Zonal traffic circulation schemes

City officials from Ghent visited Utrecht to see how they could increase the number of people cycling. However, they soon realised that it would cost millions and take years to build the cycle infrastructure that had made the Dutch city so famous for bike enthusiasts. Instead, they decide to try an experiment: tweak the traffic circulation so as to empower cyclists and pedestrians.


Ghent is a port in Belgium with a population of 260 000 and lots of narrow streets.

In 2017 the city introduced a zonal traffic scheme that meant drivers had to use ring roads rather than cut through residential areas (details and maps of the scheme here). The scheme was cheap, costing just £3.4m to implement. Previously motor vehicles accounted for the majority of trips in Ghent: that number has now fallen to 27% while the share of journeys by bicycle has risen from 22% to 35%. This has meant cleaner air for everyone: nitrogen oxide levels are down by 20% since 2017.

As more people are walking and cycling rather than driving, congestion has reduced so even though car journeys are longer in distance, they take less time. Retailers and restaurants that were strongly opposed discovered that takings did not plummet. Instead there has been a 17% increase in restaurant and bar startups, and the number of empty shops has been arrested. The deputy Mayor said:

A city’s best car plan is a bike plan: providing more space for walking and cycling leads not only to more people walking and cycling, it also makes space for people who really need to use their cars.

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