Photo by Bibhash on Unsplash

Brussels for people – safer cities for all

The Brussels region has the worst traffic in Europe, and the situation gets worse every year. The worsening traffic conditions also bring pollution, noise pollution, and reduce the overall quality of life of the population. Not to mention the accidents involving cars, reduced space for other modes of transport, and the dangerous intersections for cyclists and pedestrians who, despite having precedence, are not always respected.

With this in mind, the Brussels government has made efforts to change the situation by investing in urban mobility through tram networks, more space for bikes and pedestrians, and even by helping drivers to be more careful with pedestrians and improving visibility.

One such initiative is the City30, that according to Elke Van den Brandt, Minister of the Government of the Brussels-Capital Region, responsible for Mobility, Public Works and Road Safety, “aims to reduce the impact of car accidents in the city, by lowering the speed.”

Elke Van den Brandt. Image credit: Personal archive

“We saw in other cities like Grenoble and Helsinki that this approach pays off, and cities like Paris and Amsterdam are now following our example. The first results after 6 months are very positive.”

According to Van den Brandt’s office, the average speed of cars decreased between 9 and 17% even on the roads where the speed limit did not change, and the region also saw a reduction in accidents with the accidents that are happening being less serious – 25% fewer heavily or fatally wounded victims. Noise pollution has also been reduced.

And Brussels is planning even more further actions. The next step is “gradually changing the infrastructure (adding speed bumps and bollards) all over the city, to make the City30 feel as natural as possible for car drivers. And in order to sanction those not complying with the new traffic rules, we are adding 60 new speed cameras. Our goal: zero traffic casualties by 2030.” says Van den Brandt.

Among the many initiatives all over Brussels is the extension of space for bikes on the busy Rue de la Loi, leading to reduced space for cars and greater protection for cyclists. A spokesperson for the City of Brussels councillor for mobility and public works, Bart Dhondt, told Belgian media that “we noticed that it is the most-used axis with more than a thousand cyclists passing every day on the entire street, the original cycle lanes were too narrow and not comfortable enough or safe enough.”

We want to give all traffic users a legitimate space in Brussels.
— Elke Van den Brandt

The region will also work on dangerous intersections, installing or moving traffic lights, widening pedestrian pavements and improving cycle paths – or installing new ones whenever needed.

Another example is that in Brussels, it is illegal to park less than 5 meters away from a crosswalk or zebra crossing. However, this rule is not well respected meaning that it is difficult for drivers to see pedestrians who want to cross a street as their vision is impaired by cars parked too close to the crossings.

Brussels traffic. Photo by Remco Mariën on Unsplash

The solution? Install bike racks in these spaces, increasing visibility and safety for all. Van den Brandt explains that “every year, 46 people are killed or seriously injured when crossing the street. In 45% of the accidents involving pedestrians crossing on a zebra crossing, limited visibility plays an important role. By installing bike racks, road safety wins twice: visibility is guaranteed, and we create more bicycle parking, which is needed in a city that has seen a huge increase of the number of cyclists in 2020.”

She also listed other initiatives in the region to improve mobility:

  • Three separate bike and footpaths under the busiest canal crossroads
  • Cycling highway connections with Wallonia and Flanders
  • Several circulation plans throughout the city
  • Big transformation projects
  • New bus lines, new tram lines and a new metro line

“We want to give all traffic users a legitimate space in Brussels. This means that we need to redistribute public space in Brussels, which has seen car dominance for many decades. If the space allows us to, we try to give every mode its own separate space. If not, and that is rather recent, we follow the STOP principle. Priority goes to pedestrians, then cyclists, then users of public transport, and then individual car drivers,” sentences Van den Brandt.

Brussels is very car-centric, a lot of people still use their car when they need to go to nearby towns, so we are aiming to start construction by 2025.
— Marijn Struyf

As seen, not only the traffic within Brussels is a priority, but also the connection with neighbouring regions. The redistribution of car space in Brussels needs to be accompanied by surrounding measures that allow citizens to leave the car behind and use some of the available alternatives.

Marijn Struyf. Image credit:
De Werkvennootschap

With that in mind, a new tram line connecting Zaventem airport and NATO – with connections to the city centre and passing through a series of international companies – is being planned. Marijn Struyf, the spokesperson for the Flemish government organisation De Werkvennootschap which manages large-scale projects funded by the region of Flanders, explains that the goal is to “connect all these mostly international companies and sites where a lot of people work to the airport and to the city,” and also to create an infrastructure that joins the new tram line, new road paths, and also “115 km of cycling infrastructure that we are going to build in the next 4 years.”

A lot of companies operating between the airport and Brussels have to rely on shuttles, which cause more traffic jams, are expensive and increase pollution levels, therefore, the new tram line and bike paths will not only provide connection but overall improve the life quality of residents of Brussels and nearby cities.

The idea, says Struyf, is to “provide more multi-modal accessibility to Brussels. Brussels is very car-centric, a lot of people still use their car when they need to go to nearby towns, so we are aiming to start construction by 2025 and it’s going to take about 10 years, so we want to have the bicycle and tram infrastructure in place by then.”

Road safety, new connections and less pollution are the main goals of the several projects within and surrounding Brussels. Van den Brandt says that the region wants “to create a city where a child of 12 years old feels comfortable enough to cycle or walk to school safely. Brussels has some catching up to do, as road safety never really was a big priority. Safer streets are now a central ambition of our mobility politics.”

You need to involve the habitants.
— Elke Van den Brandt

To create lasting change, she adds, “you need to involve the habitants. The biggest challenge in Brussels now is bureaucracy and institutional complexity. However, that should not stop Brussels politicians being ambitious and getting as much done as possible to transform Brussels into a city for people.”



Raphael Garcia Eurocities Writer