A car free city. Benefits of a car free city

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A carfree city refers to a population center that primarily relies on public transport, walking, or cycling to travel within the city. Carfree zones are areas where motorized vehicles are not allowed to drive in any part of the city. As a result of the current problems with congestion and infrastructure, along with their proposed benefits regarding the environment and quality of life, carfree cities have gained ground over recent years. Many Asian, European, and African cities are still carfree areas today due to their inception before the invention of the automobile. It has been observed that many developing cities in Asia are currently using the proposed model for modernizing their infrastructure.

Characteristics of the carfree city

Depending on the city’s carfree policy, it can be entirely or partially carfree. A fully carfree city prohibits all private cars from entering the city limits. Another partially carfree city has carfree zones but permits private cars to be used in other areas. Most of these carfree zones are located in and around the city center. A carfree city design is centered around the needs of people rather than on the needs of cars, with careful planning and zoning that improves pedestrian mobility and promotes efficient structural placement.

It must be noted that there is no blueprint for designing a carfree city. However, many cities worldwide have successfully adapted variants based on the following model.

A carfree city can be classified into a residential core and a service-based periphery. Several residences and living quarters are centered around a public space at the center of the complex. This area has been designed to reduce vehicle traffic by establishing walking routes as the primary mode of transportation, and bicycle routes, as an addition. Due to this, there is a reduced chance of conflicts occurring between motorized traffic and residences. It is also gradually emerging that a pedestrian and bicycle network links different parts of the city together.

The periphery, which encompasses the residential core, comprises numerous services and amenities such as supermarkets and fitness gyms. The distance between these facilities and the city core is determined by their usage frequency, with the most used facilities closer to the city center. The purpose of decentralizing these facilities in the city is to reduce walking distances, enhance residential access, and minimize the need for additional road infrastructure. Another alternative to a decentralized approach is creating a central transit stop surrounded by dense commercial spaces providing easy access to public services without requiring the public to walk.

Aside from the carfree city, there are transportation zones and car parks for city residents to use. Several parking lots surround the city square, providing access to its periphery, but limiting access to its inner core. The purpose of parking lots is often to allow people to park their cars on the outskirts of town or take an alternative mode of transportation into town (park and ride). As a result of these networks, logistics components such as import/export are centralized.

Motivations of the carfree city 

A carfree city will reduce air and noise pollution and reallocate land previously used for vehicle infrastructures such as parking lots and wide streets. There is a lack of infrastructure capable of accommodating the increase of private vehicles, particularly in developing countries, even after optimization and new construction of roads.

If fewer cars are concentrated in urban areas, air quality and noise can be improved. A recent study concluded that vehicular pollution is estimated to cause 1,844,000 deaths across the globe in the year 2016, and preventing cars from driving through densely populated areas would be one way to reduce the impact. Also, creating superblocks in Barcelona may help reduce the number of people living in residential areas exposed to noise pollution greater than 65 decibels from 42.5% to 26.5%.

Around 70% of downtown land is currently designated for parking in several U.S. cities. When parking lots and other car-filled areas are removed, air and noise pollution are reduced, and land is available for other uses. A proper land reallocation might also reduce the urban heat island effect caused by concrete and asphalt replacing greenery, resulting in increased temperatures from albedo and other factors. It has proven impossible to reduce traffic in developing countries like Vietnam by optimizing roads, building new infrastructure, and changing policies. There is traction toward introducing a new model of a carfree city, which will allow for improved quality of life while meeting the logistical needs of all residents.

More information on carfree movement and urban design

The current efforts to make congested cities carfree require a series of logistical and societal measures such as meetings with all stakeholders, such as town hall meetings, computer modeling to predict traffic patterns before and after road closures, and enforcement of restrictions once the plan has been implemented. Most cities transforming the EU have defined their guidelines from pre-implementation consultation through design and final implementation.

As streets and squares near their closing points, a pedestrian and bicycle network develop and connects different city parts. A pedestrian network was similarly prompted by the need to avoid conflicts with cars and enhance pedestrian movements below street level (underground city) or above road level to connect large downtown areas like the Minneapolis Skyway System. Two new complementary ideas have emerged for new communities on the edges of cities. The Fused Grid (2003) is a town planning model based on Filtered Permeability (2007). It aims to shift the balance of network design in favor of pedestrians and bicyclists.

Impacts of the carfree city 

The direct impacts of carfree city designs include:

  • Improving air quality by eliminating pollutants caused by the combustion process utilized in many motor vehicles.
  • Reducing noise pollution and ground vibration from engines and vehicles.
  • Reducing urban heat islands.

It would also reduce collisions between pedestrians and cyclists. As a result of better resource use and faster transportation of goods and people, the quality of life in carfree cities will improve indirectly.

Environmental benefits of the carfree city 

There are environmental benefits associated with reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving noise levels. As a result of the car restrictions in the city center, nitrogen oxide emissions have fallen by 38.4%, and carbon dioxide emissions have. Overall, these emissions fell by 9% for nitrogen oxide and 2% for carbon dioxide across the entire city of Madrid. Carfree zones can also decrease ambient noise levels associated with vehicular traffic, as demonstrated by the reduction in noise pollution of 10 dB on carfree Sundays in Brussels.

Examples of the carfree city 

Europe, Asia, and Africa were home to many cities founded centuries before the invention of the automobile. Many cities have carfree areas, especially where it is impossible to fit a car, such as narrow alleyways.

Venice

A modern city such as Venice can function without cars. The urban was founded over 1,500 years ago, a long time before the invention of the automobile, so this design was unintentional. Those who drive to the city or own a car must park outside the city in a parking lot. Then they must walk or take the train into the city. Foot travel and motorized waterbuses that cruise the city’s canals are the most common modes of transportation.

Barcelona

As part of Barcelona’s 2014 Urban Mobility Plan, nine city blocks have been designated as “superblocks” for pedestrians-only use. There are no restrictions on automobiles or city buses in these blocks, but local traffic can only travel 10 mph within the interior. According to the city’s government, this plan aims to address sustainable mobility and revitalize public spaces. The COVID-19 pandemic created proposals for a radical transformation of the city of Barcelona. One of the Manifesto’s key principles calls for eliminating the car from the city.

Nuremberg

In the 1970s, Nuremberg, Germany, closed major traffic corridors in phases, leaving the city’s center largely carfree. The city closed the last through-way through the city’s center on a trial basis in 1988. This transformation reduced traffic flow by 25% within a year and significantly improved air quality. The removal of cars from the city center was followed by the renovation and installation of new art pieces, resulting in a pedestrian-friendly area.

Heidelberg

A city in Germany is planning to purchase hydrogen-powered buses by 2021, build bicycle superhighways, and design neighborhoods that discourage all vehicles. A one-year free transit pass is offered to anyone who gives up their car.

Ghent

The city center in Ghent, Belgium, has been partially carfree since a circulation plan was initiated. The speed limit in some sections may not exceed 20 km/h for public transportation, taxis, and permit holders. There is a route for parking around the city center, with a parking guidance system to ensure access to underground parking garages and all parts of the city. Since the change to carfree, traffic congestion has decreased significantly, and other modes of transportation have increased, such as biking and public transportation.

Islands

There are other carfree places, such as Mackinac Island and Paquetá Island, where cars are banned and horses, bicycles, and boats make up most transportation.

In conclusion,

A car-free city would have many benefits for its residents. These include improved air quality, reduced traffic congestion, and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. A car-free city would also be quieter and more peaceful and provide opportunities for recreation and exercise. I urge you to consider the benefits of a car-free city and to take action to make your community more sustainable.

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