Europe still wary of altering its cities' layouts

LONDON • Europe has experienced around a dozen cases of drivers using a car or truck to plough into pedestrians, like last week's attack in Barcelona, but cities have not rushed to mitigate the risks by changing their layouts.

Concerns about cost, a fear that evolving security threats will make redesigned streetscapes obsolete and a reluctance to disrupt everyday life are among reasons cited by security experts, executives and municipal officials.

"We don't want to be Hebron," said Deputy Mayor of Brussels Els Ampe, referring to the city in the West Bank where Palestinians and Israeli settlers are often separated by concrete and steel barriers.

Brussels has 45ha of pedestrian zones, including many narrow, winding streets, she said, and installing barriers to vehicles on many of these streets would be disruptive.

Cross-continent data on cities' investment in physical security measures on their streets is not available, but two companies specialising in selling security equipment said an expected sharp growth in their market had yet to happen.

Damasec, a Danish company, and Avon Barrier Corporation, from Britain, which both make reinforced benches, planters and other street furniture, as well as the more traditional bollards and barriers, said sales had increased, but not as much as expected.

"It's growing but it's growing slowly," said Damasec chief executive Henrik Faerch.

Avon Barrier managing director Paul Jeffrey said sales were robust in Britain but Europe was "a bit of an enigma".

"Nothing much seems to be happening," he said.

Barcelona said ensuring total security was impractical after some residents said officials should have done more to prevent vehicle access to Las Ramblas, a long, wide pedestrian area with roadways on each side where 13 people died in last Thursday's attack.

"We can't fill up Barcelona with bollards," Mr Joaquim Forn, who runs home affairs in the Catalonia region, told Spanish radio last week.

Some affected cities have spent heavily, however.

Southern French city Nice has installed new barriers, changed traffic layouts and taken other measures since a man drove a truck into a Bastille Day celebration on its seafront promenade, killing 86 people.

Its wealth is an important factor.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2017, with the headline 'Europe still wary of altering its cities' layouts'. Print Edition | Subscribe