The car-free movement is a broad, informal, emergent network of individuals and organizations including social activists, urban planners and others brought together by a shared belief that large and/or high-speed motorized vehicles (cars, trucks, tractor units, motorcycles, ...) are too dominant in most modern cities. The goal of the movement is to create places where motorized vehicle use is greatly reduced or eliminated, to convert road and parking space to other public uses and to rebuild compact urban environments where most destinations are within easy reach by walking, cycling or public transport.
Before the twentieth century, cities and towns were normally compact, containing narrow streets busy with human activity. In the early twentieth century, many of these settlements were adapted to accommodate the car with wider roads, more car parking spaces, and lower population densities with space between urban buildings reserved for automotive use. Lower population densities meant urban sprawl with longer distances between places. The low cost of use brought traffic congestion which made older transport unattractive or impractical, and created the conditions for more traffic and sprawl; the car system was "increasingly able to 'drive' out competitors, such as feet, bikes, buses and trains". This process led to changes in urban form and living patterns that offered little opportunity for people without a car.
Some governments have responded to this emerging situation with policies and regulations aimed at reversing this trend by increasing urban densities, encouraging mixed use development, reducing space allocated to the private cars, and lending greater support to cycling, walking, and public transport. Globally cities are planning to increase their public transport and non-motorized transport modal shares and shift away from private transport oriented development. Cities like Hong Kong developed a highly integrated public transportation system which effectively reduced the use of private transport. In contrast with private automotive travel, car sharing, where people can easily rent a car for a few hours rather than own one, is emerging as an increasingly important element for urban transportation.
Proponents of the car-free movement focus on both sustainable transportation options and on urban design, zoning, school placement policies, urban agriculture, telecommuting options, and housing developments that create proximity or access so that long distance transportation becomes less of a requirement of daily life.
New urbanism is an American urban design movement that arose in the early 1980s. Its goal has been to reform all aspects of real estate development and urban planning, from urban retrofits to suburban infill. New urbanist neighborhoods are designed to contain a diverse range of housing and jobs, and to be walkable. Other, more auto-oriented cities are also making incremental changes to provide transportation alternatives through Complete streets improvements.
World Squares for all is a scheme to remove much of the traffic from major squares in London, including Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square.
Car-free cities are, as the name implies entire cities (or at least the inner parts therof) which have been made entirely car-free.
Car-free zones are area of a city or town where use of cars is prohibited or greatly restricted.
Living streets and complete streets provide for the needs of car drivers secondarily to the needs of users of the street as a whole. They are designed to be shared by pedestrians, playing children, bicyclists, and low-speed motor vehicles.
Distribution centers help reduce the need to keep buildings such as warehouses in city centers accessible by Tractor units. They allow the tractor units to unload their products in the distribution center, which is placed outside of the city center. The products are then placed in a small truck (sometimes electrically powered), freight bicycle, ... to bridge the last mile (transportation) to the warehouse. Besides offering advantages to the population (increased safety due to truck drivers having less blind spots), reduced noise/traffic, reduced tailpipe emissions, ...) it also offers financial advantage for the companies, as tractor units require a lot of time to bridge this last mile (they are not very agile in city centers) and the driver is paid by the hour, and they also have very high fuel consumption in urban centers. There is also less risk of accidents occurring, and the associated costs thereon.
At the outskirts of towns, between the exits of the rings roads, and the car-free zones in the city center themselves, additional car parking lots can be added, generally in the form of underground car parks (to avoid it taking up surface space). Careful placement of these car-parking lots is needed though, ensuring that they are made far enough from the city centers (and closer to the ring roads) to avoid them attracting more cars to the city center. In some instances, near these car parking lotss, public transport (i.e. bus) stops are foreseen, or bicycle-sharing services are present.
Community bicycle programs provide bicycles within an urban environment for short term use. The first successful scheme was in the 1960s in Amsterdam and can now be found in many other cities with 20,000 bicycles introduced to Paris in 2007 in the Vélib' scheme. Dockless bike share systems have recently appeared in the U.S. and provide more convenience for people wanting to rent a bike for a short time period.
