The Belgian capital is known for its traffic chaos. But now Brussels has new plans to make the city more attractive to pedestrians. This not only helps against traffic jams but also benefits the climate.

At Place de la Bourse in Brussels city center, tourists and commuters meander around barriers and paving stones. Construction work for climate protection.

The change has already taken place a few blocks north. What was once a busy boulevard is now a car-free zone – only for pedestrians, cyclists and scooters. Cafes use widened sidewalks to entertain their guests outdoors. 

The redevelopment of the area into an eco-zone started in 2017 and, if the weather is good, will be completed by the end of this year.

The city, in which the European ” Green Deal ” was presented to the public in December, wants to become more climate-friendly even with a new transport concept. 

Climate-neutral cities

The “Green Deal” promises that the EU will become climate neutral by 2050 by investing in green technologies and businesses and by reducing emissions.

Transport is currently responsible for a quarter of EU greenhouse gas emissions. And unlike electricity generation, which is now becoming ever cleaner, traffic continues to exacerbate the climate.

Pedestrians and bus traffic on Place Rogier in BrusselsBrussels should be made more attractive for pedestrians

“Cities in Europe should be” climate neutral and intelligent ”in the future. But that is hard to imagine, especially for Brussels. 

The city suffocates in traffic. Traffic jams and smog are part of everyday life.

Less than a third of all trips are made by public transport, and far more people take the car.

In 2018, the European Commission warned the Belgians that the city of Brussels had failed to take adequate action against air pollution.

Prepared for a car-free age

But the “capital of Europe” is getting ready. “Brussels Mobility”, in consultation with the city administration and citizens, has developed a ten-year plan, the ” Good Move Plan “, which aims to reduce the use of cars by 25 percent For this purpose, new tram and subway lines are to be built, cycling and running are to be made easier.

Driving should become less attractive. From 2021, the plan provides for a speed limit of 30 kilometers per hour in the Brussels area. In addition, the city will cut 65,000 parking spaces within the next ten years and by 2015 all buses in the city should run on electric power.

Brussels Rue Belliard June 2013The city center of Brussels often sinks in a traffic jam

But there is also criticism. A report by the regional NGO Inter-Environnement Bruxelles (IEB) criticizes that the plan gives the private sector too many opportunities, such as car-sharing providers and e-scooter rental companies – as a replacement for private cars. In addition, the plan gives no information about funding.

Relocation of the problem

IEB has the most questions regarding the idea of ​​directing traffic over a ring road around the city – outside of the environmental zones.

The Flanders region, which is responsible for the motorway ring, also plans to expand the route. However, this contradicts the plans for Brussels.

“It is obvious that Brussels is opposed to the expansion of the motorway,” says Alain Maron, Environment Minister for the Brussels Region of DW. “At a time when the effects of climate change are more obvious than ever, highways don’t make sense to expand further. ”

Streets for pedestrians

“Traffic jams are not a problem that we should solve. They are only symptoms that things are going wrong,” said Dirk Dufour, manager of TRIDEE, a consultancy for sustainable mobility, DW.

“It’s just a question of having too many cars in the same place at the same time. The only way out is to move to other modes of transport. This change can only work if we redistribute public space and the streets.”

37% of Brussels residents walk most of their way. Inge Paemen, spokeswoman for “Brussels Mobility”, says that this is possible above all because everything is close to each other in the city center.

“The problem is, however, that it’s almost like an obstacle course when you walk through the city,” says DW. Pedestrians would have to dodge cars that park on sidewalks. In addition, the sidewalks are bad and many paths are blocked by private one’s construction projects.

Cars line up in BrusselsEvening traffic in the Brussels European Quarter

Removing such obstacles and devoting 40% of public space to pedestrians were part of a plan in 2012 to make walking “easier, more enjoyable, safer and more efficient” and to make the city “close to people” “.

Almost eight years later, Maron admits that the city still has a long way to go. A study from last October found that the topic is highly explosive for Brussels. 75 percent of the residents want larger and accessible sidewalks and almost 80 percent were open to alternatives to their own car.

Public participation

Maron says he is confident that, unlike the 2012 plan, citizen participation will help enforce the Good Move Plan.

The Brussels Environment Minister also said that the “unprecedented level of public participation” and government-public coordination has already simplified the planning process.

The EU plans to publish its own proposals later this year to make “affordable, accessible, healthier and cleaner transport options” for Europe. Among other things, it will make running and cycling more attractive.

When Commission President Ursula von der Leyen introduced the EU “Green Deal” in December, she said, “European citizens are changing their lifestyle to protect the climate and the planet”.

However, in all initiatives that are currently being launched at the European and local levels, the success of climate-neutral cities depends on the extent to which citizens are willing to participate and to move in an environmentally friendly manner.


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