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In Car-Choked Brussels, the Pedestrians Are Winning

The Belgian capital is one of the most congested in Europe. But an ambitious suite of street makeovers is pushing traffic outside the central city.
A newly pedestrianized area of central Brussels in 2015. The city is now systematically banning cars from major boulevards.
A newly pedestrianized area of central Brussels in 2015. The city is now systematically banning cars from major boulevards.Eric Vidal/Reuters

Right now, there can be an almost eerie calm to some sections of central Brussels. Take an evening stroll down down Boulevard Anspach, the broad avenue that forms the Belgian capital’s spine, and you may find the roadway empty, its limestone and wrought-iron facades echoing the footsteps of a rare passer-by on the sidewalk.

This uncanny silence in the heart of a blaring metro area of 2.2 million residents—known as one of Europe’s most notoriously congested capitals—is no accident. Right now the Brussels Capital Region is slowly drawing towards completing one of the most ambitious pro-pedestrian makeovers yet seen this century. Carried out on a scale only Madrid can really compete with, Brussels is systematically banishing anything but emergency and delivery vehicles from a large network of streets and squares that are not just central, but axial.