Sunday

24th Mar 2019

Opinion

Brussels: From a city for cars to a city for people

  • Brussels' De Bouckere square after it was closed to traffic in June 2015. (Photo: Miguel Discart)

There were three open letters in the past couple of weeks by residents of Brussels saying enough is enough, that things aren’t going well, asking why one would wish to continue living in this city. 

First, a group of doctors and health organisations rightly expressed their concerns about poor air quality.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Second came expat Gareth Harding, who [in an EUobserver article] is irritated by the longstanding and messy building sites in Brussels - a disgrace to a city that refers to itself as the capital of Europe.

Third, Celia Ledoux, a writer and a big fan of the city for many years, has fallen out of love with it, because too many promises remain unfulfilled.

All three letters should be taken seriously, because they are written by people who are not the moaning type. On the contrary, these are people who are genuinely concerned about Brussels and who mean well. 

Cars ruled the roads

People are right in saying it's not utopian to want clean air, beautiful squares, safe streets, and more green areas. People are also frustrated because they have the feeling that Brussels is a city with (too) many politicians, few of whom actually take responsibility. 

It is clear that a city with a regional government, 19 communes, in a federal country such as Belgium, is a priori complex.

But Brussels also suffers from the fact that cars, for many decades, have ruled the roads. There are hellish traffic jams everyday, congested tunnels, and bad air.   

But allow me to be optimistic. As a politician in this city it is my moral duty. Bear with me before calling me naive. I am noticing change, something new is happening. 

There is a new generation of Bruxellois - including those who have written these letters - people with a heart for the city who want to make it a better place, more enjoyable for its residents. They want more space for cyclists, parks, pedestrian zones, and safe play areas for their kids.

They are right.

A number of basic issues must be tackled elsewhere, such as: federal subsidies for the company cars used by the 250,000 people who enter and leave the city every day, most of them driving in on their own; a tax regime that stimulates living in rural areas; or tackling the cuts in public transport just outside Brussels.

New public areas

But we shouldn’t hide and point the finger. There is much to do at the local level as well. Concrete cancers that divide neighbourhoods and give priority to cars must disappear. 

Recent actions such as demolishing the Reyers viaduct and making parts of the city centre car-free are, as far as I'm concerned, just the starting point of a broader move which is aimed at giving the city back to its people. 

The aim should be to invest in new public areas. Other projects are in the pipeline: there will be new a park at the Porte de Ninove, another one near Tour & Taxis, and pedestrian squares in Jette and Woluwe-Saint-Pierre.

But we have more ambitious goals: in the next 10 years  we will invest more than €5 billion in extra subways, more tramlines and eco-friendly buses that will provide a better service. 

From next year on, families will also benefit from a reduction on their children’s season tickets, as an incentive to use public transport. 

Very soon Gareth Harding will receive an invitation for the opening of the refurbished Schuman and Arts-Loi metro stations, because these projects have been speeded up and are now close to being (finally) concluded.

'I hope Gareth will be proud'

Furthermore, we will provide for some extra 80 (!) kilometers of new cycling lanes, including around the inner city ring where parking will have to give way to new space for trees, cyclists, and pedestrians. 

And, last but not least, this government aims to come up with an ambitious green taxing system by next year. These are not vague promises, but real projects that will materialise in the years to come.

We have started to move in the direction of a new, attractive and more enjoyable Brussels and I truly believe that we will continue to make things better.  

I hope that Celia will fall in love with Brussels again, that Gareth can be proud of his host city, and that we can let our children play outdoors without having to be worried. 

As the Danish architect Jan Gehl so clearly said: We should go from a city for cars to a city for people.

Pascal Smet is minister for mobility and public work in the Brussels-Capital regional government

Macron is confusing rigidity with strength

Jan Zahradil, EU Commission president Spitzenkandidat for the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, responds to Emmaneul Macron's European vision ahead of the May elections.

A compromise proposal for the Article 50 extension

At this week's summit, EU leaders should extend Article 50 until the May European elections. But they should postpone the effective date of the UK's withdrawal from EU rights, rules, and regulations for another year - to May 2020.

Catalan independence trial is widening Spain's divides

What is really needed is not the theatre of a rebellion trial, but a forensic examination of whether public funds were misused, and a process of dialogue and negotiation on how the Catalan peoples' right to self-determination can be satisfied.

My plan for defending rule of law in EU

EPP leader and prospective next EU Commission president Manfred Weber spells out his plan for dealing with recalcitrant EU member states - ahead of Wednesday's EPP meeting on the vexed issue of Hungary's Viktor Orban and Fidesz.

News in Brief

  1. EU leaders at summit demand more effort on disinformation
  2. Report: Corbyn to meet May on Monday for Brexit talks
  3. Petition against Brexit attracts 2.4m signatures
  4. Study: Brexit to cost EU citizens up to €40bn annually
  5. NGOs demand France halt Saudi arm sales
  6. Report: Germany against EU net-zero emissions target
  7. Former top EU official takes job at law firm
  8. Draft text of EU summit has Brexit extension until 22 May

Italy should capitalise on Brexit

Now that the UK is leaving, Italy can, and should, step up. It is the third largest country and economy in the EU. Spain and Poland follow, but they are significantly smaller economically and population-wise.

The Magnitsky Act - and its name

It is disappointing that so many MEPs in the Socialist and Green group caved in to Russian interests, in fear of challenging a plutocratic regime, by saying 'no' to naming the Magnitsky legislation by its rightful name: Magnitsky.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  2. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean
  3. Copyright and (another) new Brexit vote This WEEK
  4. EU avoids Brexit crash, sets new date for 12 April
  5. Campaigning commissioners blur the lines
  6. Slovakia puts squeeze on free press ahead of election
  7. EPP suspends Orban's Fidesz party
  8. Macron is confusing rigidity with strength

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us