The Campaign for Better Transport (formerly known as Transport2000) was formed in 1972 in Britain to challenge proposed cuts in the British rail network and since then has promoted public transport solutions to our transport needs.
Car Free Walks is a UK-based website encouraging walkers to use public transport to reach the start and end of walks, rather than using a car.
Road protests rose to prominence in the UK in the early 1990s in response to a major road building program both in urban communities and also rural areas.
Reclaim the Streets, a movement formed in 1991 in London, "invaded" major roads, highway or freeway to stage parties. While this may obstruct the regular users of these spaces such as car drivers and public bus riders, the philosophy of RTS is that it is vehicle traffic, not pedestrians, who are causing the obstruction, and that by occupying the road they are in fact opening up public space.
In Flanders, the organisation Fietsersbond has called upon the government to ban tractor units in city centers.
Critical Mass rides emerged in 1992 in San Francisco where cyclists take to the streets en masse to dominate the traffic, using the slogan "we are traffic". The ride was founded with the idea of drawing attention to how unfriendly the city was to bicyclists.
The World Naked Bike Ride was born in 2001 in Spain with the first naked bike rides, which then emerged as the WNBR in 2004 a concept which rapidly spread through collaborations with many different activist groups and individuals around the world to promote bicycle transportation, renewable energy, recreation, walkable communities, and environmentally responsible, sustainable solutions to living in the twenty-first century.
Parking Days started in 2005 when REBAR, a collaborative group of creators, designers and activists based in San Francisco, transformed a metered parking spot into a small park complete with turf, seating, and shade and by 2007 there were 180 parks in 27 cities around the world.
Car Free Days are official events with the common goal of taking a fair number of cars off the streets of a city or some target area or neighborhood for all or part of a day, in order to give the people who live and work there a chance to consider how their city might look and work with significantly fewer cars. The first events were organised in Reykjavík (Iceland), Bath (UK) and La Rochelle (France) in 1995.
In town without my car! is an EU campaign and day every autumn (Northern Hemisphere) for an increased use of other vehicles than the car. It has since spread beyond the EU, and in 2004 more than 40 countries participate.
World Urbanism Day was founded in 1949 in Buenos Aires and is celebrated in more than 30 countries on four continents each November 8.
Towards Carfree Cities is the annual conference of the World Carfree Network and provides a focal point for diverse aspects of the emerging global carfree movement. The conference is in Portland, Oregon, USA in 2008 (its first time in North America), and has also been in Istanbul, Turkey; Bogota, Colombia; Budapest, Hungary; Berlin, Germany; Prague, Czech Republic; Timisoara, Romania; and Lyon, France. The conference series attempts to bridge the gap between many of the diverse people and organizations interested in reducing urban dependence on the automobile.
Transportation Alternative's Annual Commuter Race pits a bicyclist against both a subway rider and a cab rider in a race from Queens to Manhattan. The Fifth Annual Commuter race took place in May 2009, where bicyclist Rachel Myers beat straphanger Dan Hendrick and cab rider Willie Thompson to make it the fifth year the contestant on the bicycle won. Myers took the 2009 title with a time of 20 minutes and 15 seconds to make the 4.2 mile trek from Sunnyside, Queens to Columbus Circle in Manhattan. Hendrick showed up 15 minutes later off the subway and Thompson arrived via cab nearly a half-hour after that. Transportation Alternatives is a group that "seeks to change New York City's transportation priorities to encourage and increase non-polluting, quiet, city-friendly travel and decrease—not ban—private car use. [They] seek a rational transportation system based on a 'Green Transportation Hierarchy,' which gives preference to modes of travel based on their benefits and costs to society. To achieve our goals, T.A. works in five areas: Bicycling, Walking and Traffic Calming, Car-Free Parks, Safe Streets and Sensible Transportation." The 2009 Commuter Race came on the heels of a Times Square traffic ban in NYC that drew national media attention.
Definitions and types
There are many areas of the world where people have always lived without cars, because no road access is possible, or none has been provided. In developed countries these include islands and some historic neighbourhoods or settlements, the largest example being the canal city of Venice. The term carfree development implies a physical change - either new building or changes to an existing built area.
