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Antwerp city councillor asked to explain changes to intersection after tragic accident
Antwerp’s green party has asked for Koen Kennis (N-VA), city councillor of mobility, to be removed from his post following the death of two girls in a traffic accident in the city yesterday. Kennis had apparently rescinded a change to the intersection where the accident took place that was meant to make it safer.
On Tuesday morning, a nine-year-old girl and her toddler sister were hit by a lorry and killed on a pedestrian crossing in the Diamant neighbourhood, south of Central Station. The girls had a green light, and so did the lorry driver, who was turning left onto Lange Leemstraat from Sint-Vincentiusstraat.
The intersection had been flagged up before as being hazardous and was turned into a so-called conflict-free – also known as reduced-conflict – intersection in April. That means that no two road users have a green light at the same time. On conflict-free intersections, pedestrians have their own green light separate from the green light of traffic on the parallel street.
But the city council reverted the lights at the intersection back to the original system just last month. According to Kennis, this was to prevent ambulances from the nearby Sint-Vincentius Hospital from having to wait too long at the traffic light, he said. Because every user has their own light at conflict-free intersections, the wait for every user is of course a little longer.
On a conflict-free intersection, when a pedestrian light is green, no light is green for vehicular traffic ©Ivan Yohan/Shutterstock
Kennis admitted that the situation with the hospital was his assessment as no conversation with the hospital took place. The hospital confirms that they did not request the conflict-free traffic light system to revert back and that they had experienced no problems with it.
According to the Groen fraction leader in Antwerp’s city council, Kennis is lying about why the intersection was changed back to the original system and should resign or be fired. Kennis held a press conference yesterday but did not mention anything about the request to resign.
In any case, the Flemish region’s mobility minister announced last month that intersections in the region were steadily being adapted to being conflict-free. This kind of traffic light system not only benefits cyclists and pedestrians, notes lorry driver Caroline Baugniet. It is difficult for drivers of large vehicles to manoeuvre around city centres, she told VRT, but they cannot avoid it when carrying out their jobs.
The driver of the lorry that was involved in the accident in Antwerp yesterday had to be hospitalised after going into shock. “Every driver does their best,” Baugniet said. “But it’s impossible to see everything happening around you in a city centre.”
Photo top: Area residents in Antwerp gathered and left flowers at the intersection where two girls lost their lives on Tuesday
©Jonas Van Boxel/BELGA