More violent protests against Good Move traffic plans for Brussels
Brussels’ traffic plan Good Move, which aims to adjust traffic routes and lower the amount of polluting vehicles in the city in an effort to combat high air pollution and traffic jams, has prompted violent resistance from some in the Belgian capital.
Protests in the municipality of Schaerbeek turned violent and disorderly, with two police officers and a firefighter injured as a result. Protestors illegally removed new traffic barriers that are part of the Good Move changes.
Schaerbeek councillor Vincent Vanhaleweyn (Ecolo) told RTL that while they are “not giving into violence”, the municipality are hearing that “a part of the population that was extremely angry and [we are] going to sit down with them to find solutions”.
But it remains unclear how many of these protestors were actually local residents affected by the changes.
“I didn't recognise anyone from our neighbourhood,” one resident told Bruzz.
“They are opponents of the Good Move plan who don't live here, but still make themselves heard. They are supported by the [political parties] MR, PS and PVDA/PTB, who were also present. And the municipality is not punishing them for their actions.”
The resident, who has lived in the neighbourhood for five years, said most of the locals do indeed support the plan, as traffic congestion makes the neighbourhood feel “unliveable” and the area is plagued with “road pirates” - or people who drive at incredibly high rates of speed, sometimes racing one another.
The protestors against Good Move have been described as aggressive and violent in how they voice their opposition, and the second-consecutive demonstration in Schaerbeek got particularly out of hand.
“These events are intolerable,” Brussels mobility minister Elke Van den Brandt (Groen) told Radio 1.
“It's a form of vindictiveness and vandalism that cannot be legitimised.”
Another minister was threatened with physical violence by a member of the public during a council meeting last month over her support for the plan. The person who threatened her was part of a crowd of men making threats and shouting over the meeting until it was forced to be adjourned.
Local authorities agreed to put the plan on hold for a few months in order to facilitate a dialogue between those opposed and those who support it. But Van den Brandt emphasises that this cannot include violent protests.
“The citizens have concerns,” she said. “But this cannot justify any violence. We cannot accept that groups abuse legitimate discontent to use violence.”
Many of those opposed to the plan are vehicle owners concerned about changes to traffic patterns that would inconvenience them, or having to pay additional taxes for owning multiple polluting vehicles in a city already jam-packed with cars and plagued with some of the worst traffic congestion of any major European city.
Others are concerned that changes to historic public spaces are significant ones that threaten Brussels’ cultural heritage.
But supporters of the plan point out that it is driven by a desire to improve both public health and public safety. Brussels air pollution far exceeds World Health Organisation standards, including around schools and playgrounds. Nine Belgians have even sued over it, most of them having developed respiratory issues as a result of the poor air quality.
Van den Brandt said that a real effort was made to communicate the plan to the public ahead of time, a plan that “was worked on for two years”.
But, the minister said, given the intense public reaction, "we can only conclude that more work is needed".
Violence cannot and shall not be condoned, that is clear.
It is also clear, that there is a not insignificant group of people, who feel, that the Good Move plan is having a very negative impact on them. The city government and this publication is very eager to articulate the problems that the plan is supposed to address, but the problems that it is going to cause are being ignored or belittled.
For instance, in a city like Brussels, that is divided into 19 administrative entities called communes, it is inevitable, that there will be through-traffic in each of them as people commute to work and other activities. No man is an island, the saying goes. The plan seems to be looking at it in this way. Everyone is focusing on reducing traffic in their commune, often at the expense of citizens of another. But should they not have any rights, or not be heard? Or the commuters, who work in Brussels but live in a suburb?
Good move wants to shift priority to one group of citizens, fair enough. But it is happening at the expense of another. A propper democratic process is needed to see, how the interests of the latter group can be served well. It is not enough to say just take a bike or bus, not everyone is going to be ok with that. And they also have the right to disagree. That is also part of democracy. A democracy always has to be carefull to not turn into the tyranny of the majority. The ruthless and inconsiderate way the Brussels governments are pushing this immature plan is destined to lead to protests. Some violent. Others more subtle in terms of e.g. businesses moving out of town all together.