Ghent battling "image problem" after circulation plan

Ghent's so-called circulation plan has been underway for almost three months and it's working: road safety has gone up, and the city sees 20 percent more cyclists. However, small businesses in the city centre are complaining. This is the consequence of a bizarre combination of reasons.

Under the circulation plan, pedestrian areas were extended, while motorists can no longer cross the whole city by car. They are being diverted along the orbital road, and have to choose the right exit to reach a the part of the city they want.

Road accidents including heavily injured persons were 25 percent down and 19 percent for minor injuries. The number of cyclists is up, though this may also be connected to a certain extent to the excellent weather in the past weeks. Two counting points at the Coupure and the Visserij measured 20 percent more cyclists.

Most tram and bus links have become faster, with gains of up to 15 percent, although some spots are not better off, like in the north-west.

Self-employed have reason to complain, though consumers got it wrong

There is one problem though. Despite major efforts to explain the plan clearly, the perception among many motorists is that the city centre is less accessible, that Ghent has become a paradise for pedestrians and cyclists, where no cars are welcome.

Small businesses and self-employed sometimes see a decline in turnover, sometimes small, sometimes big. Business meetings are down, and hotels are receiving fewer guests.

This is despite the fact that the city centre remains perfectly accessible, with park and ride areas the city's edge and with parking lots in the heart of the town. The city wants to inform motorists better, and is planning a new promotion campaign.

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