Traffic in Brussels down with 40%
Brussels breathes again through the lockdown. Since 13 March, there has been an average 40% drop in traffic. This also has its positive consequences for cyclists, who continue to grow enormously in Brussels. For example, the city has changed a lane of the Wetstraat into a wide cycle path, and Mayor Philippe Close wants to propose the closure of the Bois de la Cambre to car traffic during the summer and weekends, even after the Covid-19 crisis.
Impact of teleworking
That the traffic in the capital has decreased by 40% is shown by an analysis of Sirris, the research center of the technological industry, using fifty measurement points in the city. At peak hours (6 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 8 p.m.) the known problem locations remain busy, with up to 80% of normal traffic.
Even after the corona crisis, Brussels may have to deal with less car traffic. The HR service company, Acerta, expects that the number of kilometers driven between home and work will decrease due to the positive effects that companies and employees experience from teleworking. Six out of ten employees commute to the capital from outside the region, mainly from Flanders.
Lot of commuters
Moreover, Acerta figures show that employees active in the Brussels-Capital Region have to commute the furthest: an average of 27,1 km, compared to 19,7 km for those working in Flanders, and 21,5 km in Wallonia.
“The Brussels-Capital Region also has many service companies in a relatively small area,” says Sarah De Groof, senior consultant at Acerta in De Morgen. “It is also easier for these service businesses to introduce teleworking.”
Flemings ensure the turnaround
The Brussels entrepreneur Koen Torrekens writes in De Standaard that this turnaround to less traffic in the city center is to be applauded. Negative reactions, such as from the N-VA, for the introduction of a wide cycle path in the Wetstraat, are incomprehensible, he says.
Since the 1980s, almost every Flemish city has taken public space away from cars and returned it to pedestrians and cyclists. Brussels did not. Until the 1950s, however, no city in Belgium had better spatial planning than Brussels. Rigorous building regulations meant that a large majority of Brussels streets radiated architectural tranquillity and unity.
After that, things started to go wrong for Brussels. There were five-lane roads, right up to the historic center. Not a single Flemish city had to endure that. The result was an unprecedented urban exodus of the middle class, who began to commute en masse on a daily basis.
According to Torrekens, the catching up that Brussels is making now has mainly come from the Dutch-speakers of Brussels: they have put safe traffic and liveability back at the top of the Brussels agenda. And thanks to Flemish money, Brussels public transport is also functioning well.
That is why he says that all Flemish parties should take into account that a kind of ‘Brussels feeling’ has arisen among Dutch-speaking inhabitants of Brussels. Normally, the cultural (national) identity follows the political structure: the Flemish identity is the bearer of the Flemish Region. In Brussels, the opposite happens: twenty years after the creation of the Brussels Region, the Brussels identity follows.
Economy vs. ecology
The fact that it remains politically difficult to take decisions related to mobility in Brussels, and that the economy must continue to be weighed up against the ecology, is also shown by Mayor Philippe Close’s proposal to close the Ter Kamerenbos, a natural offshoot of the Sonian Forest, to car traffic during the summer and weekends even after the corona crisis.
Without being opposed in principle to this ‘attractive’ announcement, the Mayor of Uccle, Boris Dilliès (MR), asked that a decision on this matter be preceded by prior consultation with his municipality.
Brussels’ Central Park
Since 19 March, the Ter Kamerenbos/Bois de la Cambre has been closed to motor traffic. This closure will remain in force until the end of August. But now the socialist mayor wants to go one step further. “One can compare Bois de la Cambre to Central Park in New York. Central Park is closed to cars every weekend, so why not Brussels?” justified Philippe Close.
For Boris Dilliès, “it would be environmental and economic nonsense: on the one hand, the congestion on the nearby Waterloo Road would cause significant pollution and, on the other hand, this closure would discourage more and more customers from coming to Brussels to do their shopping, as is already the case on Saturdays.”
For the mayor of Uccle, the comparison with Central Park doesn’t hold up either. Four crossings connect the western and eastern districts of Manhattan, and the roads surrounding Central Park can accommodate the flow of cars, unlike the Waterloo Road, already a central connecting route with a lot of traffic jams and not very attractive cycle paths.
In the newspaper, La Derniere Heure, Dilliès says that he has been advocating for years that there should be at least a co-management of this the park and wood between the communes concerned and at best that the Region should take over its management with an accompanying committee made up of the mayors of the neighboring communes.
The Mayor said on Wednesday that he shared this request. He will propose to the Brussels Minister for Mobility, Elke Van den Brandt (Groen), to join him in this.