From banning diesels to pedestrianizing downtowns, here’s how cities are fighting cars
Megan BarberAug 14, 2018, 12:02pm EDT
Cities around the world are facing a crisis: Cars are wreaking havoc, snarling streets, and contributing to increased air pollution. The World Health Organization says that around three million deaths every year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution, much of which is emitted as exhaust from the cars we drive every day.
As a result, cities like London, Paris, and Seoul are doubling down on car-free policies, aiming to decrease pollutants and make people’s daily lives better. Some regulations call for low-emission zones and the banning of diesel vehicles, since diesel cars are one of the worst sources of urban air pollution. In Germany, where diesel technology was developed, the country’s highest administrative court ruled in February 2018 that banning diesel cars in an effort to improve air quality was legal, opening the floodgates for German cities to go car-free.
Other cities have opted for pricing schemes that either charge commuters for driving at peak times or in congested urban areas or fine people for driving cars with high emissions. Still other cities choose to restrict driving by license plate numbers—whether in an emergency attempt to reduce harmful spikes in nitrogen dioxide or as a more long-term effort to combat declining air quality.
Amid all of the restrictions are other urban planning goals: Oslo, Norway; Bogotá, Colombia; and Hamburg, Germany are all betting big on bike lanes, converting boulevards into pedestrian plazas and creating bike “superhighways” that cater to people looking to ditch diesels and get on two wheels. If banning vehicles is one part of the puzzle, creating walkable cities and expanding public transit options are the other pieces to master.
Although we’ve chosen to highlight international cities on this list, American cities have also taken note. New York City just completed a four-year renovation of Times Square that revamped the iconic space into an 85,000-square-foot pedestrian plaza. The city has also proposed transforming busy Bedford Avenue and Grand Street into other car-free zones.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles is reconsidering its transportation future, paving the way for how shared, self-driving vehicles could be used in an urban setting. The city is also using its Great Streets Program to reinvigorate thoroughfares with art, pedestrian walkways, and plazas. And San Francisco has plans to ban cars and add bike lanes on Market Street, one of the city’s busiest streets. Elsewhere, rapidly growing cities like Charlotte and Denver are considering long-term plans that would emphasize pedestrians and multi-modal transportation over cars.
Still, no American city has taken a hard stance against cars, whether by banning diesels or restricting driving. Even though transportation is now the fastest-growing contributor to greenhouse gases in our country, we have to look abroad for the best examples of how urban areas are going car-free.
To highlight just how pervasive the car-free movement has become in the rest of the world, we’ve rounded up 15 international cities working to reduce emissions, encourage alternative transportation, and get people out of their cars.