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Belgium needs 'decisive measures' to make cities more liveable post-coronavirus

06:01 12/05/2020

Thousands of premature deaths from air pollution could be avoided if Belgium gives proper thought to the post-coronavirus future of its towns and cities, experts have said in an open letter jointly published today by The Bulletin, Le Soir and De Standaard.

The letter is addressed to the national security council and the expert committee advising on Belgium's "exit strategy" and is signed by almost 100 doctors, scientists, academics, environmental campaigners and town planners.

It warns against a "reckless restart" of our old, polluting ways - and argues that Belgium's exit from the coronavirus shutdown cannot be planned without studying the long-term impact on public space and how we get around.

When prime minister Sophie Wilmès announced the phased plan at the end of April to reopen shops, businesses and schools, she encouraged people to avoid taking public transport.

"It is not desirable for our streets to be dominated by cars again," reads today's open letter, which warns of a "downward spiral if the car is now presented as the safest means of transport in the coronavirus era".

"The pictures of traffic congestion after the easing of restrictions in Chinese cities are a first indication of what will happen if we do not take decisive measures to discourage car use," the letter reads.

The experts recommend increasing the capacity of safe cycling and walking paths, more "living streets" where pedestrians have priority over motor vehicles and a renewed focus on developing neighbourhood facilities within local communities so that people do not need to travel far for shops and services.

"In recent weeks it has become clear that in densely populated neighbourhoods there is a lack of space for physical distancing. Local measures are taken here and there, but a national roadmap is lacking."

The full letter can be found here.