October 1, 2013
Many cities such as New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Copenhagen are reintroducing car-free zones to provide common areas for pedestrians and cyclists to maneuver safely, without exposure to fast-moving vehicles. Car-free zones have been known to enhance tourism, boost engagement between residents and local businesses, and reduce auto-related accidents.
The quality of life for residents is arguably improved when car-free zones are incorporated into city designs. Pollution is reduced in areas of high foot traffic, while outdoor activities and exercise opportunities are greatly increased when automobiles are prohibited in certain areas.
Copenhagen’s Stroget area is a world-renowned car-free zone that was created in the 1950s during the Christmas holidays to protect pedestrians during their shopping and festivities. The four-block area was officially labeled a car-free zone in 1962, and quickly evolved into a popular destination spot for tourists and local shoppers alike. After the vehicles were eliminated in the space, nearby businesses reported a 40 percent jump in sales.
U.S. Follows Suit
In the United States, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles are all exploring car-free zone designs to accommodate pedestrian activity and outdoor recreation.
In San Francisco, the eastern half of JFK Drive is void of cars on Sundays, allowing for cyclists, runners, walkers, roller bladders and other active residents to explore the local parks.
In New York City, the city closed down seven miles of streets from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park to vehicle use. The public was able to set up live music shows, group exercise classes, light installations and other recreational activities.
Los Angeles has experimented with a pop-up car-free zone effort in the Sunset Triangle when streets are temporarily closed for farmers markets, neighborhood concerts and other cultural events. When the streets are closed down, residents and visitors feel safe to wander through the happenings and learn more about local cuisine, businesses and culture.
Make It Work
According to Metropolis Magazine, there are a few considerations that must be made for a car-free zone project to be successful, such as:
- Existing pedestrian presence
A city considering a car-free zone should focus on areas where there is already a high volume of foot traffic. This will indicate a demand for increased safety and accessibility, as walkers and shoppers are already drawn to the area’s amenities.
- The street is not an essential part of the city’s street grid
Shutting down a few blocks during weekends or permanently must be a doable change to accommodate pedestrians. The adjustment should not, however, force a drastic disruption to major throughways that enable easy transit through the community.
- The community is informed of the plan
To ensure the car-free zone is a favorable change, decision makers must gather public feedback and criticism. Residents must be aware of what the changes entail and on board with the plan to make good use of the common area.
- The location is unique and offers a tourism appeal
The area that is turned into a car-free zone should not only be convenient to city planners but also be a desirable spot for tourists and pedestrians to frequent. As they are the main target for the revamped area, the locale must include walker-friendly amenities and attractions.
- The appropriate amount of space is selected to optimize the area
When selecting a spot to go car-free, consider how the common pedestrian will feel in the area. If the space is too large, it may feel uncomfortable. Likewise, too small of a locale will limit opportunities for the public to optimize the space.
EfficientGov has tracked other pedestrian-friendly initiatives such as bike-friendly highways and walkable housing.