Belgian experts warn: ‘traffic meltdown waiting to happen’
A number of Belgian experts have published an opinion article in the newspaper De Standaard criticizing the lack of attention for mobility in post-corona relaunch plans. They feel that the exit lockdown measures don’t take into account the limitations and opportunities of infrastructure and public space. They also warn for a mobility disaster.
The article was signed, among others, by the current and former government architects of the three Belgian Regions, doctors, scientists, academics, and organizations. They ask how it is possible to plan an economic relaunch without taking into account the mobility needs of people and goods transport and providing alternatives to car usage. Congestion in post-corona China is a sign of what is going to happen here, they feel.
Health and economy
The opinion article asks how a government can counter the coronavirus, without taking into account the dangers of air pollution. That causes 500 000 premature deaths in Europe every year, of which 9 300 in Belgium.
Mobility plays a substantial role in excessive particle count and nitrogen oxide values. Especially painful, when you consider air pollution could be a catalyst for death by the coronavirus.
5,5 million movements in Brussels
Mobility is intertwined with the economy, so an efficient relaunch demands that companies and shops are easily accessible. Brussels has, on average, 5,5 million mobility movements a day. 35% of those are done by public transport.
A government asking people to avoid public transport, is asking for a total traffic meltdown, say the contributors to the article. Moreover, it all but improves traffic safety, already an issue in Belgium.
A good exit plan should also rely on the expertise of mobility experts and city planners, say the authors. They offer their help and some recommendations to the National Security Council. The first is to stimulate active mobility, such as walking or cycling. It has a positive influence on health, and it eases pressure on public transport, which also has to be made more efficient.
As a second recommendation, they ask for a new approach to public space and public transport. The 1,5-meter rule should be included in guidelines, so it can be made possible in more places.
Cycling and walking paths
The capacity for cycling and walking paths should also be expanded. Cities should take measures to stimulate the use of bicycles and walking and avoid car usage, also by stimulating the local economy. Ditching more roadside parking spaces creates room to apply the 1,5-meter rule.
“Many decisions that are part of the exit strategy have a spatial impact on our living environment. Covid-19 upsets existing balances, causing people to behave and move differently. This paradigm shift deserves a quick and decisive spatial direction that avoids chaos and gives the economy and society every opportunity to restart,” conclude the authors.