Study: ‘car traffic decreasing in Brussels itself, increasing in outskirts’
A new study by the Brussels University (ULB) researcher Mathieu Strale shows once again that the complex political structure of Belgium and the lack of an integrated vision on mobility, is weighing on 235.000 people commuting to the capital to work. In spite of different projects by regional and federal authorities, car usage is slightly increasing around Brussels.
The study was published on Monday by Brussels Studies, an e-journal for interdisciplinary academic studies about the Belgian capital and the Brussels’ Region on themes that play a vital role in the dynamics of the region, as they put it themselves. This time Mathieu Strale tried to map out commuting mobility, which confirmed some apparent trends.
Complex political context
“While car traffic tends to decrease slowly in the Brussels-Capital Region, it is increasing in the outskirts, as well as near the regional borders. This has a direct influence on mobility in and around Brussels, as well as on the related consequences. Namely traffic congestion and the socio-environmental impact,” Strale writes in his introduction.
“This situation is coupled with a complex political context, as the Brussels metropolitan area covers the three regions of the country, as well as a lack of detailed, comparable and representative data on the different forms of travel, which complicates the study and the objectification of the problem.”
Data from Google Maps
Mathieu Strale is a researcher at the Institut de Gestion de l’Environnement et d’Aménagement du Territoire (DGES-IGEAT) at Université Libre de Bruxelles, ULB, an institute that focuses on the management of the environment and public space. Strale’s research focuses on the problems of urban mobility in Brussels and Europe.
As a starting point for the study data from Google Maps and other traffic, data providers were used comparing the actual time needed to reach three key areas in Brussels where a lot of commuters work, around the stations Brussels North, Brussels South, and the station Arts-Loi.
Four distinct zones
The first zone is the ‘nearby car outskirts’ where some 700.000 people live of which 100.000 are working in Brussels’ capital. Car usage is high, but the impact on traffic congestion is rather low because they avoid saturated major axes.
The train is used in the outer suburbs, especially from medium-sized cities. In this zone cities, municipalities are situated, like Overijse, Rhode-Saint Genèse, Dilbeek or Grimbergen.
“This is probably where the lack of coordination between operators is the most penalizing since it often involves a connection between the STIB urban network and the TEC or De Lijn networks, as well as a double payment due to a lack of fare integration. Besides, there is the dispersion of housing, which is unfavorable to the use of public transport, and the possibility of bypassing major congested roads,” the study details.
A second zone is the ‘well-connected outskirts’ with an average of one million people living there of which some 40.000 are working in Brussels. It’s a zone with several railway and highway connections to other cities.
The use of the train is relatively high, but the impact of traffic congestion on the road is higher than the average for the Brussels’ Region because car drivers mostly use the major axes to enter the city. This zone typically consists of cities like Nivelles, Ottignies, Aalst, Mechelen or Leuven.
Remote car outskirts
The third zone is the ‘remote car outskirts’ with 500.000 inhabitants of which 55.000 are working in Brussels. The density is rather low, and these regions are served less well by public transport. Here, mostly in the communities of Brabant Wallon and east of the province, in particular, the car is omnipresent for commuting.
Forth zone is the ‘remote and poorly connected outskirts’. They are the most distant and poorly served both in public transport as major roads. Here some 400.000 people are living and 40.000 of them commuting to Brussels.
These different zones often need different approaches in policy to respond to the mobility needs of the inhabitants, the researchers conclude. “For the nearby outskirts, the challenge is to implement solutions for relatively short journeys. This means, for example, better integration of public transport companies STIB/MIVB, De Lijn and TEC, extending STIB/MIVB lines outside Brussels as well as making it easier to use bicycles.”
“The creation of park and ride facilities could be considered, designed to accommodate some of the commuters for whom no alternative exists. In the outer ring, the aim would be to improve railway services in well-connected areas and discourage car use, including short journeys to stations, for example by developing local bus feeder services.”
Service alone not sufficient for modal shift
“For less well-connected areas, fast bus lines to main stations for areas where there is sufficient demand could be considered, or car parks at these same stations, designed to accommodate commuters from rural areas, to reduce car journeys to the capital as much as possible.”
“Of course, Strale concludes, “these measures should be accompanied by policies related to land use planning, road infrastructure, the organization and location of services, and car taxation, as service alone is not a sufficient factor to induce a modal shift.”