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‎Schaerbeek leads the way with a plan for low-traffic neighbourhoods ‎

General view from a building shows the General Meiser square in Schaerbeek - Schaarbeek municipality, Brussels, with traffic and public transport. (BELGA PHOTO BAS BOGAERTS)
06:50 26/01/2022

Schaerbeek is the first Brussels municipality to present its plan for a low-traffic district. In the course of 2022, the plan will be put in place in line with the regional mobility plan, Good Move.

Good Move aims to make Brussels neighbourhoods car-free by banning transit traffic. To achieve this, traffic plans are introduced, routes around the district which ensure that it becomes impossible for drivers to take shortcuts through the designated car-free neighbourhoods. Six Brussels districts will see concrete changes in their streetscape this year, with others to follow, until finally the entire territory of the region has been tackled.

One of those six districts – or loopholes, in Good Move jargon – is the Colignon-Josaphat district in the heart of Schaerbeek which will be redesigned as a car-free neighbourhood. Surrounded by the main roads of Boulevard Lambermont, Avenue Rogier, Rue des Palais, Rue François-Joseph Navez and Rue Stephenson, the area is often used as a cut-through by cars seeking to avoid the congestion that often occurs in the area.

Schaerbeek is the second largest municipality in the region and receives 100,000 commuters every day from the motorways coming from Liège and Antwerp. About half of the 131,000 residents of Schaerbeek do not have a car themselves. 45% of motorists in the district are transit traffic, those who pass through and do not stop to visit friends, family or local businesses in Schaerbeek.

"As a result of this transit traffic, the quality of life of the Schaerbeek districts is affected," said mayor Cécile Jodogne at the presentation of the plans in the Schaerbeek town hall last week. "As a result, people flee the city, and then return as a commuter in a car to contribute to the nuisance themselves."

In order to take into account, the specific characteristics of the districts and to be able to plan better through consultation with the neighbourhoods themselves, the municipality has decided to divide this large area into three districts: Azalées, Royale Sainte-Marie and Cage aux Ours. This made it possible to draw up better circulation plans, and to enter into dialogue with the local residents who had complained about too much through traffic, and too little space for cyclists and inadequate public transport.

After these consultations, the municipality, together with traffic experts, the police, the emergency services and mobility associations, analysed all the comments, proposals and questions from residents.

In the Azalées district, part of the redevelopment is finished. The Avenue des Azalées and adjacent streets have been one-way for about a year, creating a traffic loop and preventing transit traffic entering the neighbourhood from the motorway via Meiser. In a second phase, from May 2022, the Avenue Ernest Cambier will become one-way from Meiser towards Chazal. There will also be a new cycle path in each direction.

A traffic loop will also be created in the Royal Sainte-Marie district from the autumn of 2022. The Chaussée de Haecht will be one-way traffic from Place de la Reine to Rue Rubens. The parallel Rue Royale Sainte-Marie will also be a one-way street from Rue Rubens to Place de la Reine, towards the centre, and will have a cycle path on both sides of the road. Avenue Rogier retains traffic in both directions, with a redesign of the Coteaux tram stops and the road there. It is hoped that the area around the Royale Sainte Marie church, now a very busy traffic intersection, will become a pleasant square as a result.

Finally, in the Cage aux Ours district, transit traffic between Van Praet and Gare du Nord will be diverted away from the residential neighbourhoods. "In this district, a number of squares are being made more pleasant, with the solution of allowing car traffic to loop round the neighbourhoods," said Adelheid Byttebier, alderman for mobility.

From the autumn of 2022, Place Stephenson will be made a green space, and Rue Stephenson on both sides of the square will be one-way traffic in the direction of the square. Traffic filters will be installed around all squares in the district. The Avenue Maréchal Foch and the Avenue Princesse Elisabeth will become one-way traffic towards Place Eugène Verboekhoven (the Cage aux Ours). The Rue Vanderlinden will remain only accessible to residents of the street.

In streets like this, cameras will be used to check licence plates and drivers entering the area without permission will be subjected to fines. How high the fines for non-residents will be as yet to be decided.

"By the end of 2023, the Good Move plan in Schaerbeek will be a reality," says ‎alderman of public works Vincent Vanhalewyn‎. "It will be the fruit of a collaboration between experts and stakeholders. Will there be legitimate grievances? I’m sure but we will certainly listen to those. If it is really necessary, we can also adjust things. It may not be perfect right away."

"The new situation should guarantee a better balance between modes of transport and better distribution of public space," says Mayor Jodogne. "There will be consequences for everyone's mode of movement. In this way, the people of Schaerbeek together contribute to the creation of a municipality that is pleasant for everyone, the Schaerbeek of tomorrow. The current plan is supported by the entire college."

"Anyone who thinks of Schaerbeek today associates the municipality with Parc Josaphat," Adelheid Byttebier added. "We want people to associate the municipality with quality of life in the future, also outside the park."

In February, online presentations will follow for the residents of the three sub-districts, in which the local situation is explained in detail and residents can present their views. All residents of the municipality will soon receive a leaflet in the post which explains the plan.

Written by Nick Amies