Open letter on post-corona mobility signed by 100 scientists, architects and activists

Summary

Belgium’s governments should use the coronavirus crisis as a catalyst for changing our mobility model, say experts

‘Living streets’

Thousands of premature deaths from air pollution could be avoided if Belgium gives proper thought to the post-coronavirus future of its towns and cities, experts have said in an open letter jointly published today by The Bulletin, De Standaard and Le Soir.

The letter is addressed to the National Security Council and the expert committee devising Belgium’s exit strategy, and is signed by nearly 100 doctors, scientists, academics, environmental campaigners and urban planners.

It warns against a “reckless restart” of business-as-usual when it comes to traffic, arguing that relaxing of the measures in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus cannot be effectively carried out without a study on the long-term impact on public space and people we get around.

When prime minister Sophie Wilmès announced the phased plan at the end of April to reopen shops, businesses and schools, she encouraged people to avoid taking public transport. “It is not desirable for our streets to be dominated by cars again,” reads today’s open letter, which warns of a “downward spiral if the car is now presented as the safest means of transport in the coronavirus era”.

The traffic congestion in Chinese cities after the easing of restrictions are a first indication of what will happen if we do not take decisive measures

“The pictures of traffic congestion after the easing of restrictions in Chinese cities are a first indication of what will happen if we do not take decisive measures to discourage car use,” the letter reads.

The experts recommend increasing the capacity of safe cycling and walking paths, more “living streets” where pedestrians have priority over motor vehicles and a renewed focus on developing neighbourhood facilities within local communities so that people do not need to travel far for shops and services.

“In recent weeks it has become clear that in densely populated neighbourhoods there is a lack of space for physical distancing. Local measures are taken here and there, but a national roadmap is lacking.”

Photo ©Dirk Waem/BELGA