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EU Urban Mobility Observatory

Brussels City 30 – changing the mobility model for a calmer city with safe roads and less noise

Topic
Safety and urban mobility
Country
Belgium
Resource type
Case study
30 speed sign

First published on 6 July 2023

“Good Move” is the sustainable urban mobility plan of the Brussels-Capital Region for the period 2020-2030. It aims to improve the quality of life for the people of Brussels and to support the ambitions of the future Municipal Plan for Sustainable Development (PRDD). The plan defines six objectives to improve the mobility of people and goods:

  • Shape the overall demand for travel with a dense urban development and a better distribution of trips during the day;
  • Reduce the need for private cars by offering a set of attractive options addressing the different needs for travel;
  • Improve the availability of clear and accessible mobility services for all (car-sharing, taxi service, car-pooling, etc.), notably with the development of MaaS (Mobility as a Service);
  • Guarantee structured and efficient transport networks, to make sure everyone has their own place within shared public space;
  • Support urban logistics initiatives by organising vehicle movements and assisting deliveries;
  • Harmonise the parking policy with the regional mobility vision by: prioritising off-street parking, adapting tariffs per sector, reducing the number of places in public spaces, encouraging the use of hybrid vehicles, active modes and new mobility solutions, etc.

One of the first actions delivered by Good Move was to introduce a default region-wide speed limit of 30 km/h, with only a few exceptions for the main traffic arteries.

The work on the action, called “City 30”, began directly after the regional elections in June 2019 with full implementation at the beginning of 2021 for the region-wide 30 km/h speed zone. Brussels Mobility, as the responsible regional administration unit, first created a proposal for the changes and then undertook an intensive consultation process with, amongst others, the 19 municipalities within the region, alongside a large-scale communication campaign. The campaign involved a wide range of communication measures, including sending an information leaflet to all 600,000 registered mailboxes in the region. Further preparations for the start of “City 30” included a change to the relevant legislation to decrease the default speed limit from 50 km/h to 30 km/h. In addition, the administration had to remove all (about 4,000) existing ‘30 km/h’ traffic signs and install new signposts at the entry of the region to inform drivers of the new region-wide speed limit, as well as new signs to indicate where speed limits of 50 km/h and 70 km/h still applied. Moreover, authorities had to start adapting the roads to the reality of the new speed limit.

The results of the first evaluation of “City 30” from 2021 showcase the positive impacts of the action. Traffic fatalities and serious road crash figures dropped considerably in the first year of implementation, and the average travel speed on roads also reduced, even on roads that did not see any change to their speed limit. The average journey times of motorists and public transport changed only marginally, implying a steadier traffic flow compensating for the lower driving speed. There were, however, considerable reductions in noise pollution, by up to 50% compared to previous traffic noise levels.
First evaluation results of “Good Move” within the city’s main central areas – the so-called “Pentagon” - show that traffic flow volumes reduced by 19% from 26 October 2021 to 8 November 2022, just a couple of weeks after the plan was put into action. Cyclists’ figures also increased, with 23% more cyclists in the morning traffic peak and 13% more in the evening traffic peak.

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Context

In 2020, the Brussels-Capital Region adopted “Good Move”, its sustainable urban mobility plan for 2020 to 2030. The production of the plan was based on a wide stakeholder participation process lasting four years that involved mobility and institutional partners, the region’s 19 municipalities, economic stakeholders, associations, and residents. The basis of the development of the Good Move plan involved a shift in mobility planning that put people’s needs at the centre of its work. It did this by reducing the focus on infrastructural measures compared to previous plans in favour of developing mobility services and supporting a change in mobility culture and habits. Consequently, the plan seeks to improve the quality of life in Brussels and balance this with sound demographic and economic development of the Brussels-Capital Region. Good Move is structured in six focal areas that address its main objective of delivering a liveable city:

  • Good Neighbourhood: to manage mobility in the neighbourhoods and improve the quality of life for the inhabitants;
  • Good Network: organise the transportation networks and ensure an efficient service;
  • Good Service: to provide the Region's inhabitants and users with a range of integrated services;
  • Good Choice: to guide individual and collective choices without compromising individual freedom;
  • Good Partner: ensure partnership governance of the mobility plan;
  • Good Knowledge: update mobility data and regularly evaluate the Good Move plan.

Good Move defines 50 actions structured around these six areas, which include: converting certain roads into multimodal urban boulevards; creating a privileged cycle route network; creating intermodal public transport stations; creating logistics hubs to steer freight traffic that enters the region; and phasing out the use of the diesel internal combustion engine by 2030 and its petrol equivalent by 2035. One of the most prominent actions of the Good Move plan within the focus area “Good Neighbourhood” is to introduce a maximum speed limit of 30 km/h throughout most of the city region. This action has been the subject of a high level of public attention and is considered to be a successful case on how to introduce a city-wide (or better, a region-wide) speed limit of 30 km/h, with only a small number of exceptions for the main traffic arteries.

