Car-Free Cities: 7 Interesting Projects from Around The World

Jana Moysich
Dec 5, 2019 · 6 min read
Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Joline Torres on Unsplash

Once, cars represented freedom and status. More recently, private car ownership has moved to the centre of criticism and discussion. According to a study by Roland Berger, privately owned cars are parked 23 hours every day. This is not only inefficient, but it also takes up space. On top of that, cars are expensive and require a lot of costly maintenance.

How would a city without cars look like?

There are enough reasons to incentivise other modes of transportation. Many large cities have already begun their fight against private car ownership. We observe them banning cars from certain areas, changing infrastructures, or introducing fees to decrease the appeal of owning a car.

Let’s take a look at the most challenging projects from around the globe.

1. Oslo’s ambitious vision of a car-free city

When it comes to liveability, Oslo is always top of the list. Norway is famous for being human-centric and they are forerunners once again. In 2015, Oslo set itself a very ambitious plan to ban all fossil-fuel cars from the city centre. Due to some push backs from companies, they had to soften their plan a bit.

But still, some streets in Oslo are completely car-free. They’ve removed 700 parking spots and replaced them with bike lanes, plants and parks. Additionally, the city extended public transportation with more frequent departures and cheaper tickets. They have also heavily invested in bike lanes, to make cycling more safe and comfortable.

Even businesses and shop owners, who were very critical in the beginning, now see an uplift in sales as it’s now more fun for customers to stroll through the city centre.

2. How San Francisco trusts in tech

In 2015, the US Department of Transportation launched the “Smart City Challenge”. Mid-sized cities were asked to find solutions for current problems by using technology. San Francisco, home to Silicon Valley, found a way to deeply involve tech and new businesses into city development. Their plan focuses on shifting people from private vehicles to car- and ridesharing services, enabling citizens short-term access to specific transportation modes.

You could break down the plan to four key elements: Shared, Electric, Connected and Automated. Combined, those aspects would transform San Francisco into a smart city, that puts people first. Even though that concept didn’t win the contest, the city authorities are still willing to continue with this transformation.

Find the whole concept here.

3. Houten was built to be car-free

Image for post
Image for post

The 50,000-resident city Houten is a model for car-free urban spaces. The city was designed to encourage people to travel by bike and train instead of cars, making the centre almost completely car-free.

Houten is surrounded by a “ring-road”, where cars are allowed to drive, but only up to 55 miles per hour. Inside of that ring, only certain, low-speed roads are made for cars. And the concept pays off: Local shops benefit and there was no deadly bicycle accident for 40 years. Nowadays, Houten is known for being one of the safest cities in the Netherlands.

4. Why Jakarta turns into a fair once a week

Car-free days are a common strategy against pollution and congestion that you can observe in many cities. But as Jakarta is known for its never-ending traffic jams, the situation is a little different. The capital of Indonesia implemented the day back in 2007 and since then, they close one of their busiest streets every Sunday from 6 am to 11 am.

During this period, you’ll see Jakarta in a very different light. People walk their dogs, or go for jogs. They’re riding their bicycles and scooting. Along the side of the roads, small vendors are selling street food and drinks. What started as a private initiative to decrease the level of co2 emissions turned into a fair-like event with over 15,000 visitors each Sunday. Today, the government supports the concept and expanded it to eight other cities across the country.

5. Copenhagen has more bikes than cars

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Febiyan on Unsplash

Copenhagen is a good example of a rather big city putting cyclists and pedestrians first. In 2016, the number of bikes exceeded cars for the first time in the cities’ history. Roundabout 60 percent of Copenhagen’s residents commute by bike, which can be attributed to the unique bike infrastructure.

Since 2005, the city invested 130 million into building bike lanes, dedicated bridges and highways for bikes and enough parking space across the city. All measures focused on safety, convenience and speed. Copenhagen’s success in building a bike-friendly city doesn’t come out of thin air, but is well planned and executed by its authorities. Every year, they ask Copenhageners about areas of improvements and act on it.

6. China’s prototype of self-sustaining cities

Image for post
Image for post

Next to the 8.8 million inhabited city Chengdu, China is creating the Great City, which is meant to be a blueprint for sustainable city development which eventually aims to be replicated across China. Achitects Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill are planning to build a self-sustaining and human-friendly city for about 80,000 people.

The ultimate goal is to make cars redundant by creating a walkable city, in which any place can be reached within 15 minutes. Half of the roads will be solely for pedestrians, making it less attractive to own a car.

Compared to other city development projects, it will produce 89 percent less landfill waste and generate 60 percent less carbon dioxide.

Check the project here.

7. Paris’ mayor’s war on cars

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Riley Bathauer on Unsplash

Paris might not be the first city that comes to mind when thinking about the future of cities. But thanks to its Mayor, Anne Hidalgo, the city is developing at an enormous speed. Ms Hidalgo herself declared a war on cars to make the city more livable and greener.

The city is in need of fast actions as the air quality is poor. On days when the ozone level reaches a certain point, the city will forbid cars to enter the city. They also closed one street next to the river Seine permanently, which decreased the level of air pollution by 20 percent around the area.

The cities’ authorities are also accountable for making Paris number eight on the list of bike-friendly cities (coming from 17th place in 2015). Next year, Ms Hidalgo is aiming to almost double the size of bike lanes to 600 miles. Additionally, the number of private car ownership has dropped from 60 to 35 per cent.

It’s amazing how much has changed in the last few years and how the protection and preservation of the environment becomes a top priority for many cities as they develop and grow.

What about the city you live in?


The latest news and stories by the FREE NOW team

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store