Mythbuster: 6 false accusations about the Piétonnier of Brussels / by Kwinten Lambrecht

‘Piétonnier’ (the common name for Brussels' pedestrian zone) will undoubtedly be the Brussels' word of the year 2015, and probably that of 2016 and 2017 too. No 'tax shift' or 'cheating software' for us... Let's talk about the ‘Piétonnier’ instead! In June of this very year, the decision was finally made to give back a central part of the city to the people. This silver lining in the Brussels skyline would quickly fade away under the influence of bad rumours and press. Even on behalf of some of the coalition members, like Marion Lemesre, who pleaded recently for re-opening the traffic through Rue du Midi and via the esplanade situated at the Central Station.  If there's a God, please give us bright and visionary politicians...

Let's revert to the alarming accusations about the Piétonnier. I kept my eyes and ears open during recent months and weeks and I started to collect a first series of myths.

This argument is put forward by many people who are against the Piétonnier, as to illustrate the uselessness of "the thing". The question put forward here is: what should we do with public space in general? Do we need to cover it, or simply transform it into a big parking lot? Naturally, it rains in our country, but should this be a reason to get rid of scarce public space? No way ! Rain sounds better when it drops on trees than when it drops on top of cars.

Seriously? The centre of Brussels is already packed with parking lots, underground and on-street. Moreover, our politicians have even ensured that we can park for free anywhere from 18h onwards; which makes underground parking totally redundant (for now)! Let's try to be a serious:  parking is no big deal for those who really want to use their cars: around la Monnaie there are 2 car parks, at the Brouckère there are 2 car parks, at Rogier, around Arts-Loi and Midi Station, ... It's even possible to park near the very 'source' of the Piétonnier.

Several studies indicate that cyclists and pedestrians spend more money per capita than drivers. These costs are calculated on the basis of fuel consumption, parking tickets, the loss of time during traffic jams, etc. Moreover, cyclists and pedestrians are less in a hurry. So, dear merchants, think a little while: do these 30 or 40 parking spots in front of your door really make the difference ? I'm deemed to say no. Good communication, however, is vital to attract new business.

A lot depends on politics too: people need to be"pushed" towards sustainable mobility.

No, Brusselers (and people in general) are dirty. And they particularly love to showcase this in public space. If you live in Brussels, you know that illegal dumping of garbage seems to be a national sport in the capital. Waste is dumped everywhere and at any time, also on the Piétonnier. But change is coming: the city of Brussels has installed plenty of garbage bins and we even have smart bins now!  

For many citizens, the Piétonnier is nothing more than a closed street. Others consider it to be a start 'towards a new city', and visionary politicians think the same. It's time to create a new urban structure, where the focus lies on the human being. Numerous cities have forgotten that the most effective way to move exists since the beginning of times: walking, running, crawling, strolling. We'll have to conceive and design our cities accordingly in order to develop an entire new flow in this city.

Besides, the Piétonnier is a meeting place, a vital haven in a fast city where people live together without looking at each other. There is room for sports and play, for debate, to meet and mingle ...

The Piétonnier also has some remarkable side effects: air quality has, for example, much improved on the boulevard Anspach and one can even hear birds sing again...

I often hear this complaint. But would you have the same reaction after you've started to construct your house after one week: "I would like a new house, but not in this dump!" That doesn't really make sense, right? No, the final result matters.