In action

The action to introduce a speed limit of 30 km/h in the Brussels-Capital Region was met with good starting conditions but faced difficult initial political settings. On the one hand, more and more smaller roads were turned into 30 km/h speed zones, starting in 2010. There were 30 km/h roads beforehand, but from 2010, the use of 30 km/h areas gained momentum. Creating a region-wide approach based on existing structures meant the concept of 30 km/h roads and areas did not have to be explained as a new concept to residents and stakeholders. However, the Brussels-Capital Region comprises 19 municipalities and six police zones, which demonstrates the complexity of the endeavour. The municipalities oversee most of the road network and Brussels Mobility, the Brussels Regional Public Service on Mobility, has responsibility for the main roads only. Furthermore, the municipalities are led by different political parties, which required individual negotiations.

In June 2019, the newly-elected government of the Brussels-Capital Region concluded directly after the elections to create a region-wide 30 km/h speed limit. All government parties backed the plan and set a timeline to start the regional 30 km/h zone from 1 January 2021, with exceptions to the speed limit only for the largest traffic arteries.

The work started with an assessment of the road network by Brussels Mobility with the objective to define which roads to set to 30 km/h and which to exempt. Factors, such as pedestrian crossings, cycling infrastructure, local economy or other local activities, as well as crash data were used to analyse every single road and create a map proposing the new 30 km/h reality across the region. The map was ready by the start of 2020 and illustrated the changes leading up to the 30 km/h zone. This map was used as the basis for an intensive stakeholder consultation.

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The consultation consisted of more than 80 meetings with a diverse range of stakeholders: the 19 municipalities with their mayors and administrations, the police authorities of the six zones, the public transport operators of the Capital Region as well as the regions of Wallonia and Flanders, the emergency services, public services, employers, unions, residents, and others. The aim of the consultation was to convince all participants, including the mayors of the 19 municipalities, from different political parties. The consultation was accompanied by a large-scale communication campaign to inform stakeholders and residents. The campaign focused on the message of improving road safety for the people of Brussels. It made use of a wide range of channels, from an own website “City 30” to billboards, advertisements in buses and on bin lorries, direct mailing to all approximately 600,000 mailboxes within the Capital Region, media reporting, press conferences, social media postings and videos. The campaign also needed to allow for COVID-19 restrictions, for example some press conferences had to be held in a hybrid format with more than 25 journalists attending from their own desks. Reactions to the 30 km/h speed limit were not all positive, even to the extent of personal verbal attacks on social media to political representatives and their staff. It was important at this point to stick to the plan and not to be side tracked. Therefore, the project team focused on cooperating with supporters and even ran high-visibility activities themselves, such as a citizen group that produced 1,000 “speed 30” umbrellas that popped up all over Brussels in rainy weather.

Alongside the consultations and the public awareness campaign, the introduction of the 30 km/h speed limit needed adaptations to legislation. The region introduced a new general rule that defined 30 km/h as the default speed limit unless other speed limits were indicated by traffic signs. This required removing all existing 30 km/h traffic signs from the roads, about 4,000, and installing traffic signs on the few roads that were exempt from the new general rule. Additionally, information signs on the region wide 30 km/h speed limit were installed at the entry points to Brussels-Capital Region. Ground markings on roads were used to substantiate the message of 30 km/h. Small infrastructure changes, such as new speed bumps and pedestrian crossings, were installed to help motorists to comply with the new default speed limit.

The new default speed limit of 30 km/h was introduced on 1 January 2021. The region invested in enforcement equipment to manage compliance by purchasing 30 speed cameras. Seven of these are mobile stations that the police place at varying locations that change each week.

Results

To analyse the effects of the new regional speed limit of 30 km/h, Brussels Mobility and the police gathered traffic data to enable them to compare the pre- and post-implementation situation. To measure traffic information, Brussels Mobility used 80 non-visible cameras, to avoid drivers slowing down if they saw a speed camera. The results clearly showcased a set of positive effects.

The speed of motorists fell throughout the entire area, whether or not there was a change of speed limit on the roads that were analysed. On roads where the speed limit was 30 km/h before the new policy, the average speed reduced by 2 km/h. On roads were there were changes to the speed limit, there was clearly a larger speed reduction, e.g. by 5 km/h on roads on which the speed limit was reduced from 50 km/h to 30 km/h, and by 10 km/h where the speed limit was changed from 70 km/h to 50 km/h.

