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Jan 1: How Brussels’ new 30 km/h zone will work

Credit: Belga

The new generalised 30 km/h speed limit will go into force across the Brussels-Capital Region on 1 January, impacting not only drivers but also pedestrians and cyclists in the city.

From 1 January, the speed limit across the entire Region will be limited to 30 km/h, unless indicated otherwise.

“It is the opposite of what has been going on up until now, where 30 km/h is the exception,” Brussels Mobility Minister Elke Van den Brandt explained during a press conference to introduce the plan.

Exceptions to the general rule will be the city’s major traffic axes, where the speed limit remains 50 or 70 km/h, and residential areas, where the speed limit is restricted to 20 km/h.

Will the speed limit apply to everyone?

Yes. All road users will have to comply with the 30 km/h speed limit, including buses, cyclists and scooters. Even on separate cycle paths and special lanes for public transport.

The only exceptions to the speed limit are trams, as they are railway vehicles that do not fall under the application of the speed limit regulations in the Road Code, and emergency and priority vehicles.

What are the benefits of a generalised zone 30?

“The essence, of course, is road safety for everyone. We know that accidents have less impact if cars drive slower,” Van den Brandt said.

Studies have shown that a person hit by a car driving 50 km/h has an 80% chance of dying, while they have an 80% chance of surviving if the car is only driving 30 km/h, according to her.

The generalised zone also has to help make traffic in the busy capital city calmer, which results in a more pleasant way to design the city, leading to pedestrians and cyclists feeling safer. In turn, this will increase the number of people moving around on foot or by bike.

Not only will the lower speed limit be better for pedestrians or cyclists, but it will also benefit motorists, as drivers and their passengers account for the majority of deaths and injuries in road accidents.

Lastly, the lower speed limit has to reduce noise pollution in and around the city. “If a car drives 30 km/h instead of 50, the amount of noise pollution is halved,” Van den Brandt said.

Will a difference of 20 km/h really prevent accidents?

Driving more slowly enables people – drivers as well as people in the neighbourhood, such as playing children – to anticipate better.

In 2019, 20 people died and 178 were seriously injured in Brussels due to a road accident, according to figures by Brussels Mobility’s Road Safety Expert, Isabelle Janssens.

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“However, the braking distance halves when driving 30 km/h instead of 50,” Janssens explained, adding that the risk of dying is about five times higher when driving 50 km/h.

“Additionally, Brussels has a ‘vision 0’, meaning that the Region aims to have zero deaths or severe injuries due to road accidents,” she added.

Last year, the Finnish capital of Helsinki managed to reach zero deaths or severe injuries on the roads, for the main part due to its generalised speed limit of 30 km/h in the city, figures by the city’s deputy mayor, Anni Sinnemäki, illustrated.

Is driving at 30 km/h more polluting?

In the short term, a speed limit of 30 km/h is not a good idea if the aim is to prevent pollution. “It is not a good thing for emissions, simply because cars are not made to only go at 30 km/h,” said Bas de Geus, Mobility expert at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB).

In practice, however, the average speed in the city is close to 25 km/h due to the many accelerations and decelerations, de Geus explained, adding that a smooth and economical driving style is better to improve air quality.

“Additionally, by making residential areas low-traffic zones, and changing people’s behaviour by encouraging people to travel by bike or on foot due to the design of the city, the modal shift could lead to an overall improvement in air quality in the medium term,” he added.

Will the reduced speed limit cause more or longer traffic jams?

No. Studies show that the traffic flow of roads at 30 km/h and 50 km/h is comparable. Brussels’ 30 Zone will therefore not lead to more congestion.

Additionally, comparative tests in the Brussels municipality of Schaerbeek – which introduced zone 30 on most of its roads in September 2018 – concluded that a general 30 km/h speed limit has no negative impact on travelling time by car, according to acting mayor Cécile Jodogne.

The average speed in urban areas is generally already close to 30 km/h. It is usually congestion and jams at intersections, and the search for a parking space, that make journey times longer.

As a general rule, the waiting time at traffic lights will also be adapted to the coordinated traffic axes for a smooth flow at intersections.

How will the infrastructure across the Region be adapted?

“For this to work, adapting infrastructure is just as important as changing legislation and installing signalisation,” said Van den Brandt, who added that both regional and local roads will be adapted.

“We have increased the budgets for municipalities to support them in making the necessary changes,” she said. “The intention is that the city’s infrastructure will automatically invite people to drive slower – if only with flower boxes at the beginning of some roads, for example.”

As part of the Good Move plan, the Brussels Region has been divided into 50 districts, with the aim to completely redevelop five of them every year. “The study phase for the first five has already begun,” she added.

In concrete terms, this could mean that circulation plans will be changed, one-way streets will be introduced, and infrastructure will gradually be built to slow down the speed on several critical roads and intersections.

How will the new speed limit be enforced?

As soon as the generalised zone 30 goes into force on 1 January, the six police zones will start carrying out checks and enforcing the new rules, meaning there will be no transition period.

Police checks will target the areas that have the most issues, at the times of day when it is most important, according to Frédéric Dauphin, Chief of Police of the Brussels North zone, mainly referring to school zones in the morning and between 3:00 PM and 4:00 PM.

Which actions police will take will depend on the situation, he stressed, going from general awareness-raising to writing up fines.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times

Update: This story was initially published on December 9 but has been brought back ahead of the launch date