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Brussels' mobility plan Good Move faces strong opposition including threats of violence

06:46 22/09/2022

Brussels' attempt to introduce low-traffic neighbourhoods to combat high levels of air pollution and congestion is facing strong opposition in some parts of the city, particularly from motorists who are unhappy about restrictions being placed on car traffic.

A recent council meeting in Anderlecht became disorderly when protestors interrupted with shouting, yelling and chanting. One man even made threats of violence against the municipal councillor for mobility as she was speaking.

Susanne Mueller-Huebsch said that while she received many messages of support following the threats, her children were especially alarmed after having seen the video and expressed worry.

“There are also many women who have noted how the members of the local council do not address me in the same way as the mayor, for example, whom they continue to call Monsieur,” Mueller-Huebsch said.

The meeting atmosphere became so tense that the council session was adjourned without having voted on the key issues at hand.

A criticism of the test-phase of the plan was that it lacked the appropriate consultation and communication before implementation.

Still, Mueller-Huebsch said she does not intend to back down from the plan, saying “we do not intend to give in to threats”.

Discussions with opponents of the 'Good Move' mobility plan, such as the "No to the Good Move Plan" collective, are expected to take place during the week.

Opposition to Good Move is not only coming from motorists in the city. Opposition parties MR and PTB also attacked the plan on behalf of constituents.

“Are you that out of touch with reality? It's not possible,” said PTB group leader Giovanni Bordonaro.

“What more is needed for you to understand that the residents do not want this plan for a thousand perfectly good reasons. What more is needed to make you listen to these people?”

MR group leader Gaëtan Van Goidsenhoven said: "We are witnessing a historic failure, because the population, regardless of its political opinions, has reached out to us, not only on the issue of mobility, but on everything else.”

Olivier Luminet, professor of health psychology at UCLouvain, and Claire Pelgrims, post-doctoral professor specialising in urban planning and mobility at ULB, spoke to RTBF about the division sparked by the new mobility plan.

Pelgrims pointed out that an evolution of public spaces is taking place all over Europe, not only in Belgium, as people look to reduce or eliminate the harmful effects of vehicular traffic, such as pollution, energy consumption, traffic jams, and deaths and injuries as a result of accidents.

Luminet said that changes must be presented with care “because if presented too abruptly, it suddenly gives rise to very emotional reactions".

“This is called polarisation: people who were not too much in favour of these changes suddenly become total opponents of this kind of change and they become radicalised,” Luminet said.

“Politicians have to accept that sometimes it takes a bit longer. It is a natural psychological process. What should be better highlighted, for example, is the direct impact on health. I think we need to show in scientific studies that with changes in the traffic plan, speed limits and fewer vehicles, the impact on air quality, and therefore on people's health.”

Luminet emphasised that the benefits to the mobility plan must be better communicated to those who at present oppose it, especially the more emotional ones such as the men who interrupted the council meeting by shouting or making threats of violence.

“People will be ready to make an effort,” Luminet said, “if they realise, for example, that the percentage of respiratory infections will decrease or if they realise that life expectancy will increase by living in Brussels in a less polluted environment.”

In the meantime, the blocks and barriers initially put down on roads as part of the Good Move plan in Anderlecht are being removed.

While mayor Fabrice Cumps explained that this was “for the sake of safety on the public highway”, he added that the death threats, outbursts and verbal aggression were precursors to the decision.

Written by Helen Lyons