In late medieval times, Ghent was the largest city outside of Paris and one of the most powerful and wealthiest cities in Europe. Today, the city’s important port and university still make Ghent a bustling place. The presence of 60,000 university and high school students add to the city’s role as a Flemish cultural centre. In November 2008, National Geographic Traveler magazine ranked the historic city centre among the top three most authentic destinations worldwide.
Ghent has an extensive public transport network serving the city centre and surrounding area. It is the core of a metropolitan area of about 500,000 inhabitants and there is a lot of traffic in and out of the city. Every day, about 35,000 people commute to and 43,000 from Ghent. The city is surrounded by major motorways that make the city centre easy to reach by car but leave Ghent jammed with private vehicles.
The city of Ghent has implemented a number of plans to counter its traffic problems. In 1993, the city introduced a bicycle plan to foster a cycling culture in the city. This entailed the development of cycling infrastructure, theft prevention measures and setting up a “bicycle unit” in the city administration. The city continues to expand the cycling network including some underpasses beneath bridges.
In 1997, Ghent launched its “Mobility Plan for the Inner City”. The ambitious endeavour to transform the city’s mobility structure faced major opposition from retailers and citizens in the early stages of the project. The main features of the plan were to free the city centre of through-traffic, create a large pedestrian zone, calm traffic by introducing speed limits of 30 km/h between the pedestrian area and parking route, and redesign streets and squares to make them more enjoyable for visitors and citizens. Recent surveys confirm that living and visiting Ghent has become far more pleasant than a decade ago.
With CIVITAS ELAN, Ghent has improved its public transport system and has continued its policy for sustainable development. A package of 24 different activities aimed to bring Ghent closer to becoming one of the most advanced “mobile” cities in Belgium. Since the beginning of ELAN in late 2008, Ghent introduced 20 CIVITAS-branded hybrid buses and put the first electric shared car into use. Over 50 bus stops have been redesigned to make them safer, and passengers of trams and buses are now benefitting from a real-time travel information system. New bike sheds at Park & Ride facilities are in high demand and an online cycling route planner had over 5,000 visitors in the first two months. Garages for bikes, so-called Bike bins, have been piloted. In an effort to change people’s travel behavior, Ghent ran awareness raising, marketing and anti-vandalism campaigns. The city also stepped up its communication efforts concerning the redevelopment of the station area and introduced a car-sharing concept in enterprise zones.