The number of spots where motorists were speeding excessively reduced as well. On roads where the speed limit is 30 km/h, excessive speeding is defined as more than 40 km/h. On streets that already had a speed limit of 30 km/h before the new policy, the number of places where motorists were caught speeding excessively reduced from nine to two over 26 measurement points. On streets where the speed limit was reduced from 50 km/h to 30 km/h, the figure changed from 17 to 12 places over 26 measurement points.

Journey times, which had been of concern to motorists and also to public transport providers, were measured over a period of four weeks before Christmas 2020 and Christmas 2021. The data showed that journey times were very similar for motorists before and after the change, with a time loss of only 10-15 seconds on distances of between 5-10 km. For public transport, which used data from 2019 and 2021 for the comparison, the average speed of trams was only slightly lower, at 20.28 km/h in 2019 compared to 20.10 km/h in 2021. On the other hand, the average speed of buses was slightly faster. The lesson from the journey time comparison is that although traffic is marginally slower on average, the traffic flow is steadier, which compensates for the effects of the lower speed limit.

The data on road safety, however, showed a significant improvement in the first year of implementation. Road fatalities dropped drastically from 14 in 2020 to six in 2021, while serious crashes dropped by 20%. Improvements to both of these indicators is essential for the EU goal of ‘Vision Zero’ to be achieved by 2050 in relation to road safety. The effect on fatal and serious crashes, however, cannot be completely attributed to the new speed limit, as other measures, including some COVID-related traffic restrictions, would also have had an impact.

The data also showed that traffic noise levels fell by 1.5 to 4.8 db(a), which were assessed by measurement units at different locations. The feedback also demonstrated a shift in people’s perception of noise, as they began to notice the noise of trams after the reduction of speed limits to 30 km/h, whereas beforehand this was not something people noticed with the previous level of traffic noise.

The outlook for further activities will continue with smaller changes to amend the city’s infrastructure to the new default speed limit, including subsequent options to amend the use of related public space. In addition, options will be evaluated to further extend the 30 km/h speed limit to roads that still have a higher speed limit, at the request of the responsible Minister at the Brussels-Capital Region.

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Challenges, opportunities and transferability

An essential aspect for the successful introduction of a region-wide speed limit of 30 km/h is political will, as demonstrated by the government of the Brussels-Capital Region directly after the elections in June 2019. Essential elements were that all government parties backed the action and that they connected the introduction of the 30 km/h speed limit with a timeline, i.e. that the city should be ready for the start of the new default speed limit by 1 January 2021.

Consulting a wide range of stakeholders was also a key aspect. Creating the region-wide speed limit of 30 km/h required alignment of the plans with the 19 municipalities that are in charge of most of the road network in Brussels. Discussing the proposal for “City 30” with their mayors and administrations to come to a joint agreement was a definite cornerstone for realising the ambitions. Widening the scope of consultations to all stakeholders ranging from emergency services and public services to employers, unions and residents made sure that all needs and concerns were addressed in coming to a joint proposal on “City 30”. The main message of the initiative to improve road safety in the region was ultimately a statement all stakeholders could support.

The use of a wide and intensive communication campaign is essential to bring all stakeholders on board, as well as to inform the public of the coming change and invite them to have their say in an accompanying extensive consultation process. The case of Brussels-Capital Region highlights the importance of keeping to a positive narrative and capitalising on the momentum created by the efforts of supportive organisations. An additional useful piece of advice is to avoid putting a lot of effort into convincing those that vigorously campaign against the new speed limit.

Adapting legislation took relatively little effort in terms of changing the relevant laws. The statutes indicated that a speed limit of 50 km/h was the default speed limit. The Brussels-Capital Region as the responsible legislative body for defining the speed limit could implement a change of the default speed limit to 30 km/h as a result out of the integrated planning process and intensive consultations with stakeholders. Cities wishing to amend their own speed limits, e.g. by adopting the Brussels “City 30” approach, would need to check carefully if they have the legal authority to define a new default speed limit. Alternatively, it may be the case that they need to engage with a higher level of authority to seek such a legal change. Legal frameworks, such as national Road Acts, might define whether or not a municipality is able to deviate from a standard speed limit for their entire area, or even if one is set. The city-wide speed limit of the Austrian City of Graz is based on this approach.

Measuring the effects of the measure is also crucial to demonstrate that the new speed limit delivers valuable results. The combined evaluation by the police and Brussels Mobility allowed the positive effect on crash figures and on noise to be showcased, and helped to appease those who had feared longer journey times as a result of the lower default speed limit.

In Depth 

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Photo credits: Iván Tosics and © Tjeerd KrusejoyfullCatarina Belova- no permission to re-use image(s) without separate licence from Shutterstock.