Imagine: a city with no cars

Let’s declutter the CBD

For over a decade I have been advocating the banning of motor traffic in the Melbourne CBD.

Cars are great for travelling between suburbs or travelling to the city centre, but do we want them in the city itself?

Melbourne is blessed with very wide boulevards. Our founding fathers and mothers designed a simple grid with super streets. The new city was to stand in stark contrast to Sydney, which with minimum planning, evolved in a haphazard manner from a collection of streets and laneways.

At the time the concept of super streets was thought to be so extravagant that the government ordered the inclusion of a number of small or “little” streets.

Today we fill these wide boulevards with cars.

I first became interested in the subject when I noticed the visible effects of car pollution on the city. Coming into the city every morning, one could not help notice the dirty brown ring of pollution that encircled the CBD, like the scum ring left in your sink after you have washed a particularly filthy set of dishes and pans.

On bad days the city would be shrouded in smog with only the tops of the tallest buildings visible from a distance.

With no heavy industry in the city for several decades the source of this pollution can only be petrol powered traffic.

Tens of thousands of cars drive into and out of the Melbourne CBD each day. At peak hour twice a day, traffic slows to a crawl as congestion chokes the city. Pollution increases markedly when traffic moves slowly.

For drivers, Melbourne presents alternate routes to those wishing travel north-south or east-west. There is no need to travel through the CBD.

The city will soon boast 100,000 residents. Most of the new residential buildings do not have car parks. The vast majority of these residents do not park in the city. They do not need their cars, if they own cars, in the CBD.

Melbourne has an extensive tram system so commuters can easily cross the city without their car….and it’s free.

More people may be encouraged to cycle into the city if bikes did not need to compete with cars.

My proposal would be to close or substantially close the CBD to motor traffic.

With every change there are always winners and losers. One of the losers from this proposal would be inner city car parks.

The changes will not be introduced overnight and during the transition period, car parks should be encouraged to relocate to the edge of the CBD.

People with mobility restrictions would require careful consideration. In one sense, with cars removed from the streets they will have greater freedom to move within the city. The challenge will be getting into the city.

Retail stores and the entertainment precinct may be concerned about my proposal. I am not sure how many people drive into the city to shop or visit the theatre. I would have thought that shops would face a greater threat from the World Wide Web.

Who knows, once the city becomes people-friendly and a veritable pedestrian wonderland, there should be more people in the city centre rather than less.

There is no reason why the public transport infrastructure inside and below the city cannot be remodelled to better service the retail and entertainment precincts. Taxis can be focussed in these areas, increasing the flow of patronage.

So what, precisely am I proposing?

Given the unique grid of wide and narrow streets, we could free the wide streets for people and keep a few of the narrow streets open for necessary traffic.

I would allow taxis and Uber (only gas powered and later electric) in certain areas of the city. Buses will be permitted to run on the streets that remain open to traffic. Trucks that need to bring supplies into the CBD must do so after midnight and before 5am.

Barricades would be erected to keep motor traffic out of the majority of the CBD.

I would propose that once the streets are free of cars we remodel the space with gardens, fountains, piazzas, ponds, statues, sculptures, an ampitheatre, benches and wonderful gathering spaces.

Everyone excited yet?

As the world’s population increases and cities become larger it is important that we make considered and deliberate decisions about our space. Competition for space is increasing and we must ask ourselves do we really want to share our city streets with cars? Let’s take back our streets.

Recent (tragic) events in the city, have reminded us that sometimes cars and people in the same space, do not mix.

Do we not want to make it the best city it can be? Let’s not fill our streets with motor traffic because we can or because historically the city has evolved in that way.

The age of minimalism is on the rise. Let’s declutter the city. Let’s make it safer and cleaner. Once the cars are out and we can truly enjoy the generous space left behind, we will ask ourselves why we didn’t make these changes earlier.

Cars pollute our air. They steal our peace. They increase the risks to pedestrian traffic. Let’s end the chaos and stop the madness.