Cities around the world are waking up to the fact that cars do not represent the most economical, healthiest, or sustainable choice of transportation.
Governments and people are realising that the patterns of activity encouraged by an urban form moulded by the car are not sustainable, or even desirable, but in fact obscene. Creating pollution, bad health, disjointed communities, and downright unattractive places.
The dominance of the car is difficult to overturn. It has a momentum, and has formed a seemingly unshiftable status quo.
But change is inevitable, and the car-free movement is gathering pace. This aims to overturn the dominance of the car by introducing policies and measures that encourage densely woven mixed-use development, a reduction of space allocated to the private car, provision for active travel, and a coherent public transport strategy.
Possibilities are emerging of a future without fumes, congestion, and the incessant roar of traffic. The world is waking up to the possibility that streets can be hospitable, designed for people rather than vehicles.
Numerous measures are contributing to this movement. It is not a single step change, but a gradual movement with hundreds of variables that come into play to ultimately create a city that is safe, healthy, and sustainable. The role of the bicycle is just one part – but it could be the missing piece; the central piston which propels the engine of the city.
Car-free areas are expanding in our cities, and have been over the past couple of decades with increased pedestrianisation and increased provision for cycling. But which world cities are leading the march to a car free future?
The Norwegian capital is replacing roads with cycle paths, investing heavily in public transport, and plans to eventually remove all private vehicles from the city centre. The city aims to be fossil fuel free by around 2050.
Madrid mayor Manuela Carmena has pledged to make the iconic Gran Via, that cuts straight through the heart of Madrid, into a pedestrian zone. This would release six lanes of space.
Brussels features the largest car-free area in Europe. Streets in the heart of the city have always been free from cars, and the addition of other major shopping streets makes this the second largest car-free zone in Europe. Further measures include the banning of diesel cars made before 1998, which will start in 2018.
Home to the worlds longest pedestrian street, “Strøget”, Copenhagen is famous for its accommodation of pedestrians and particularly cyclists. Well developed cycle and pedestrian infarstructure, in combination with high taxes on car use, mean that the city has a very low rate of car ownership.
Helsinki’s transport-oriented development plan means that new suburbs will be linked to the city centre by a swift public transit. Additionally, the city is working on the cutting edge of car-share systems. The aim is to make it completely unnecessary to own a car.
Slightly less progressive but still with admirable ambition, the Irish Capital plans to ban cars from parts of the city centre. Nothing unusual here, but the city also plans to reach a point where just one in five people commute into the centre in a private car.
In 2016 New York’s ‘Great Lower Manhattan Car Experiment’, East of Broadway, lasted just five hours, but demonstrated the potential of a city to change. New York, despite appearances, has a history of fighting the cause for pedestrians and cyclists.
This post wouldn’t be complete without a Dutch city. The Netherlands began experimenting with car-free streets in the 1960s, and has surged ahead of the rest of the world since. Medieval city Utrecht has a pleasantly car-free centre.