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Car Free Sunday success: are more to come?
Brussels celebrated another successful Car Free Sunday over the weekend, and the city’s mobility minister is calling for more such days.
Elke Van den Brandt (Groen) said car-free days are important for people in the Belgian capital and that feelings around the occasion need to change.
“We need to be able to enjoy the city in a different way,” Van den Brandt said. “In Brussels, a lot of space is reserved for cars, whether in the traffic lane or the parking lane. If we all become more multimodal, we'll gain more space.”
Comparing Brussels to a flat or home, Van den Brandt added: "The most important room is not the corridor, but the living room. Our city is currently organised like a corridor to let cars through.
"It needs to be organised like a living room, so that people can walk around and meet in public spaces. That's the aim of our mobility plan."
But in order to arrange a car-free day, all 19 Brussels municipalities must be involved, making it a challenge.
There is also a cost to consider: €446,000 for free Stib services, €300,000 for road closures and €30,000 for support to local authorities, bringing the total cost to an estimated €776,000.
“If we have a much more organised system and not just a single day once a year, this is bound to reduce costs,” Van Den Brandt said.
“Above all, the gains for Brussels are there: we gain economically. There is a lot to be gained from these days.”
The hospitality sector would agree, with many establishments that are normally closed on Sundays opening their doors to welcome an influx in customers.
“It creates a neighbourhood synergy, and it works,” said Ludivine de Magnanville, president of the Brussels Catering Federation.
King Philippe and Prince Gabriel cycled through the streets of Antwerp to mark the occasion in Antwerp, which is called "Antwerpen Shift" in reference to the changes people make in their transportation mode, opting for bikes, scooters, public transit or their own two feet.
In Brussels, an attempt from cycling organisations GRACQ and Fietsersbond to complete the longest cycling chain in the world (between Brussels, Hal and Tubize) failed despite the participation of 500 cyclists and a simultaneous start in the three towns.
The chain could not be completed over the 22km required to beat the record, but the organisations involved said it was nonetheless a good chance to point out the efforts that still need to be made to improve cycling in major cities, especially in terms of safety.
The route, which linked the country's three regions, was intended to convey a national message and call for greater attention to be paid to cycling in each of the three regions.
The car-free occasion is not celebrated in Wallonia as it is in Flanders and Brussels, in part due to scheduling issues and partly because, as one expert said, the average levels of car congestion and associated mobility problems are lower in the French-speaking region.
While the car-free day always attracts a lot of participation and enthusiasm, it is not the only mobility effort aimed at reducing reliance on vehicles and thereby improving air quality and public health outcomes – a goal Van den Brandt says is slowly being met in the capital.
“Walking is now the preferred mode of transport over the car in Brussels, while the number of cyclists has tripled,” said Van den Brandt.
"This modal shift in Brussels has not been achieved by discouraging car use, but by encouraging alternatives.
"True freedom is not about being dependent on the car or a particular mode of transport. Real freedom is choice. Multimodality is the future."