What are the benefits of making our cities car-free?

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Cars have fundamentally altered how we commute to work or school, how we travel in general, as well as how cities are laid up. Nowadays, modern urban centers are mostly dominated by cars. However, many European cities have made efforts to overcome this.

In an effort to reposition urban areas away from automobiles and toward public transportation, cycling, and walking, European cities once again have the opportunity to take the lead in this revolution.

Numerous studies have proven the negative effects of cars on the quality of life in cities. Fossil fuel use is the main tenet of the compelling argument against cars, which is supported by a number of other factors. 

According to World Health Organization (WHO) data, nearly all of the world’s population (99 percent) breathes air that has high levels of pollutants and exceeds WHO guideline limits, with low- and middle-income countries seeing the worst exposures. Cities appear to have the worst air pollution, which is a result of a combination of pollutants from industry, construction, and traffic.

However, when we talk about the problems associated with cars and cities, the list of downsides is much longer. Naturally, cities are settlements where large numbers of people live together and close to each other, leaving little room for cars. There is the space that individual cars require, as well as parking space. Cities could add more housing, parks, or other green spaces and just become livable if they could return even a tiny percentage of this land from automobiles.

Cities or neighborhoods without cars are bound to have less noise and air pollution. Furthermore, the move would certainly encourage people to move more and become more physically active. Another significant reason for communities to give up cars is to boost overall safety and public health.

One of the cities which already made a major move in this direction was Oslo. Today, a significant amount of the Norwegian capital Oslo is car-free, especially in and around important areas like parks and schools. A big step toward Oslo’s goal of a car-free city center has reportedly been made with the replacement of more than 700 parking spaces in the city’s core district with bike lanes, vegetation, tiny parks, and benches, according to Fast Company.

According to URBANET, there are a number of European cities that have a vision of becoming car-free in the near future. The biggest obstacles will be converting the current infrastructure of European cities, which was mostly built for cars, into infrastructure for active and public transportation, as well as changing people’s perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors.

Last year, Euronews conducted a survey among its 30000 social network followers to find out which European city or street they would most like to see pedestrianized. The UK capital London, and more specifically Oxford Street, turned out to be the most popular answer. Another widely chosen location in the poll was Athens, the capital of Greece.

We must take action to reduce our existing reliance on cars if we want to assure sustainable cities everywhere. Reducing our reliance on gasoline-powered vehicles would improve our cities’ future while also benefiting the environment and each of us personally. 

That is why one of the most important goals of mayors should be to encourage biking and walking while trying to limit the use of cars, which would contribute to more sustainable transportation systems and more livable cities.

(Photo credit: Markus Spiske / Unsplash)