(Brussels) Place de la Bourse is bathed in light. A group of teenagers ride scooters. A couple sips coffee.
Not so long ago, this bustling esplanade was crossed by a large boulevard.
Today, it is reserved for pedestrians.
The picture is quite different from that described by politician Pascal Smet when he took up residence in Brussels more than 25 years ago.
“The facades were black. There were cars everywhere. It was a rather sad city,” says the Secretary of State for the Brussels-Capital Region responsible for Town Planning and Heritage.
But Brussels is changing.
The Brussels government recently adopted two ambitious plans which will radically reduce car use in the metropolis. And which will leave more room for cyclists, pedestrians and public transport.
The turn is not unanimous. But Brussels cannot do otherwise, argues Pascal Smet.
“We are the European capital. We must lead by example. Instead of being the “bad kid in the class”, we want to be the best student”, underlines the politician.
At the heart of this small revolution: the Good Move plan.
The new mobility bible came into effect in the summer in several areas of the capital.
The main axis of Good Move is to review the circulation in the neighborhoods in order to eliminate transit traffic. Motorists should therefore stay on the main roads. No more detours through the small streets.
The idea is to create less noisy and less polluted “peaceful neighbourhoods”, favorable to local and active mobility.
Following the same philosophy, the Brussels government approved in July the first version of the future regional planning regulations, called Good Living.
The plan provides that a maximum of 50% of the roads to be redeveloped will be allocated to cars. The rest will be reserved for active transportation and public transportation.
All streets will also have to benefit from cycling infrastructure. In addition, the demolition of buildings will become the exception: renovation will be preferred.
The objective of Good Move is to go back. Public space needs to be reclaimed.
Florine Cuignet, Brussels policy officer at the Daily Cyclists Research and Action Group
But the fight is not won in advance.
In terms of mobility, Brussels starts from afar.
After the Second World War, the capital was fitted out for the car.
“We gutted the city to make room for cars and tall towers,” laments Mme Cuignet.
With policies such as the “salary car” paid by the company and inexpensive parking (10 euros for the first annual resident card), intensive car use has been encouraged.
“People took the car to go to the baker 500 meters away”, illustrates Pascal Smet.
In his early days, the politician says “having taken a lot of beatings”. Many find him divisive – and his projects too.
But a change of mentality has taken place in recent years, he says.
When I arrived here, people were shouting at me to go back to Flanders with my bike. Today, they ask for cycle paths.
Pascal Smet, Secretary of State for Town Planning and Heritage
Nevertheless, the Good Move plan is shaking up habits. And creates frustration.
As soon as it is applied in a municipality, the new traffic pattern is contested.
In the Cureghem district, citizens completely dismantled the concrete blocks installed to limit traffic.
Faced with the discontent, the municipality of Anderlecht decided to backtrack and return to the drawing board.
“It was so poorly thought out that people in the neighborhood were prisoners. People are very angry because they have not been consulted, ”denounces Fouad El Abbouti, who lives in the area.
According to him, it is rather necessary to dissuade commuters who work in the capital from traveling by car, for example by imposing tolls or by adding incentive parking lots outside Brussels.
Mr. Smet, who developed Good Move when he was Secretary of State for Mobility, admits that the application of the plan has not been optimal.
“The neighborhoods have not always been well chosen. And the concrete blocks, people find it ugly, ”he agrees.
Could this dispute threaten the future of Good Move? Pascal Smet fears it.
Above all, it poses a crucial question. And which is difficult to answer.
“The faster and more radical the change, the more opposition it will arouse. Where is the happy medium? asks Florine Cuignet.
And at the same time, there is an urgent need to act, she believes. “Brussels needs it. »