Flanders 'future proofing' Ring road around Brussels, but leaves region in the dark

Flanders 'future proofing' Ring road around Brussels, but leaves region in the dark
Visualisation for plans on the eastern part of the Ring Road. Credit: Werken aan de ring

The Flemish Government is looking to "future-proof" the Ring road around Brussels to improve the lives of commuters travelling to and from the Capital Region and of those living near the border. But what does this mean in practice, and to what extent has it involved Brussels?

The Ring road (RO) passes through all regions in Belgium, circling around in Braine-l'Alleud in Wallonia in the south and passing through the Brussels municipality of Anderlecht in the west. But the majority of the Ring is in Flanders, whose regional government is now assessing the future of the route.

"We are investing in better traffic flow, road safety, green spaces and ecological connections, as well as more opportunities for sustainable travel by creating new public transport connections and cycle highways," Flemish Mobility Minister Lydia Peeters said in a statement on Friday.

Smoother traffic flow

As part of the project, the entrance and exit ramps of the ring road have already been redesigned; bicycle highways and bicycle bridges are also key in making the route more accessible for greener modes of transport.

The proposed designs for the next stages of the Ring renovations will focus on optimal use of space and ensuring the smooth passage of traffic.

In concrete terms, the Ring road will be given a parallel structure in the Zaventem zone in the northeast, where traffic travelling through will be separated from local traffic. In the Wemmel zone in the northwest of Brussels, where the Ring is smaller, the flow will be "optimised" through an additional lane.

Brussels not consulted

However, from the Brussels side, this decision is contested by Arnaud Verstraete, a Green Party member in the Brussels Parliament, and the region's Mobility minister, Elke Van den Brandt, who both said discussions between Flanders and Brussels regarding the plans were expected to resume following the recess, and that they were not made aware of Peeters' decision to announce the plans.

"We are, of course, in favour of more bicycle and tram connections to Brussels, but increasing the number of lane sections on the Ring Road is not something we are in favour of, as it will create extra car traffic and in time will cause the situation to gridlock again," Van den Brandt said in a statement to The Brussels Times.

Verstraete agreed, stating that previous scientific research carried out showed that the creation of additional lanes would instead create more traffic jams, and in turn more pollution: the opposite of the aim of the project.

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He added that the Flemish side refuses to discuss tackling the real issue at the root of current traffic jams on the Ring road, which is that more and more people are driving cars on this route.

According to Verstraete, a so-called "smart kilometre charge" for regular cars, as is in place for lorries and sees drivers pay based on the distance they cover, would see more people turn to public transport. In that case, only people who really have to travel by car will opt to do so, in turn decreasing car traffic.

"That is one way of tackling the cause, this latest suggestion is not. This will not reduce pollution, which ultimately is what we all want," he told The Brussels Times.

Next steps

After the summer, an advisory round will be organised, involving all relevant bodies on a local, provincial and federal level, allowing them to comment on the process so far.

The plan will be adopted by the Flemish government following a public enquiry involving inhabitants from the region, organisations and associations, after which the works will begin, most likely in 2025.

In a press statement, Peeters invited Brussels to "work together constructively on this mobility of the future," a request that was met with confusion by the Capital Region.

"Peeters asks for constructive consultation, which is strange, because there was consultation and suddenly she communicates the new plans without informing us," Verstraete said, adding that he called on her to "put her money where her mouth is and really consult" with Brussels and listen to its proposals so the best solution can be found.

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