How Cities Around the World Are Reducing Their Number of Cars

Despite improved technology for low and no-emission vehicles, cities are aiming to reduce or eliminate cars from their roadways. The reduction of pollution and quality of life if people used pedestrian walkways, bike paths and public transportation is motivating major changes for urban planning.

Despite recent technological developments in electric, hybrid and autonomous vehicles, many cities are opting to clear their roadways of automobiles to make way for alternative forms of transportation. While increasing pedestrian, cycling and public transportation routes does reduce pollution, it also creates a more convenient, pleasant way to travel through a city center than sitting in grid-locked traffic.

Conquering pollution by limiting emissions

According to World Health Organization statistics, approximately three million deaths each year are connected to air pollution, a large percentage of that stemming from car exhaust. As a result of this public health risk, many cities are focusing their efforts on reducing or eliminating gas or diesel cars from the streets. Leading the way in this effort is Oxford, whose plan will create a zero-emissions zone in the city’s center by 2020. Paris will follow with a gas and diesel ban in 2030. Tokyo has already banned all diesel cars, with London scheduled for 2020 and Copenhagen one year earlier, beginning in 2019.

Copenhagen. Copenhagen has been attacking pollution since the 1960s, and as a result more than 50 percent of the population commutes by bicycle, with one of the lowest percentages of car ownership in Europe. A 500 kilometer superhighway for bikes reaching out to the suburbs is already in progress, with 39 of the routes to be complete by December 2018. In addition, the city also plans to become carbon-neutral by 2025.

“It’s not a human right to pollute the air for others,” Copenhagen’s mayor Frank Jensen told Danish newspaper Politiken. “That’s why diesel cars must be phased out.” 

Likewise, Councilor of the Oxford City Council John Tanner said, “Toxic and illegal air pollution in the city centre is damaging the health of Oxford’s residents.” He added, “A step change is urgently needed.”

Paris. Likewise, Paris has already implemented car-free days, car-free zones and fines for drivers using cars more than 20 years old. These efforts show beneficial effects with a 25 percent drop in nitrogen dioxide levels, and a 20 percent drop in noise levels on the most recent car-free day.

In 2012, the French capital has tried other alternative pollution reducing methods such as banning cars with even-numbered plates, causing pollution to drop 30 percent. Mexico City enacted a similar system rotating license plates beginning in the 1980s and going through 2016, which has reduced the number of cars on the streets by two million to reduce the dense smog among the population of 20 million residents.

Since its initial successes, Paris has ramped up efforts to discourage cars in the city center altogether, committing to double the bike lanes and permitting only low- or zero-emission vehicles on high traffic streets. Other cities such as Berlin are creating large low emission zones to include approximately one-third of the population and building-wide bike superhighways.

In the French capital, cars made prior to 1997 are not allowed to drive in the city center during the week, as of July 2016. A nearly two-mile stretch along the right bank of the Seine was recently reserved for pedestrian traffic. Short-term eliminations of cars continue with car-free Sundays, its first car-free day in 2015, and a monthly closure of the Champs-Élysées.

Even by 2013, the effects of these efforts were beginning to show, as Parisians who did not own a car had grown to 60 percent, compared to only 40 percent in 2001.

Paris’ Mayor Anne Hidalgo told the Journal du Dimanche in January that she wants to “reconquer the public space” for cyclists, pedestrians, and other non-polluting vehicles.

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