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The Battle for Brussels roads

The Battle for Brussels roads
By Meabh Mc Mahon
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It is one of the most congested capitals in Europe, and a new transport minister hopes to strike a balance between helping people get around and cutting carbon emissions.


It is rush hour in Brussels and everyone wants to get home fast. But as usual, it is a daily battle between cars and cyclists and nobody is going anywhere fast.

"Driving in Brussels is very complicated. You need to have a lot of time. You always know when you leave the house but never when you will arrive," says one driver.

Down the road, hundreds of avid cyclists prepare to bike around the city together. Known as 'Critical Mass' protesters, they meet once a month to highlight the challenges of cycling in Brussels.

"It is an adventure, it is full of tension," remarks Katia taking part in the Critical Mass protest.

The reality is, unlike nearby Antwerp and Ghent, Brussels is not a pleasant place for cyclists, motorists or pedestrians. Every day 100,000 company cars enter and exit the city meaning air pollution levels here are above the recommended European limit values.

With this in mind, Brussels has a plan. "We will ban all diesel cars by 2030 and all petrol cars by 2035," says Elke van den Brandt, Brussels new energetic transport minister who hopes to end the car culture in Brussels.

"For too long cars have been the most important way to get around Brussels and in Brussels," says van den Brandt.

She hopes to take on the issue of company cars.

"We hope to change the system as well, because paying people by giving them a car is not, of course, not improving the model shift," she explains.

But for Elke, it is easy. She tends to walk, bike or take the metro to work. She lives near her office. But for thousands of commuters coming to the capital every day, giving up their car is just not an option.

"I need my car," says one frustrated resident. "I do long journeys of more than one hour so in public transport it is too complicated, the car is obligatory for me."

Experts warn that if Belgium is to reach the 2030 climate goals set by the European Union, the country would have to radically reduce cars. But unless round the clock public transport is provided as well as an alternative to the company car tax incentive, the battle between the car and the bike will only get worse.

COP25 summit takes place in Madrid Dec 2-12 2019.

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