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The car-crowded streets of central Brussels are about to get a little less cramped.
On August 16, a new mobility plan comes into effect in the city’s so-called Pentagon with the aim of reducing transport emissions, reducing traffic and improving residents’ quality of life.
“We are leaving the Brussels of the 1960s and 1970s, where everything was built for cars, and heading in a whole different direction in which the city is for people,” said Bart Dhondt, the city’s alderman for mobility. interview with POLITICO.
The plan – part of the Brussels region’s wider Good Move plan to cut car traffic by 24% by 2030 – is designed to stop cars driving through the city centre, instead of diverting them to the device. Some main roads will become one-way streets; others will only allow public transport and priority vehicles such as ambulances. A handful of streets will completely ban cars and become pedestrianized.
“If you look at the numbers, only 20-25% of people who live or come to work here use cars,” he said. “Most of our traffic comes from people going to other places, so we’re sending them out of downtown.”
“The whole point of this is to create more space for people to live, for children to play, for residents to walk and cycle safely,” he added.
Surf the green wave
Brussels’ ambitious regional mobility plan is the result of the so-called green wave in the 2018 local elections which saw the party win representation – and key mobility positions – in 11 of the region’s 19 municipalities. .
Schaerbeek, the second-largest municipality in the Brussels region, in January became the first to present its plan to take action to reduce traffic and redirect cars away from its streets lined with townhouses. The municipality of Anderlecht unveiled a similar program soon after, and its district of Cureghem launched its congestion reduction plan last month.
“Many people who have been elected [in 2018] had been part of the grassroots movement for clean air and safe streets,” said Dhondt, a Green Party member who was sworn in as alderman for mobility in Brussels that year.
Belgium’s notoriously complex political system means that “a lot of change is derailed by political disagreements”, but the Greens have managed to convince coalition partners “to reach majority agreements on these issues”, said Dhondt, referring to the region’s Good Move mobility scheme.
As the city now seeks to implement the plan, Dhondt said the biggest hurdle is overcoming resistance from small traders.
“No one is happy when a politician comes to your door and says, ‘Hey, we’re going to change things,’ because it signifies uncertainty about what the future might bring,” Dhondt said.
“That’s why it was so important for us to reach out and talk to them, listen to them when they say this or that change is a bad idea, and reevaluate the plan if we can find a way to achieve our goal differently.”
Dhondt said he had gone so far as to give affected residents his personal phone number and met with traders in specific areas – for example furniture sellers – to reassure them that delivery vehicles will still be allowed. to access their streets.
The fact that other cities, like Ghent and Leuven, have managed to reduce traffic without hurting business makes the argument a little easier, the alderman said.
“When I talk to store owners, I point to other regions to show them how these kinds of changes have made things better for stores and led to increased investment,” Dhondt said. “It also helps that the pedestrian streets of Brussels are our most visited areas… More and more people are realizing that it’s actually good for business.”
Once the traffic has been tamed, Brussels plans to tackle its somewhat bizarre parking problem: Although the Pentagon home to just 55,000 people, it has approximately 75,000 parking spaces, including 10,000 on the road.
“As we rearrange the streets, we will significantly reduce the number of spaces for cars on our streets,” Dhondt said. “Let’s recover spaces for people who come to town, give them green spaces.”