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In Brussels, Belgium, the Demolition of an Overpass Will...

In Brussels, Belgium, the Demolition of an Overpass Will Give Neighborhood New Life

The decision was previously predicted and is now official: The Reyers overpass situated in Shaerbeek will be destroyed between now and 2015. Brussels Ministers came to the agreement this Thursday during their beginning-of-the-school-year meeting. And so in Brussels, a page turns for this badly-aged, forty year-old work of art. The Brussels-Capital Region can no longer finance

Reyers, Brussels, Belgium

The decision was previously predicted and is now official: The Reyers overpass situated in Shaerbeek will be destroyed between now and 2015. Brussels Ministers came to the agreement this Thursday during their beginning-of-the-school-year meeting. And so in Brussels, a page turns for this badly-aged, forty year-old work of art. The Brussels-Capital Region can no longer finance its necessary renovation and upkeep.

“For the safety and for the livability of the area, the demolition of the overpass is the best option,” explains Pascal Smet, Brussels’ Minister of Public Works and a member of the Socialist Party-Different (SP.A). He has announced that the construction of an urban boulevard is planned to take the place of the overpass.

“Reyers will be transformed in two stages. At the end of its transformation, it will become an urban boulevard where space will be given to cyclists and pedestrians next to the space reserved for cars. In the first stage, after the demolition of the overpass, the boulevard will be constructed with two lanes going in each direction. Then, the final stage of redevelopment will be reconstructing La Place Général Meiser,” indicates the minister’s cabinet, justifying the necessity of the overpass’s disassembly. “A renovation would cost at least four million euro in total - one million had already been spent by the time the construction site was interrupted. Whatever our decision had been, the construction zone would remain in place until the beginning of 2015. From the standpoint of mobility, the overpass is unnecessary. Between 1,000 and 1,400 vehicles drive across it in each direction every day (during peak hours). However, the capacity of the overpass is at 3,000 cars. Without the overpass, but with two lanes going in each direction (plus a left-turn lane), the road can easily handle the necessary 1,400 cars per hour. Finally, the traffic - and above all the safety - of the Diamant intersection will be significantly improved if the overpass disappears.”

Bruxelles Schaerbeek Place Général Meiser, Brussels, Belgium

Moreover, the region announced that they would be conducting complementary studies “to allow them to rework the Diamant intersection and its connection between Montgomery and Meiser. Brussels Mobility anticipates construction to last until the end of 2015. The total cost of the demolition of the overpass and the creation of a boulevard is estimated at twenty-one million euros. During the duration of the work, measures will be taken so that the circulation of traffic will be as smooth as possible and so that the nuisance to local residents is minimized. The government’s choice is also dictated by other anticipated developments in the vicinity of the Reyers neighborhood. The neighborhood has been identified by the Brussels Region as one of their top ten priority areas of development. In the council’s agreement regarding the development, one of the conditions stipulates that there be a period of reflection during planning to allow for the design of high quality public spaces. Thus, while making the preliminary decision to create a tunnel for trams and cars underneath the Meiser roundabout, the council is using this principle. They will improve upon the public space in the area by creating a new public square.”

Finally, “One mustn’t forget our intention of narrowing the end of the E40 freeway, forming a green entry to the city with fewer lanes of traffic and many more trees.”

“In light of all of this, the preservation of the Reyer overpass would be an error,” Pascal Smet declared. “Today, it is a physical barrier that literally separates one half of this neighborhood from the other. The quality of public space determines the quality of urban life. The car has its place in the city, but one must also be able to ride one’s bike here, relax, and play. The government has the explicit intention of rolling up its sleeves and getting down to business with regards to this matter. We will show that these are not empty words.”

Have any overpasses been demolished in your community? How has your city used urban planning and landscape design to make under-utilized areas of town part of community life again?

Original article, originally published in French, here.

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

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Katelyn Hewett recently graduated from St. Olaf College in Minnesota with a Bachelor of Arts in English and French. During her time at St. Olaf, she enjoyed playing the French Horn in the St. Olaf Band, working as a teaching assistant for first-year...

  • Bojana S

    This is a great article which can be inspirational for many urban designers, landscape architects and similar professionals. Creating new neighborhood, with more greenery, pedestrians and cyclist involved in everyday traffic… I really consider this act of Belgian government as brave and it would be great for other countries to model their under-utilized city parts in similar way. In the end, why giving a huge amount of money on preserving old object, when constructing a new one is costing less of money? We should walk in the future, not move back in the past.

    • Hi Bojana,
      Thank you for your insightful comment! I agree-I think that putting money into pedestrian and cyclist areas and parks rather than updating the highway can be a very unpopular decision, so in that respect it is brave of the Belgian government to go against the status quo and try and change their city. I do think that it is worthwhile to preserve historic buildings, because they represent a city’s history. However, the city needs to move forward as well in ways that preserve the best of the past and modernize those parts that don’t work today.