Brussels’ new pedestrian centre – first impressions

Brussels pedestrianised its centre on Monday 29th of June 2015. The area covers 50 hectares and is one of the biggest in Europe. It’s a big and positive change in a city which is known for terrible traffic and car-focused city planning.

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Place de Brouckere before the pedestrian area. Picture by the city of Brussels.

The new arrangements will be tested for 8 months, during which the city monitors the traffic and evaluates feedback from users. Works to transform the infrastructure will begin in 2016 and should be finished by 2020.

Here are some of my first impressions of the new pedestrian centre:

Before, pedestrians were squeezed onto narrow pavements and the traffic noise made the area very unpleasant for hanging out. Basically, Boulevard Anspach was used for going quickly from shop to shop, and it was not a nice place to spend time in.

Now, people are out on the streets: There is space for adults and kids to hang out, to play, to spend time outside. You see happy faces wherever you go, and people seem to be enjoying themselves.

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People enjoying a warm day outside in the new pedestrian zone in the centre of Brussels

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As people now have more space to move and hang around, the shops in the are will probably see their number of customers go up as a result.

The area is also great for restaurants, which can now spread out onto the street and create outside eating areas. I can also imagine moving food vans and other vendors being interested in offering their services for people in the new area.

I already saw some new businesses renting roller blades and badminton equipment, and I am sure many more business ideas will follow suite.

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People watching men playing chess on the street

The website dedicated to the new pedestrian area mentions that the needs of everyone – pedestrians, cyclists and public transport and car users – will be taken into account. As for cyclists, it mentions new cycle lanes in the city. It is nice to see that this has indeed been done, for the moment in the form of new bike-friendly markings on many roads around the pedestrian area.

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However, at this stage, there are no specific arrangements for cyclists in the pedestrianised area. Pedestrians and cyclists have to share the same space, which is not necessarily the safest or the most convenient option for either group.

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Cyclist trying to pass through the new pedestrian area.

It is important that both pedestrians and cyclists can move in the new area without obstacles, and the new planned infrastructure should reflect this in practice.

Also, it is a shame that no immediate action has been taken to transform the newly pedestriansed areas to suit their new use. Roads have basically been closed off from car traffic, but the streets still look the same. There are some sitting areas and flowerbeds, but apart from that the space is not very inviting.

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As for car traffic, it is still too early to say what the impacts of the changed arrangements will be. The beginning of summer may also have an impact, as some people are on holidays and traffic tends to decrease during this time of the year. On the other hand, big road works in other parts of Brussels may create more traffic problems in the city. It remains to be seen which routes people will start using in the long term.

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The city is asking for feedback from people, and I invite you to give your views and thoughts on the matter as well, so that the new pedestrian zone can be made a real attraction for Brussels and a lovely place for all its residents.

More information on the plans can be found here: City of Brussels: Plan de circulation

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