More and more capital cities are now adopting measures to discourage car use in favor of more sustainable alternatives. Sometimes people disagree. Car-free cities, is it possible?
Over the past century, city streets have been adapted for motor vehicles. In Berlin, for example, almost 60% of the traffic space is reserved for cars, for only a third of the trips, while 3% of this space is reserved for bicycles, although they represent 15% of the trips. In recent years, many cities have begun to address this surface inequality through policies that discourage car use and promote more sustainable alternatives: within three years, restricted traffic areas have increased by 40% in European cities. But it happens that these policies do not meet with the support of the population.
Brussels: on the frontline against cars
Brussels city center stretches over almost 5 km2 and has 55,000 inhabitants. In this pentagonal area, there are now far fewer cars: On August 16, the municipality of Brussels implemented a new traffic plan in the city, which aimed to reduce car traffic.
“The plan aims to provide more road space for pedestrians, cyclists, buses or trams”, explains Bart Dhondt, Deputy Mayor of Brussels responsible for mobility. It is not a question of completely banning the car, but rather of eliminating transit traffic – that is, movements that cross the city center without having either origin or destination in this city center. This corresponds to 40% of the total traffic.
The “Gott Flyt” plan has therefore carried out measures such as the pedestrianization of certain streets, the conversion of certain two-way streets into one-way roads and an increase in the number of cycle paths.
London: fewer cars in residential areas
Unlike Brussels, in London, measures to reduce car traffic have targeted residential areas rather than the city centre. Here, the “Lavtrafikkkvarterne” ensure that certain streets are only accessible to pedestrians, cyclists, people on scooters or by bus – and not to private cars.
“Satellite navigation has diverted many cars from residential streets to avoid main roads, which are more congested, so the role of ‘Low Traffic Neighborhoods’ is to reduce traffic where people live,” explains Nicolas Bosetti, project manager at the Center for London. He says traffic-calmed neighborhoods have generally been effective at encouraging walking and biking and discouraging people from using their cars. “In some places, for example, we have seen the number of cyclists double,” he adds.
However, not everyone in London shares Nicolas Bosetti’s view. “Here in Dulwich, ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhoods’ have not worked,” says Clive Rates, chairman of the citizens’ collective Clean Air for All Dulwich. Clive Rates explains that in Dulwich the traffic jams simply displaced traffic rather than reducing it. He adds that as people cannot access certain roads with their cars and are forced to take longer trips to get around restrictions, traffic and pollution are increasing.
As an alternative solution to permanently reduce traffic, Clive Rates is in favor of improving public transport. He explains that public transport in Dulwich does not work well and is not accessible to all citizens. If public transport were improved and expanded, car consumption would drop significantly, he believes.
Paris: the revolution of the “neighborhood city”
The city of Paris has gone further in its anti-car campaign by questioning the very necessity of travel. The French capital is in the process of rethinking its urban plan based on Carlos Moreno’s “neighborhood city” concept. The planner defines the “15-minute city” as a city where a person can access all essential services within 15 minutes on foot or by bike, regardless of where they live.
The district of Clichy-Batignolles, in the northwestern part of Paris, is an excellent example of the “city of neighborhoods”. “You can get everywhere on foot, by bike, in soft mobility. I don’t see a car”, emphasizes Carlos Moreno. However, the urban planner believes that urban design is not enough to achieve car-free cities: “We have to change mentality”, he says. Still, he is convinced that this is the direction we are heading in: “The city of the future is the city where a car is, where it needs to be, only because it is strictly necessary, however long it takes. No more .”