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How mayor faced down death threats to make his city’s transport go green

They have managed to achieve little less than regime changes in Ghent, Belgium.

It was a bloody fight, said Filip Watteuw (deputy mayor) and architect of the city’s mobility and circulation plan.

“It was a very difficult debate with death threats for my family and me. So I was under police surveillance for six weeks. He says that although it was difficult, it was well worth it.

Similar transport plans have been approved in cities all over Britain, prompting harsh reactions.


Councillors in Oxford, Bristol and Bath, Cambridge, London and Newcastle, Gateshead, and many other cities are trying to find ways to make their urban areas cleaner and more sustainable.

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The Climate Show visited Ghent, which is home to close to half a million people. 2017: A travel plan transformed a city.

We saw a large area of bicycles covered by parked bikes, the equivalent of a football field when we got off the train. This is the sixth year since the transport plan was implemented. The tram to the city centre was packed. Public transport usage has increased by 12%.

The real surprise is in the tranquility of the area: main intersections are crowded by carefree pedestrians, crazy multi-occupancy bicycles, and the minimal traffic dominated primarily by white vans or taxis. They are the only vehicles permitted in.

Image As we got off the train, an area as large as a football field was covered with parked bikes.

“The goal was to make short trips less appealing for a car”

How is this possible? As Filip cycled through his city, I met up with him.

He says, “The goal was to make short trips less appealing for a car and more appealing for any other mode of transportation.”

Although vehicles are not allowed in the centre of the city, suppliers, certain health workers, and elderly residents can drive. It is not possible to drive between six suburbs. You must go to the ring road and then turn around to get to your destination.

Oxford will be using a similar approach. It is still possible to drive, but it is less convenient. This makes walking, biking, and busing more appealing, as well as being faster.

Image The city’s centre is almost inaccessible to cars

“I hear the birds in morning”

Filip says, “The most beautiful compliment that I received was that someone said that you were the best city composer. For the first time in my life here, I can hear the birds in morning.”

Some changes can only be seen through the historical lens.

The park now has sculptures, shrubs, and bizarrely, mini trampolines. It was once a car park. The Reep river was even released from its underground confinement in another car park. These houses are now waterfront properties.

Image Ghent was transformed in 2017 by a travel program.

Not everybody is convinced

Not all residents are converts.

Walter delivers fresh drinks and frozen food daily to many of the city’s restaurants. He struggles to drag his trolley along cobbled streets. He complains about politicians’ inability to understand working people. He also laments the new delivery times and what he considers a new threat: careless cyclists.

He says, “They don’t have lights, and they ride with no hands. They drive all over the roads using their phones.”

Image What’s really surprising is the tranquil feel of the place

Filip however believes that the plans are very popular.

He said, “The opponents are always very noisy. However, those who support such a plan are usually silent. They support you but you can’t hear them.

“And if youre in politics, it is important to have a city policy. It should be for the citizens of the city. It is not for cars.


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