In a nutshell, yes. But it’s not that simple.

The concept of car-free cities is becoming more and more popular across the world, governments and councils are considering their urban centres and looking to address environmental and transportation challenges.

What is a car-free city?

“The strategy that we’ve got is not about saying this all needs to be car-free or anti-car.  It’s about providing a safe, easy alternative, enabling people to ditch their car and think, ‘Actually, it’s easier, it’s quicker, it’s more fun, it’s healthier, to walk, to cycle, or to use public transport‘. And that for me is the future.”

Will Norman, the Walking & Cycling commissioner for London, on the Practical Democracy Podcast

What cities are car-free?

Venice, Madrid, Paris and Barcelona are all examples of a European city with large pedestrianised areas and are classed as car-free cities.

Other cities in the UK, like Bristol and London have implemented clean air zones to discourage drivers from entering city centres and to target diesel cars that give off worse emissions.

In Sydney, Australia, where there’s a heavier car dependency, there’s a big push to create a car-free day in the city centre to encourage community-building events and festival days.

Across New Zealand, small examples of pedestrianism exist, but no city is car less yet. However, Auckland’s council launched a City Centre Masterplan that covers the next 20 years, including the route to a car-free city.

Why do car-free cities exist?

example of a car free city street

The movement promoting car-free cities is growing in no small reason, due to the climate crisis and the drive for less pollution and emissions in spaces where people work and live.

30% of global emissions come from transport. Many countries have implemented sweeping targets of net zero emissions by 2050 – so reducing reliance on personal vehicles is at the top of the agenda for many public bodies.

Even Birmingham, UK, a city known for its sprawling spaghetti junctions and swathes of motorways, has pledged to have fewer cars on the road.

The benefits of a car-free city

  • Reduced air pollution and thus improved air quality
  • Reduction of noise pollution
  • Reduced road accidents
  • Reduced traffic congestion
  • Greater community space for events like street festivals
  • Stimulation of economic growth
  • Better and more sustainable public transportation options
  • Increased amount of green space
  • Better public health
  • Higher levels of public mobility

Car-free cities are coming. So how are we going to get there?

1. Data, data and more data

To make the transition towards greener modes of transport, planners need to gather a lot of information. How do people move around the area? What routes do they take? Do they use existing infrastructure, create their own routes, or use a combination of both? What measures would they like to see implemented and what ones would they avoid? How do they use their cars and what would encourage them to use them less?

People want to feel safe on the roads. The fundamental piece is getting the infrastructure right for cycling, but you need to work and engage with communities.”

Will Norman

Of course, the first step toward finding out the answers to these questions is by asking people. Good-quality community engagement is the key here. Starting a statutory consultation to gather thoughts, concerns and feedback is the first step in spatial planning and making adjustments that cater to a car-less city.

A great example of good transport engagement is Warwickshire’s proposed new active travel plan for the area on Citizen Space.

Sample page in Warwickshire’s transport infrastructure plan consultation
Informative interactive map in Warwickshire’s transport infrastructure plan consultation

It features proposals for improved walking and cycling across the borough. For such a detailed activity, it presents a ton of information very clearly. They’ve used informational interactive maps, fact banks and tables as different ways of presenting information, in a way that allows the user to choose how much of it they want to read or consume. Plus it’s routed in a way that’s easy to follow and provides a good user experience.

2. Aggregated small actions

Local authorities are already putting a lot of measures in place to reduce emissions and encourage active travel to lead to a car-free future.

You can browse through them on the Citizen Space Aggregator. Our customers are engaging on everything from making emergency COVID travel routes permanent, to clean air/low emission zones, to EV charging points, and more.

Individually these seem like small things, but if a city is implementing lots of them the overall effect is that the air is cleaner, your commute is quieter, and it’s much easier to get around if you’re not using private cars.

3. Updated legislation

In many countries, legislation is a barrier to making rapid changes to the road network. The TRO system in the UK places a huge time and cost burden on councils when making transport-related changes.

For example, a TRO is needed for each individual public electric vehicle charge point. To make the sweeping changes required if we want a low-car future, we need to update legacy legislation without compromising on safety and democratic input.

So, yes – car-free cities are likely the future. There’s lots of work to do, but with sensible community engagement and informed decision-making, the transition away from cars can be a smooth one. To quote Will Norman a final time: “If you build it, people come.”

Check out a recording of the Practical Democracy Project event we hosted last year, ‘Why aren’t TROs trending?’

And if you want to hear more from Will Norman, check out the episode of the Practical Democracy Podcast on which he featured. You can also follow him on Twitter.

Citizen Space is a citizen engagement platform trusted by government around the world. Government organisations and public bodies use Citizen Space to connect with more citizens, increase engagement and improve processes.

To learn more about what Citizen Space can do for your organisation, book a free demo and we’ll walk you through it.