People over vehicles in Brussels and Paris

John Stewart (who is a key campaigner for the Stop Heathrow’s 3rd runway campaign) became RoadPeace Chair in late 1996. He has written a thought piece.  He’s a fantastic campaigner, and now an advisor – his input is immensely valuable to RoadPeace.  Many thanks John for writing this piece.


Two recent images stand out in my mind.


Children helping the authorities in Brussels to paint 30kph signs on the streets in preparation for the 2nd January this year when 30kph (18pmh) became the norm on Brussels roads;


And the visionary plans to turn the area around the Eiffel Tower into what the Mayor Anne Hidalgo called an “extraordinary park at the heart of Paris”, together with proposals to transform the Champs-Élysée, including reducing space for vehicles by half, turning it and the nearby roads into pedestrian and green areas, and creating tunnels of trees to improve air quality.


Those of you who have been to these two cities will understand how big a change this is in both Brussels and Paris. A change not only in the streetscape but also in the thinking behind it.  For years the planners and the politicians had allowed cars and lorries to dominate their streets; perhaps saw it as inevitable that they would.


Now people are being given priority.  And that will mean safer, cleaner and quieter streets.


And what’s interesting and encouraging is that, while Paris and Brussels may be amongst the most dramatic examples of change, similar thinking is emerging in very many countries of the world.  In Africa, for example, Ethiopia is investing heavily in walking, cycling, and public transport. All new streets are required to have walking and cycling facilities.  Uganda is also putting in cycle lanes.

In the UK, there has been an explosion of dedicated cycle lanes and the introduction of low traffic neighbourhoods (though fears remain they may transfer more traffic to other roads).


Cars of course are still very dominant and driver behaviour still leaves much to be desired but when you get innovative measures to tame the traffic emerging from all corners of the world, it is a clear sign that real change is in the air.  It won’t happen overnight.  Fundamental change rarely does.  But you sense, to use a slightly different analogy, a supertanker is slowly turning round to steam in a new direction.