Largest in Europe: When is Brussels' next car-free Sunday?

Largest in Europe: When is Brussels' next car-free Sunday?
Belgium's Senate on car-free Sunday in 2022. Credit: Orlando Whitehead

Brussels will once again ban cars from its territory for one day next month during its annual car-free Sunday, making it the largest zone in Europe without any four-wheeled vehicles.

As "King Car" is banished from the streets, locals and tourists can (re)discover the pleasure of walking, cycling, stepping or travelling by public transport throughout the region while the usually car-heavy streets into large locations for festivities.

Kicking off European Mobility Week, this year's car-free Sunday will take place on 17 September.

The region will be closed from 09:30 in the morning until 19:00. "The closure and reopening of entrances to the region and tunnels will take place gradually. Traffic may therefore be disrupted outside these hours," Brussels Mobility noted in a statement.

However, as a result of the many activities and parties organised for this occasion, the streets in certain districts may also be closed for longer. "So do not rush to the access roads to Brussels before 19:00 to avoid traffic jams and safety problems."

Success, but no second edition

The car-free Sunday has grown in popularity in recent years, while the positivity of this event in the region has become increasingly clear. Last year, pollutants present in the air decreased by up to 90% on this day, while noise pollution in many areas dropped significantly.

As a result, a greater number of voices are calling for a second (or more) car-free Sunday(s) per year. A survey published by the Clean Cities campaign last summer showed that the majority of the region's residents are in favour of increasing the number of days that cars make way for vulnerable road users and that 58% of them are even in favour of one car-free day per week.

It was reported that the Brussels-Capital Region Government was indeed exploring the possibility of increasing the recurrence of the event, to the extent that it could even take place once a month.

Car Free Sunday, 18 September 2022. Credit: Orlando Whitehead

Mobility Minister Elke Van den Brandt proposed organising more car-free days and discussed it at last year's conference of mayors, however, it was not accepted because "it was too much of a burden on their budget."

"I've been told that it's not the right time. So we're going to continue to push for small car-free days at car boot sales. I'm still convinced that we need several car-free days. It's important because it's always a day of celebration, public space belongs to everyone, we breathe easier, we see the city differently," she noted in a statement to The Brussels Times.

Van den Brandt has now suggested organising such a day during the Iris Festival, the annual and official celebration of the Brussels-Capital Region, on 8 May.

Not all cars exempt

On Sunday 17 September, the Brussels ring road will be open to traffic, and only the exits to the territory of the Brussels Region will be closed.

Anyone driving in Brussels on Sunday will be fined, but in most places, access to the streets will be temporarily blocked, other than for public transport, taxis, tour buses, emergency services, disabled drivers and diplomatic corps. For safety reasons, their speed will be limited to 30 km/h.

People can apply for an exemption using an online form before 9 September, but these are only granted under certain circumstances and vary depending on the driver's place of residence.

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Brussels' public transport operator STIB will allow people to travel for free, while its services are also being redesigned with significant reinforcement on most metro, tram and bus lines, which will prove handy with traffic disruptions likely before and after 09:00 and 19:00.

Numerous parking lots on the outskirts of the city will also be made available to motorists, who can park their car here before travelling onwards by public transport. These include Parking C in the City of Brussels, Brico PlanIt in Anderlecht, Ceria Park and Ride, the Westland Shopping Centre in Anderlecht, as well as the parking at Crainhem in Woluwe-Saint-Lambert metro stations.

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