Home Europe One year of Good Move in Brussels: Fewer cars, more cyclists

One year of Good Move in Brussels: Fewer cars, more cyclists

by editor

This article is part of POLITICO’s Global Policy Lab: Living Cities, a collaborative journalism project exploring the future of cities. Sign up here.

One year ago, central Brussels and cars had a very public divorce.

As the summer came to a close, the city began implementing its ambitious version of the regional Good Move plan, which aims to slash automotive traffic by 24 percent by 2030.

In a bid to stop cars from traversing across the city center — known as the Pentagon — and divert them onto a ring road, authorities converted major thoroughfares into one-way streets, restricted access to some avenues to public transport and priority vehicles, and even fully pedestrianized some boulevards.

Twelve months on, the results are stark.

“In a little over a year we’ve seen a 27 percent drop in transit traffic in the city center and an astonishing 36 percent jump in the number of cyclists on our streets,” said Bart Dhondt, the city’s alderman for mobility.

“What we’re seeing is a modal shift: People are betting on active mobility and that’s great not only for their personal health but for that of residents who are now less exposed to harmful automotive emissions and the threats associated with car traffic.”

Dhondt admitted that the scheme got off to a rocky start: The first few weeks saw frequent traffic jams, protests from pro-car activists and complaints from angry residents and worried business owners.

“We knew it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park, and we understood the worries on the part of shop owners whose lives are conditioned by the uncertainty that comes with never knowing what you’re going to earn in the following month,” Dhondt said. “We also sympathized with car-owning residents who were concerned about how their lives, how their routines might change.”

Despite the grumbling, the city stayed the course, buoyed in part by figures indicating huge drops in rush hour traffic at key intersections within three months of the plan’s rollout, Dhondt said.

By late fall, an average of 20 percent fewer cars were counted in the city center, with the number of vehicles at key evening rush hour times dropping by as much as 50 percent in some places.

The alderman argued that the scheme’s positive impacts — including better air quality and less noise from cars — had already drawn a growing number of people to move to Brussels’ historic core and contributed to rising property values in the area.

The city wants to make the provisional infrastructure used to implement Good Move permanent and more attractive | Getty Images

A revamped city center

The economic impact of reduced car traffic is difficult to nail down.

The alderman acknowledged that some businesses have closed, but stressed that the local economy has also been affected by other factors.

“Businesses have been dealing with an energy crisis, inflation, the impact of the war in Ukraine,” he argued. “It’s not easy to hear, but we also have to accept that cities are constantly evolving and that neighborhoods — and the shops in them — change.”

Dhondt said the number of major companies that decided to open offices in the city center over the past year suggested the changes had been positive. He cited the example of French oil giant Total, which selected the pedestrianized Boulevard Anspach to host its new Belgian headquarters.

“You have a company that isn’t the most ecological choosing to install themselves here because their employees explicitly asked to [a workplace] they can access without having to own a car, one from which they can walk to nice bars and restaurants after work,” he said.

“As a city, we’re trying to get people back into their workplaces, to keep offices alive, and part of making them attractive is making sure that the surroundings make them a more attractive option than just working from home.”

The city now wants to make the provisional infrastructure used to implement Good Move — mainly cement barriers — permanent and more attractive.

The makeshift skate park in La Chapelle, which was set up in a parking lot decommissioned as part of the scheme, is one of the areas Dhondt said would be made more attractive. Greenery and wider sidewalks are also set to be installed in some of the redeveloped streets.

Those visual reminders will be key to consolidating public support ahead of next year’s Belgian regional elections, which are expected to be an informal referendum on the Green party that gained representation in 11 of the capital region’s 19 municipalities in 2018.

While the city of Brussels appears to have succeeded in rolling out the Good Move measures, other municipalities have halted or even canceled similar measures outright due to public opposition. Dhondt said pushing through with the plans will required courage and dialogue, both with residents and political parties like the Socialists, with whom the Greens govern in the city of Brussels.

“It’s important that people know that these are political decisions, advances that should not be taken for granted because they can be reversed,” he said.

“A city that doesn’t move is a city that is dying,” he added. “I am proud that Brussels is a city that is changing, advancing, becoming a better, greener place to live.”

Source link

Related Posts