Car-free future: how European cities are experimenting with green transport
A snack in a parking lot can be like something out of Alice in Wonderland.
But views like these, of the parklet countryside in London last month, or of people strolling the middle of the Champs-Elysees in Paris, are increasingly common as we reinvent our city centers.
Greener cities come in many shades, and it’s not just about banning cars, but offering inspiring alternatives.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the travel revolution in some places, with widened gateways and thriving cycling infrastructure. As further proof of the adverse effects of air pollution is emerging, should we regain even more ground?
These are some of the strategies used across Europe, to help improve the lives of citizens, as defined by the climate charity Possible.
Redraw the streets
Once you stop taking the presence of cars for granted, many new possibilities open up.
In Oslo, most of the street parking has been replaced with street furniture like benches and mini-parks, as well as larger cycle lanes and sidewalks. While some businesses feared a loss of trade, the city center actually saw its footfall increase by 10% after the reduction measures.
One British man who has taken charge of town planning is Adam Tranter, Mayor of Coventry. When the mini-garden he had built in a parking lot was removed by the local council, Adam found a loophole in replant your parklet on top of a truck.
London Parklets Campaign founder Brenda Puech has big ambitions for parklets. On the first “People Parking Day” in September, Londoners requisitioned some of the city’s 1 million parking spaces for fun and games.
“Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a private garden, so providing social spaces near homes is essential,” she said.
With a third of UK carbon emissions coming from travel – and private cars the biggest contributors – the push for parklets is not just a colorful performance but a vital intervention.
Invest in bicycles
The medieval city of Ghent saw its narrow streets submerged in traffic in the 1980s.
After banning cars from its historic center in 1997, the German city invested in cycling exhibitions – resulting in cultural change – and built 300 km of cycle paths and rental bicycles to navigate them.
In many other cities in Europe, e-bike programs are booming. In his sustainable guide “How to Thrive in the Next Economy,” John Thackara writes that an “ecosystem of bikes, some of which are electrically assisted, will meet most of our needs for connecting and dealing with each other using 5 % or less. systems based on cars and trains.
Bicycle and mobility lanes are undoubtedly an important part of future infrastructure, but they are not suitable for everyone. Some people with disabilities need vehicles to get around; As Possible put it, a “car-free city” is free from the dangers, pollution and emissions caused by massive private car ownership. It is not a city without cars.
More accessible public transport systems like streetcars are also ripe for expansion.
Better town planning
Reducing the need to travel is another obvious way to reduce our carbon footprint.
Planning new developments for homes and businesses close to public transport like the tram has been an important part of Freiburg’s journey to become Germany’s unofficial “environmental capital”. Nine in ten residents now live in areas where traffic cannot exceed 19 mph – even 5 mph on some streets – a clear sign that public transport has priority.
In Milan, COVID-19 has sparked an “Open Streets” initiative, expanding bike lanes, sidewalks and places where children can play.
One area has become a low traffic neighborhood (LTN) and is now being considered for a “15 minute neighborhood” pilot, where everything people need is within walking distance.
Although Milan and other Italian cities have a crowded recent past, the famous squares in towns and cities across the country suggest other ways of life. His ‘Open squaresis another key to Milan’s traffic-free future.
Hold on to cars
Either way, reducing the number of cars in city centers is key to meeting national climate goals and improving our health.
In northern Spain, the city of Pontevedra banned cars from its 300,000 square meter medieval center in the early 2000s, and its residents have reaped the economic, social and health benefits since then. CO2 emissions have fallen by 70%, and the center of Pontevedra attracted some 12,000 new residents.
Things that initially seemed unpopular quickly won over people too. When Stockholm first introduced congestion charges in 2006, it encountered stiff opposition, with around seven in ten people against. Five years later, the numbers have changed to show majority support for the program.
Strasbourg in France was the first city to use an “intelligent traffic management system”, reducing the number of stop-and-go waves along its roads. This reduced emissions of nitrogen oxides and harmful particles from dragging vehicles by 8% and 9% respectively.
During her stay in Paris, Mayor Anne Marie Hidalgo experimented with a series of traffic control measures, including the ban on diesel vehicles manufactured before 2006 in the city during the week.
The capital’s annual car-free day allows pedestrians to walk “face to face” with landmarks like the Arc-de-Triomphe, providing a glimpse of what a larger, cleaner city might look like.
Decontaminating historic cities in Europe 365 days a year is a daunting task, but as more green projects gain public approval, it’s a challenge the continent can take on.