Starting in November, Madrid will bar non-resident vehicles from driving anywhere in the city center. The only cars that will be allowed downtown will be those that belong to locals, zero-emissions delivery vehicles, taxis, and public transit like buses.
While this goal may seem ambitious, Madrid seems to have been inching away from car dependency over the past decade. In 2005, the city set up its first pedestrian-only zone in the dense neighbourhood of Las Letras.
Madrid is not the only city getting ready to take the car-free plunge. Urban planners and policy makers around the world have started to brainstorm ways that cities can create more space for pedestrians and lower CO2 emissions from diesel.
Here are 13 cities leading the car-free movement.
Oslo, Norway will implement its car ban by 2019.
Oslo plans to permanently ban all cars from its city center by 2019 – six years before Norway’s country-wide ban would go into effect.
The Norwegian capital will invest heavily in public transportation and replace 35 miles of roads previously dominated by cars with bike lanes.
“The fact that Oslo is moving forward so rapidly is encouraging, and I think it will be inspiring if they are successful,” said Paul Steely White, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives, an organisation that supports bikers in New York City and advocates for car-free cities.
Madrid’s planned ban is even more extensive.
Madrid plans to ban cars from 500 acres of its city center by 2020, with urban planners redesigning 24 of the city’s busiest streets for walking rather than driving.
The initiative is part of the Spanish capital’s “sustainable mobility plan,” which aims to reduce daily car usage from 29% to 23%. Drivers who ignore the new regulations will pay a fine of at least $US100. And the most polluting cars will pay more to park.
“In neighbourhoods, you can do a lot with small interventions,” Mateus Porto and Verónica Martínez, who are both architects and urban planners from the local pedestrian advocacy group A PIE, told Fast Company. “We believe that regardless of what the General Plan says about the future of the city, many things can be done today, if there is political will.”
In late May, the city also confirmed that it will prohibit non-resident vehicles from its downtown starting in November. CityLab reports that the new initiative could encourage people to driving less in the wider metro area as well.
People in Chengdu, China will be able to walk anywhere in 15 minutes or less.
Chicago-based architects Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill designed a new residential area for the Chinese city. The layout makes it easier to walk than drive, with streets designed so that people can walk anywhere in 15 minutes.
While Chengdu won’t completely ban cars, only half the roads in the 80,000-person city will allow vehicles. The firm originally planned to make this happen by 2020, but zoning issues are delaying the deadline.
Hamburg is making it easier not to drive.
The German city plans to make walking and biking its dominant mode of transport. Within the next two decades, Hamburg will reduce the number of cars by only allowing pedestrians and bikers to enter certain areas.
The project calls for a gruenes netz, or a “green network,” of connected spaces that people can access without cars. By 2035, the network will cover 40% of Hamburg and will include parks, playgrounds, sports fields, and cemeteries.
In February, Germany’s highest administrative court also ruled that, in an effort to improve urban air quality, cities can ban cars from some streets. As The New York Times notes, the ruling could open the floodgates for cities around the country to go car-free.
Stuttgart and Düsseldorf – German cities with high pollution levels – will likely enact the first bans in the fall. Stuttgart, home to Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, has recently favoured such bans. In 2017, Stuttgart announced that starting this year, it will keep diesel vehicles that don’t meet emissions standards from entering the city on high-pollution days.
Bikes continue to rule the road in Copenhagen.
Today, over half of Copenhagen’s population bikes to work every day, thanks to the city’s effort to introduce pedestrian-only zones starting in the 1960s. The Danish capital now boasts more than 200 miles of bike lanes and has one of the lowest percentages of car ownership in Europe.
The latest goal is to build a superhighway for bikes that will stretch to surrounding suburbs. The first of 28 planned routes opened in 2014, and 11 more will be completed by the end of 2018. The city has also pledged to become completely carbon-neutral by 2025.
Paris will ban diesel cars and double the number of bike lanes.
When Paris banned cars with even-numbered plates for a day in 2014, pollution dropped by 30%. Now, the city wants to discourage cars from driving in the city center at all.
