Are cars an urban design flaw? Cities advance car-free zones

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World Economic Forum
  • An initiative in Berlin would establish a massive car-free zone.
  • Many other cities, including those at a design disadvantage, are also trying to diminish car travel.
  • Curtailing cars cuts emissions and can increase the quality of life.

An effort now underway to establish a car-free zone bigger than Manhattan in central Berlin, a relatively dense location where 15% of the surface area is used for road traffic, just might succeed.

But what about a place like Los Angeles County, a sprawling megalopolis where a nearly equal percentage of surface area is used just for parking – on top of the hundreds of square kilometers occupied by essential roads and clogged freeways?

A legacy of planning hinged on cars has left many urban areas both disjointed and disadvantaged in terms of designing for a more sustainable future. But it’s possible to undo some of that damage.

In Los Angeles, the mayor wants to slash the driving done in the city by half over the next few decades, and has expressed interest in charging entry fees for some vehicles – similar to a scheme in London. Many local residents may be surprised to learn there’s a subway system expanding beneath their feet, and bicycle ridership has boomed during the pandemic (though its staying power is uncertain).

Los Angeles is not the only city trying to shake its car dependency. Bogotá, which didn’t have a public transportation system as recently as 1999, has regulated the number of privately owned cars that can be on the roads at any given time, and instituted an annual car-free day. Mexico City has capped the parking spaces allowed for cars in new developments, and added requirements for bicycle spaces.

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