The UK has, for decades, been extremely backward looking when it comes to understanding how to build healthy livable cities. There are exceptions, Cambridge comes to mind. However if we really want to understand how we can make our city a healthier, more walkable, bikeable, economically vibrant place, we need to look further afield.
In particular there are two cities that have have had remarkable successes in achieving car free city centres; Pontevedra and Nijmegen.
Nijmegen is a rather flat city in the heart of the Netherlands and as you watch the video below you will definitely see there is rather a lot of cycling.
But key to Nijmegen’s success at tackling the car is the use of modern rising bollard technology to create an ability to keep cars out, but allow buses, taxis, residents, and commercial vehicles in.
These type of bollard systems enabled the council to allay the fears and worries of businesses and residents within the city centre and create a car free heart of the city centre.
Pontevedra on the other hand has started the process in the 1999 and is now phenomenally successful, having reduced city centre car traffic by 97%. This article describes in detail how they achieved it.
Key to the success was moving fast:
“We took office on July 3rd, 1999,” Lores recalls. “And by August 6th, we’d already pedestrianized the historical centre.”
While keeping the city accessible:
Although Lores targeted cars as a scourge of the city, it would be an oversimplification to call his moves simply a “war on cars”. Instead, the underlying idea was to tackle different urban issues — pollution, accessibility, security — through an integral plan. In fact, in most streets there are no physical barriers to keep the cars out. Vehicles making deliveries or locals heading to private garages can still circulate in most places.
“What we did is to create loops to keep people from driving through the city,” Lores explains. “If you enter by the south, you leave by the south.”
The goal of this strategy, which is complemented by severe parking restrictions in all of the central area, is to get rid of what Pontevedra officials call “unnecessary traffic”. This traffic includes vehicles that drive through the city instead of around it, and those searching for a place to park. While hourly street parking is not allowed in the central area, there are a few free street parking spots where anyone can leave the car for 15 minutes. On the other hand, free parking is available in garages at the city fringes, encouraging visitors to leave their cars a short walk away from the centre.
But at every stage they kept people informed and explained what they were doing:
Miguel Lago, director of an association representing businesses in the historical centre, admits there was some resistance at first, but says it was overcome with dialogue and negotiation. “They had to go shop-to-shop explaining their plan and negotiating the circumstances,” says Lago. He also notes that impacts varied by the type of business — bars and restaurants benefitted, for example, but retailers selling large items, such as appliance stores, had a harder time with it. Overall, he says, it’s been a boon for business.
By combining the approaches that both cities have undertaken, keeping the city accessible while keeping unnecessary traffic out of the city centre I think we can achieve a livable city.
The above is very very rough, but I hope it gives an idea of what can be done.