Covering Antwerp Ring will save lives, say doctors

Summary

The plan proposed by activist group Ringland is supported by a group of doctors, who put their case in an open letter this weekend

“Put health first”

Covering the entire Antwerp Ring could save lives, according to a group of doctors in an open letter published at the weekend in Het Nieuwsblad. The idea, proposed by an activist group called Ringland, would reduce noise and air pollution and should ideally be extended to all motorways in the country.

The Ringland plan involves turning the Ring essentially into a tunnel, so noise and other pollution can be reduced. According to research, up to 99%  of vehicle emissions could be filtered. A similar system is in place in Madrid. In Antwerp, the project would create green space equivalent to between 400 and 800 football fields.

The doctors’ letter refers to research showing that children living within 500 metres of a motorway have reduced lung capacity than those living further away; mortality in general is higher among those living within 100 metres, and deaths from heart and lung disease are twice as high. People living within 500 metres have more sleep disturbances, anxiety and depression, and the effects of motorway pollution extend up to 1.5 kilometres from the road.

Antwerp, the doctors point out, has 12 schools and 75 daycare facilities within the zone where average concentrations of fine particulates exceed European limits. Meanwhile, the direct and indirect costs of air pollution in Belgium have been estimated by the European Environment Agency at €5 billion a year. “For every euro spent on a healthier environment, many euros can be saved in the longer term,” the doctors write.

“Given the deleterious effects of air and noise pollution on public health,” the letter goes on, “a drastic change in mentality is called for. Instead of giving priority to an increase in road capacity for the sake of a few minutes of time gained, we need to put health first.”

According to Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever, the proposal is a matter for the next Flemish government to consider after the elections this month.

The government has already taken steps to complete the Ring with the Oosterweel connection, which includes a partial enclosure of the Ring where the viaduct now passes the Sportpaleis. “That will take time and has to take place step by step,” said Flanders’ mobility minister Hilde Crevits.

“Please, let’s take the first steps and turn the first spadeful of earth,” minister-president Kris Peeters said to VRT news. “Then perhaps the enclosure can be undertaken.”

Photo courtesy Ringland

Traffic in Flanders

Thousands of commuters and foreigners pass through Brussels and Flanders each day, and the two regions have suffered from heavily congested traffic and long and frequent traffic jams for years – with no end seemingly in sight.
Record - According to the 2013 report from traffic information platform Inrix, Brussels and Antwerp have the most traffic congestion of any city in Europe and North America.
Calendar - October is the worst month of the year for traffic jams.
Causes - Year after year, heavy snowfall and railway strikes lead to monster traffic jams. Heavy congestion, infrastructure works and multi-lane accidents cause the more ordinary daily tailbacks.
1 285

largest area covered in traffic ever recorded in Belgium in kilometres

70

time Antwerp drivers spend in gridlock per year in hours

10 000

traffic diversions in Flanders per year