As of July 2016, all drivers with cars made before 1997 are not permitted to drive in the city center on weekdays. If they do, they will be fined, though they can drive there freely on the weekends.
The mayor says Paris also plans to double its bike lanes and limit select streets to electric cars by 2020. The city also continues to make smaller, short-term efforts to curb emissions – its first car-free day was in 2015, and it instated a car-free Sundays rule in 2016.
London asks drivers to pay a congestion charge.
Just like Paris, the mayor of London says the city will ban diesel cars by 2020.
Currently, the city discourages the use of diesel engines in some areas of the city by charging a fee of $US12.50 per day for diesel cars that enter during peak hours. They call it a “congestion charge.”
“London is already talking about an ultra low emission zone, banning all sorts of diesel vehicles,” Stephen Joseph from the Campaign for Better Transport told The Telegraph. “This is not unlikely that they will be banned altogether in the same way Paris has done.”
Brussels, Belgium features the largest car-free area in Europe.
Most streets that surround Brussels’ city square, stock exchange, and Rue Neuve (a major shopping street) have always been pedestrian-only. The roads make up the second largest car-free zone in Europe, behind Copenhagen.
In 2002, Brussels launched its first “Mobility Week,” which was meant to encourage public transportation over private transport. And for one day every September, all cars are banned from the entire city center.
The city is looking for more ways to expand its car-free zones – one proposal would turn a popular four-lane boulevard into a pedestrian-only area. In January, Brussels started banning diesel cars made prior to 1998. And this summer, the city will make public transport free on high-air-pollution days, according to The Guardian.
Berlin is building bike super-highways.
In 2008, the German capital created a low-emission zone banning all gas and diesel vehicles that fail to meet national emission standards. The area covers about 34 square miles in the city center and affect approximately one-third of Berlin’s residents, according to Curbed.
Berlin also announced a plan in March 2017 to build a dozen bike super-highways, which will each stretch at least 13 feet wide and be blocked off from cars. The city began construction in late 2017.
Mexico City hopes to ban about two million cars from the city center.
In April 2016, Mexico City’s local government decided to prohibit a portion of cars from driving into the city center two days every work week and two Saturdays per month. It determines which cars can drive on a given day using a rotating system based on licence plate numbers.
According to the Associated Press, the policy applies to an estimated two million cars and helps to mitigate the city’s high smog levels.
Bogotá has been working to kick cars off the streets since 1974.
In Bogotá, Colombia, over 75 miles of roads close to vehicles one day every week in an event that began in 1974, called Ciclovía. The city now has over 200 miles of bike-only lanes, too.
In 2013, the local government also implemented the Pico y Placa (Peak and Plate) program, which certain bans from driving during the peak traffic hour. The restriction applies to certain licence plates on certain days of the week, depending if they are even or odd.
San Francisco wants to ban cars on one of its busiest streets.
In August 2017, San Francisco announced its plan to ban cars and add bike lanes on 2.2 miles of Market Street, one of the city’s busiest boulevards, SF Gate reported. Throughout the city, there 125 miles of bike lanes total.
Eight years in the making, the $US604 million plan aims to make Market Street more pedestrian-friendly. The project will take several years, but construction of the first phase started in early 2018.
New York City is decreasing car traffic in small doses.
While New York City isn’t planning a car ban anytime soon, it is increasing the number of pedestrian areas, along with bike share, subway, and bus options.
Strips of land in popular areas like Times Square, Herald Square, and Madison Square Park are permanently pedestrian-only. On three Saturdays every August, hundreds of thousands of people take advantage of Summer Streets, an annual event that prohibits cars from driving on a major thoroughfare connecting Central Park to the Brooklyn Bridge, and opens roads for pedestrians.
Transportation Alternatives, based in NYC, also hopes to work with the city to create more pedestrian plazas. White said urban planners are no longer trying to optimise NYC and other places for drivers, and are instead thinking about cities differently.
“This is what everyday life could look like as if people mattered,” White said. “The worst thing as an urban dweller is to be stuck with the auto as your only option.”
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