Bois de la Cambre in Brussels: park or thoroughfare?

VUB and ULB research into traffic preferences shows divide between respondents in centre and periphery

Sunday, May 30, 2021 — Traffic in the Bois de la Cambre in Brussels has been the subject of intense debate for some time. Should it be open or closed to traffic? Researchers from VUB and ULB, with the Brussels Studies Institute (BSI), conducted a survey on people’s wishes for the park. In general, the study found that a respondent’s personal situation is an important predictor for their vision of the park: their age, family situation, where they live or work, mobility habits, access to green spaces, etc.

Researcher Nicola da Schio: "The findings show that it’s mainly people living in the central areas of Brussels and people with less access to green spaces who want the entirety of the park closed to traffic. Older people and those who drive daily, on the other hand, would rather see the entire park open to traffic."

Nicola da Schio of the VUB research group COSMOPOLIS, Claire Pelgrims of the ULB research group LoUIsE and Sebastiano Cincinnato and Anneloes Vandenbroucke of the BSI examined the preferences for various possible mobility arrangements for the Bois de la Cambre. The survey consisted of questions on people’s current use of the park, their desires for its future, mobility habits, life and work contexts, and their use of green spaces. It was conducted between 27 November and 7 December 2020. After a thorough data cleaning, the researchers had a database of 7,252 valid responses.

Based on preferences for the park’s arrangement, respondents were divided into three groups:

  • Unrestricted access for traffic (Allow Traffic),
  • Limited access for traffic (Middle Ground) and
  • No access for traffic (Ban Traffic)

  • Subsequently, the researchers analysed respondents’ socio-demographic background, their places of residence and work, mobility habits and access to green spaces.

    da Schio: "The research did not intend to answer the question of what arrangement of the park receives the most public support because we did not want to reduce it to a simple black or white question."

    The findings indicate tension between a focus on a good flow of traffic and a focus on the recreational use of the park. Respondents of the Allow Traffic group are older on average, with a mean age of 50. Pensioners and entrepreneurs are represented more (15% and 29% respectively). People in this group also tend to live or work in the municipalities further away from the centre (e.g. only 21% live in the central municipalities) and more often use individual motorised transport (90% are regular car drivers vs the regional average of 36%).

    The Ban Traffic group shows almost the opposite picture: respondents are the youngest on average (mean age 41), are more likely to live in the city centre (62% live in the central municipalities of the region) and more often travel by bicycle (76% are regular cyclists vs 13% in the region). Regular users of public transport are generally underrepresented in the sample. The Middle Ground group has an intermediate profile compared to the other groups.

    On Friday, the results of the study were presented to representatives of the municipalities and the region to provide support to informed decision making.

    da Schio: "It is our hope that this study will lead to more nuance in the debate. We were able to demonstrate that the life-work context, the dependence on certain means of transport and the access to green spaces play a crucial role. The decision on the Bois de la Cambre can only benefit from a broader discussion on and investigation of green spaces and mobility in the city."

    The report of this study can be downloaded from:­rch/resear­ch-report-­between-gr­een-spaces­-and-mobil­ity-explor­ing-diverg­ing-perspe­ctives-on-­the-admiss­ion-of-mot­orised-tra­ffic-in-th­e-bois-de-­la-cambre/