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Planned redevelopment of Avenue Louis Bertrand encounters resistance

Avenue Louis Bertrand, in Schaerbeek, Brussels – looking towards the Vase des Bacchanales  and the church of  Saint-Servais (Wikipedia Creative Commons / Michel Wal)
06:11 10/06/2021

Plans announced by the municipality of Schaerbeek to redevelop the stately Avenue Louis Bertrand are facing fierce criticism over the "sub-standard" proposal which a local pressure group claims gives just as much space to traffic as the area has now.

The redevelopment of a 600-metre-long section of the avenue, between Chaussée de Haecht and the Avenue Voltaire, was first proposed in 2016 but the original plans were subjected to recommendations from the Royal Commission into Monuments and Landscapes and were amended in line with these comments. However, the new plan announced in May – which forecasts the completion of the rebuild by 2023 – looks very much like the previous one, which has caused anger amongst residents.

Action group 1030/0 says the actual layout of the avenue will not be changed and the traffic situation will be very similar to the current one.

"The plans of the municipality do not help to restore the avenue to its former grandeur,” a spokesperson for 1030/0 said. “The car still gets as much space as before. For pedestrians, the crossings remain dangerous. Cyclists have to make do with the crumbs of space and some paint - here a cycle path, there a cycling suggestion strip."

1030/0 proposes an alternative: "We propose to remove the parking strips on the promenade on the middle lane along the entire length of the avenue,” the spokesperson added. “This makes way for a double cycle path on both sides. The actual road becomes narrower, so that speeds are automatically lower. We also propose the closure of several crossroads, so that the pedestrian can walk unhindered along the central section."

Vincent Vanhalewyn, councillor responsible for public works, agreed that the avenue will not look fundamentally different. He referred to the requirements of the Royal Commission for Monuments and Landscapes, which expects an identical perspective on the avenue. Asked why the four rows of parking spaces will be retained, he said there was "no political consensus to remove half the parking on the avenue".

"However, the sidewalks and the central verge will be at the same height as the parking spaces next to them, separated from the road surface by a kerb,” he added. “This will allow us, for example, to easily organise a flea market on that middle lane. And if another majority decides otherwise in the future on the fate of those parking spaces, that will be easy and can be changed without great cost."

The most eye-catching planned change is the felling of 108 trees along the central reservation of the avenue. They will be replaced by new trees, mainly white alder, maples and amber trees. This part of the plan immediately caused a stir in the neighbourhood and a petition to stop the felling of the trees has already been launched.

"I understand that this is a sensitive issue," Vanhalewyn responded. "But those trees were planted there in the 1960s and 1970s because they were cheap at the time. But they can easily grow to 30 metres in height and therefore need to be pruned annually. The new trees will be up 10 to 11 metres high. As a result, their tree canopy will be able to develop much better, which is better for biodiversity and CO2 absorption."

In addition to the trees, 1,400m² of green space will also disappear within the redevelopment of 39,000m². Part of the green space at the start of the avenue is expected to be replaced by a sidewalk and cycle path.

The public inquiry into the project proposed by the council will end tomorrow. Based on the comments and advice of the public administrations, the consultation committee will then determine whether the project can be licensed or needs to be adjusted.

"My administration and I have not yet spoken out about the project proposed by the municipality of Schaerbeek,” said state secretary Pascal Smet. “After the public inquiry, which is currently under way, we will, as always, do quality control.”

Written by Nick Amies