Melia et al. (2010) define carfree development as follows:
Carfree developments are residential or mixed use developments which:
- Normally provide a traffic free immediate environment, and:
- Offer no parking or limited parking separated from the residence, and:
- Are designed to enable residents to live without owning a car.
This definition (which they distinguish from the more common "low car development") is based mainly on experience in Northwestern Europe, where the movement for carfree development began. Within this definition three types are identified:
- Vauban model
- Limited Access model
- Pedestrianised centres with residential population
Vauban, Freiburg, Germany is according to this definition, the largest carfree development in Europe, with over 5,000 residents. Whether it can be considered carfree is open to debate: many local people prefer the term "stellplatzfrei" - literally "free from parking spaces" to describe the traffic management system there. Vehicles are allowed down the residential streets at walking pace to pick up and deliver but not to park, although there are frequent infractions. Residents of the stellplatzfrei areas must sign an annual declaration stating whether they own a car or not. Car owners must purchase a place in one of the multi-storey car parks on the periphery, run by a council-owned company. The cost of these spaces – €17,500 in 2006, plus a monthly fee – acts as a disincentive to car ownership.
Limited access type
The more common form of car free development involves some sort of physical barrier, which prevents motor vehicles from penetrating into a carfree interior. Melia et al. describe this as the "Limited Access" type. In some cases such as Stellwerk 60 in Cologne, there is a removable barrier, controlled by a residents' organisations. In others such as Waterwijk (Amsterdam) (article in Dutch) vehicular access is only available from the exterior.
Main article: Pedestrian zone
Whereas the first two models apply to newly built car free developments, most pedestrianised city, town and district centres have been retro-fitted. Pedestrianised centres may be considered carfree developments where they include a significant number of residents, mostly without cars, due to new residential development within them, or because they already included dwellings when they were pedestrianised. The largest example in Europe is Groningen (city) with a city centre population of 16,500
Benefits and problems of car free developments
Several studies have been done on European car free developments. The most comprehensive was conducted in 2000 by Jan Scheurer. Other more recent studies have been made of specific carfree areas such as Vienna's Florisdorf carfree development.
The main benefits found for car free developments (summarised in Melia et al. 2010) found in the various studies are:
- very low levels of car use, resulting in much less traffic on surrounding roads
- high rates of walking and cycling
- more independent movement and active play amongst children
- less land taken for parking and roads - more available for green or social space
The main problems related to parking management. Where parking is not controlled in the surrounding area, this often results in complaints from neighbours about overspill parking.
- Paris, France – the authorities ban cars from the Georges Pompidou Expressway along Paris’s Right Bank into the Paris-Plages (Paris Beach) for one month every summer since 2004 and converts it into a pedestrian refuge replete with a sandy beach, activities including dance lessons, climbing walls, games, and swimming (in floating pools), and amenities like beach chairs, cafes, misting fountains, and shady palm trees.
- Sark in the Channel Islands is car-free.
- Village Homes in Davis, California is designed to allow car-free movement with an extensive system of pedestrian/bike paths, running through common areas that exhibit a variety of landscaping, garden areas, play structures, statuary, with most houses facing the common areas rather than the streets. The roads are all narrow, curving cul-de-sacs without sidewalks which give them the feel of village lanes; the few cars that venture into the cul-de-sacs usually travel slowly.
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Photographer Diane Meyer set out to capture the inspiring and courageous citizens of L.A. who decided to rid themselves of the symbol of American freedom—the automobile. The following photo essay is a small sample of the nearly 100 people Meyer hoped to interview for the project.
Meyer writes: "through images and text from the interviews, the project will address how car culture has shaped psychological, spatial, and geographic perceptions of the city." The purpose of the project is to then "provide a voice to a group of individuals often perceived to be disenfranchised in some way for not having an automobile."
Click here to play the slideshow.
Photos courtesy of Diane Meyer.
Photo essay: A group of East Bay middle and high school students from Berkeley's Young Artists Workspace (YAWS) created this collection of portraits featuring 12 Bay Area residents who have done important work to preserve and heal the environment.
How one man's choice to live car-free brought him more in touch with his neighbors, his community, and himself.
What we can do about transportation: feet, bikes, buses, and an all-electric fleet.