If you get fed up of the constant noise and stress of road traffic, know that there is a lot that can be done to reduce cars on our roads, even if it’s not yet possible for most cities to go car-free. Reducing road traffic makes our communities safer and healthier to live, and also makes roads safer for wildlife.
Car-sharing clubs take around 19 in 20 cars off the road, as the same vehicle is being used by several people over a given time, which also massively frees up parking spaces (the car is nearly always in use). Councils can help by not giving planning permission to out-of-town supermarkets, meaning people have to drive to get to them. And supporting local markets and farm shops means wholesalers can often walk or bike produce to customers (25% of all road traffic is from lorries delivering food from supermarket central distribution houses).
The world’s most pedestrian-friendly city is Copenhagen in happy Denmark. Local planner Jan Gehl began by removing cars off the main street. Then over a few years, he gradually made more streets car-free, installed cycle renting stations, and added street lighting and heated seats, so people could enjoy walking on winter nights.
First life, then spaces, then buildings. The other way around never works. Architects know very little about people. An endless number of green buildings don’t make a sustainable city. Jan Gehl
Urban journalist Philip Langden says the ideal city should be where nearly everywhere is within walking distance. This mimics the beautiful Alabama town of Mt Laurel, which has tree-lined streets where residents can walk to the local market, park and even the fire station, all without setting foot in a car.
Curbing Traffic is a beautifully written book, looking at how to claim back our streets, from only being used for cars. Inspired by living in The Netherlands (where cars are treated as visitors rather than ‘owners of the road’), the authors know that it’s not realistic for most cities to go car-free, so instead look at workable and inspiring solutions that can be implemented by worldwide.
The book also covers ‘living streets’ which creates streets of various widths (with middle-street bike parking) for ‘outdoor living rooms’ that force cars to slow down to almost walking speed, with quiet areas that enable residents to hear the songs of urban birds. Popularity of e-bikes (enabling people to ferry groceries, toddlers and pets) means bikes make up a third of all trips in The Netherlands, compared to around 4% elsewhere. One reviewer notes his local train station in Luton (Bedfordshire) has two big car parks and (unused) parking for 40 bicycles). But Delft train station has secure parking for almost 10,000 bicycles.
Canadians Melissa and Chris Bruntlett spent years living in the ancient Dutch city of Delft (population around 100,000), where most people travel by bike at around 10 miles per hour. The city includes many unique design principles like regular seating (to enable older people to rest on walking journeys), building senior communities in low-traffic areas (so it’s easy to take walks) and ‘forgiving design’ to help avoid serious injury, in the case of collisions with traffic). They have also explored car-free cities in Sweden, Denmark and Belgium.