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How Plans to Pedestrianize Brussels May Actually Encourage Driving

The city's car-free zone, as it is currently designed, will only displace traffic, not reduce it.  
Boulevard Anspach in Brussels, where the pedestrian zone will be laid out.
Boulevard Anspach in Brussels, where the pedestrian zone will be laid out. Michael Costa/Flickr

When Brussels announced plans to pedestrianize a big chunk of its downtown last year, many people were thrilled. Beset with congestion problems, Belgium's capital can sometimes be a grimy, gridlocked mess. Supporters hoped that booting cars off the city's main boulevard axis could make the urban center a greener, cleaner, and more pleasant place to be. Fast-forward a year, however, and the plans have proven far more controversial than expected. The most vocal critics are not just car lobbyists and local businesses, but also pedestrian and cycling advocates. That's because these plans raise a question all pedestrianization must grapple with: It's all very well clearing cars off a few streets, but what happens in the city outside the designated zone?

Brussels' answer is disappointing. In fact, it sounds like it came from another decade entirely. The new pedestrian zone may double the center's car-free area, but as this image shows, it will be bounded by a circular road system that critics say will be a "mini ring", an inner alternative to the already snarled, poorly-planned beltway around the city center. As Brussels city blogger Laurent Vermeersch notes, the plan could transform "quiet residential streets into busy roads with two lanes of traffic in one direction." Vermeersch cites a local environmental organization's disapproval. "It will be a pedestrian area for car drivers," the organization said.