Recently, there have been a lot of rumors about cities going car-free. Clearly, we are not talking about going gluten free or diary free, it is CAR free. No more cars in a city. Since more than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and cars being our major way of road transport , I do not mind asking: How and why should cities abandon cars?
First things first: I am not a car person, meaning that I am generally not into them. Even though I was raised on the countryside, where you gotta have a vehicle no matter what, I do not feel the need to own one neither do I appreciate their existence beyond them taking us from A to B.
However, driving a car means to emit CO2 into the atmosphere, thus to increase global warming leading to a tremendous human-induced climate change. Also it is dangerous, expensive and pollutes the air. Especially the contribution to smog alias air pollution as it is the case in many cities such as Beijing, Milan or Paris. How come, that we did not manage to invent something better?
When do you need a car?
With this in mind, I genuinely understand the basis of why to ban cars from cities. Even though there is still a lot to think about, it is not a false idea. It is rather logical. Some cities already put on a deadline for instance by 2019 Oslo plans to remove all private vehicles from the centre. Another format are car-free days which means that during specific days no vehicles are allowed in a certain area in order to fight air pollution at short notice. Those days were already applied to Paris, New York City, Mexico City or Suwon.
Just take a minute and image a city of your choice with and without cars. What comes to your mind? I see many trees, great bike lanes and happy people (without being naive). Streets ‘occupy’ more than 80% of the public space. Without vehicles using this much space anymore, the idea of citizen-focused spaces is taken to a next level. More over, car-free cities do not imply walking all the time. Let’s think about alternatives such as bikes, sustainable public transport or skates. No more parking spaces but cycling highways. Doesn’t that make you enthusiastic? Not really? Well, I understand. Of course such a change has its obstacles. It won’t be easy to get cars of the streets or to define car-free zones, as many cities already have more than one centre. On the other hand, there is not much of a choice: Road transport contributes an increasing 13% of global CO2 emissions due to fossil fuel combustion. Therefore it is urgent to spread inventions like electric mobility or cycling highways. Since, we all are so used to our cars and their conveniences, the least we could do, is to ban diesel-powered vehicles from the cities. We need a change.
Step by step.
However, I think that those car-free days are a great start to show everyone how cities could transform into wide public spaces. Nevertheless, we have to think it through and start create innovative and individual solutions for cities. If you want to dive deeper into the world of street design, I recommend this “Urban Street Design Guide” from NACTO.
How would you start? Do you think it is possible living in a city without cars? Personally, I cannot wait for the experience when Oslo (2019) and Helsinki (2025) have banned all private vehicles from the city centre.