A quarter less motorised traffic and more than a third more cyclists: that is the striking balance one year after the implementation of the new traffic circulation plan in the centre of Brussels.
On August 16, 2022, a new circulation plan was introduced in the Pentagon, a 4.6 km² area in the heart of Brussels, including its historic city centre. With the circulation plan, the City of Brussels wanted to make the area more accessible, more pleasant and safer for all modes of transport. Traffic congestion in Brussels City centre has been negatively impacting liveability for many years, causing air pollution, noise pollution, traffic safety and traffic jams, which also slow down public transport. Traffic analysis also showed that a third of the traffic in the Pentagon was transit traffic that is not destined for the Pentagon.
In response, the city introduced a range of measures, including zones with limited access and adjustments to driving directions or one-way traffic, in order to prevent transit traffic through the area. In addition, the new circulation plan, in alignment with new parking regulations, helps guide visitors to the Pentagon to the nearest car park using destination loops. The plan aimed to increase quality of life and safety, and encourage Brussels residents (and visitors) to leave their car and switch to cycling or public transport. The new circulation scheme was the local implementation of Good Move, the mobility plan of the Brussels-Capital Region.
One year after the implementation of the plan, the results are clearly visible. Traffic counts carried out in October 2021 before the introduction of the scheme, and afterwards in November 2022 and in June 2023, show a significant increase in the number of cyclists: no less than 36% since 2021, and 16% since November 2022. This increase cannot be entirely attributed to the introduction of the traffic plan however: an increase in bicycle use has been visible for several years, especially since COVID-19. Investments in cycling infrastructure, the introduction of 30 km/h zones, and high fuel costs also encourage cycling. The introduction of the traffic circulation plan further contributes to this.
While cycling has increased, motorised traffic has significantly decreased. In fact, between October 2021 and June 2023 motorised traffic decreased by an average of 27% across the area, and up to 30% within the Pentagon itself. A limited number of streets saw traffic increase however, especially access roads to and from the centre. This is not surprising, as the circulation plan concentrates traffic on a limited number of streets, while trying to reduce the total traffic pressure.
“The figures are better than expected, both in terms of the fall in transit traffic and in terms of the explosion in the number of cyclists,” says Brussels Alderman for Mobility, Bart Dhondt. “These figures confirm the feeling that many Brussels residents now have: that the centre is quieter and more pleasant, with neighbourhoods and catering industry that benefit from this. It is also very positive that these decreases often take place in streets where schools are located.”
Despite these results, the plan could not count on universal support beforehand. There was suspicion and resistance to the plans, especially among motorists and entrepreneurs. In other parts of the Brussels agglomeration, such as Schaarbeek and Anderlecht, public outcry about the traffic plans led to them being watered down or even completely abandoned. Each municipality in the Brussels agglomeration decides for itself about the way in which Good Move, is implemented.
“That resistance was also present in Brussels City, especially among shopkeepers and traders when the plans were just announced. But Brussels has escaped the difficult cocktail of corona after-effects, the energy crisis and the feeling that people have been 'robbed' of their cars.”
According to Dhondt, the fact that the plan was fully implemented in Brussels City has a lot to do with the preparation. “We took a lot of time to come up with the plan ourselves and even more time to make it the plan of the entire majority and not just the greens. That has paid off, because everyone has also remained behind it," says De Dhondt to VRT. The municipal council has also tried to listen to concerns and suggestions from residents and entrepreneurs as much as possible and adjusted the implementation of the plan.
Dhondt acknowledges that there is always room for improvement: “The work is not finished yet. We want to continue to find solutions where needed through dialogue and communication. For example, we will look at how we can help traders with loading and unloading, which they sometimes encounter problems with since Good Move.” In various streets where traffic has increased, mitigating measures are also being examined.
At the same time, it can be noted that some of the problems that were predicted did not develop. An often heard argument against the circulation plan is that it pushes car traffic to the already saturated Small Ring Road, causing a complete Brussels traffic jam. However, travel time on the Small Ring has remained virtually the same, even though through traffic is now directed along it, instead of through the residential areas. Data from GPS providers available to the city also demonstrates this. In the beginning there was also a lot of resistance to the pedestrian zone in the Anspachlaan, but “now people are generally very satisfied with the situation”, said Dhondt.
“Our goal was more pleasant, attractive and safer streets, with mobility as a lever to achieve this. We are succeeding in our goal, the modal shift is going fast,” stated Dhondt. Whether this translates into better quality of life indicators will become apparent later this year, when the results of a study will examine the consequences of Good Move on air quality, noise nuisance and a series of socio-economic indicators.
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