Ways), an environmental non-profit organization that works for the conservation and (re)development of paths and trails in the northern, Dutch-speaking part of Belgium. Slow ways are commonly understood to be public roads intended for non-motorized use. As such, they encompass tracks of all widths, sightlines and surface, both rural and urban. People use slow paths for a multitude of activities; walking, cycling, mountain biking, horse-riding, jogging en running, roller blading, nature study, etc.

The destiny and use of many tracks and paths reflect the shifting perception of mobility needs and altering attitudes towards landscape and nature development. Grown organically as so-called desire lines, slow paths have remained inscribed into Flanders' vernacular landscapes for centuries. In order to formalize the road network of the newly formed state of Belgium, a vast cartographic operation was carried out in the period 1841-1845. The resulting nation-wide "Atlas of Vicinal Roads" continues to stand as a key legal reference document for the protection or rehabilitation of slow paths today. However, this legal foundation hasn't prevented the gradual decline of the slow paths net throughout the twentieth century. Car culture in general decreased the use of footpaths and cycleways. Many ancient pathways were surfaced into motorways and the remaining tracks for non-motorized use became split up or obstructed. Connections got cut off, accelerating their dereliction. The traditional net of pathways in Flanders further thinned out due to the intensifying and scaling up of agricultural land-use and to a sprawlling urbanization, combined with a permissive planning system. For decades, local authorities neglecting the maintenance of their public slow path infrastructure were all but an exception. Many slow paths got out of use, privatized, fenced off, ploughed in, blocked, neglected, abandoned ... or simply forgotten.

p 5 Symposium 640x480After decades of decline, a renewed interest in the development of these linear landscape features can be observed in Belgium, as in many other countries. In Flanders, the northern, Dutch-speaking region of Belgium, the term slow paths has proven to be a trigger for different policy initiatives, especially at the local level. Since its foundation in 2002, Trage Wegen has been a catalyst as well as a partner for such initiatives. Slow paths indeed provide a myriad of benefits to both individual users and society as a whole. Footpaths and cycleways can be used for utility journeys (transport to shops, school and other community resources), local leisure (dog walking, jogging, etc.), as well as for different kinds of outdoor recreation (long distance cycling, hiking, etc.). They are part of daily life and can function as a playground for children, a therapeutic or restorative locale, a hangout place or meeting ground all at once. Moreover, properly designed slow paths have an important ecological impact or potential. As habitats or migration routes for fauna and flora, they become crucial links of a green infrastructure network. By weaving slow paths into substantial webs, communities develop an infrastructural tissue that supports sustainable and safe travel and strengthens the liveability of dwelling environments.