Car-free cities: Can this concept make its way to Pakistan?


Car-free cities are a ‘proven’ solution to reduce reliance on vehicles and build sustainable cities. Modern transportation was transformed by the invention of automobiles, making it simpler to go around. Nowadays, cars are considered a necessity, with thousands of these machines dominating the urban landscape in most cities across the world. Nevertheless, even while vehicles have made transportation more convenient, vehicle emissions have also had undesirable effects on the environment, including noise and air pollution as well as traffic congestion.

Due to these difficulties, a small but growing number of cities and neighborhoods have made the decision to reduce the number of vehicles by creating car-free urban landscapes. Although living in a car-free city may sound wonderful and desired, it would be worthwhile to discuss how emergency services would be handled and how those with mobility issues would be accommodated.

What is a car-free city?

A city without cars is one where the main modes of transportation are public transportation, walking, and cycling. Automobile crashes, noise pollution, the urban heat island effect, dependence on petroleum, air pollution, carbon emissions, and traffic congestion are all significantly reduced in car-free cities. Some cities have one or more “car-free zones,” which are areas that are off-limits to motorized vehicles.

Strategies to make a car-free city

The following strategies can be implemented to limit the use of cars in cities:

Paying a fee to access the city center

The best way to prevent automobiles from entering the city is to charge drivers to access the city center, with the money raised going toward more eco-sustainable, alternative forms of transportation. Since the fee was introduced by the city’s first elected mayor, Ken Livingstone, in February 2003, London, a pioneer of this policy, has seen a staggering 33% decrease in traffic in the center of the city

Removal of parking spaces

Regulations to eliminate parking spaces and change traffic conditions have been quite successful in a number of European cities, often replacing the area once reserved for vehicles with car-free streets, bike lanes, and walkways. For instance, in Oslo, the administration decided to swap out parking spots for pedestrian-friendly, automobile-free streets, and bike lanes, This initiative led to a 19% reduction in car use in the city’s central area.

Introducing parking charges at workplaces

Introducing office parking fees in an urban area is another efficient way to cut down on car commuters. For instance, by charging employees to park outside of their workplaces and giving them the option to “cash out” their parking spaces and take public transportation in their place, a sizable medical center in Rotterdam reduced employee automobile commutes by 20–25%.

Introducing mobility tracking apps

The use of mobile phone technology in car-reduction measures is on the rise in many cities across Europe. For instance, the Italian city of Bologna created an app to track the mobility of individuals and groups of employees from partnering businesses. Local businesses offered these app users incentives for meeting point targets as participants competed to accumulate points by bicycling, walking, and using public transportation.


Offering better mobility services to commuters

A program in the Dutch city of Utrecht to offer commuters mobility options was proven to be the most successful strategy to curb the usage of cars. In addition to a private shuttle bus that connects transit hubs with employers, local government and private businesses teamed up to offer free public transportation passes to employees. This program, which was supported by a marketing and communication strategy, was shown to have reduced the percentage of commuters who drive downtown by 37%.

Examples of cities going car-free

Giving Paris back to Parisians

The goal of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is to make the French capital a “green 15-minute city,” where citizens can get to everything they need on foot or by bicycle in under 15 minutes.

The government of Hidalgo has already implemented a number of initiatives to make the city car-free: The city’s network of bicycle lanes has been greatly enlarged, and significant portions of the Seine’s riverbanks have been effectively pedestrianized. Where there used to be parking and driving, there are now new green spaces and footpaths.

Car-Free Cities

Superblocks- Barcelona’s attempt to transform public spaces

The Spanish city of Barcelona has led the way with a ground-breaking method of traffic management that frees up public space and encourages cycling and walking. This strategy has significant positive effects on both health and the economy. Residential blocks of 150m by 150m are combined to form large “superblocks” with an area of around 400m by 400m. Currently, typical congested streets surround these residential blocks. Outside of the superblocks, streets with a 50 km/h speed limit may accommodate the city’s typical traffic. The superblocks place importance on walking and bicycling, limit the speed of cars to 20 km/h, and reclaim or generate open space from parking.

Car-Free Cities

‘Good Move’ Brussels is breaking up with cars

The old city center of Brussels, commonly known as the Pentagon, has been a no-car zone since August 16 of this year. The concept is a part of “Good Move,” a new circulation scheme for all of Brussels that aims to increase space for pedestrians, bikes, and public transport while lowering transit traffic in the densely populated and bustling inner-city neighborhood.

Car-Free Cities

Advantages of car-free cities

Maylin Tu states in his article: “Car-free advocates would say that as greenhouse gas emissions and traffic violence go down, happiness and connection go up — it’s hard to connect with your neighbors while ensconced in two tons of steel.”

This scribe completely agrees with Maylin Tu. The air quality of the cities improves significantly when there is a reduction in traffic (the COVID era proved this too). If we reduce traffic, there will be more space for playgrounds, cafés, wider sidewalks, squares, and community life. Green spaces can also help to restore some of our lost biodiversity. There will be a reduction in traffic accidents.


Reduction in road traffic contributes to the revitalization of the area which encourages individuals to be more physically active, whether it’s for commuting, exercising, or just for fun. As a result, the effects of mental illness and the segregation and isolation brought on by communities dependent on cars may be lessened. There is an improved sense of community, or belonging, in the people who live in areas with reduced traffic. This can lessen social stress and further improve general well-being.

Car-Free Cities

Disadvantages of car-free cities

The detrimental consequences on cab drivers of banning cars from cities around the world cannot be understated. Many cab drivers would simply not be needed if taxis were no longer permitted in inner cities, and many of them would struggle to find alternative employment. The likelihood is that property values in inner cities would rise dramatically if traveling became more difficult due to car bans. In the long run, our production chains would likely suffer greatly and might even collapse if we stopped allowing delivery drivers to access inner cities.

Car-free zones might result in the isolation of the disabled community which greatly relies upon taxis. Samantha Renke, a disability rights activist states in her article,

“Fighting climate change is going to be a priority going forward and disabled people need to be included in that change.”

Need for a car-free revolution in Pakistan

Cars are not a need, as our planners would have us believe. They occupy a significant portion of space that might otherwise be used for human activity. But signal-free lanes, wider roads, flyovers, and underpasses to accommodate faster and faster cars are still on Pakistan’s wish list.

Travel time from DHA Phase 2 to CMH Rawalpindi is approximately 25 minutes. I left for CMH around 1 p.m. the other day and arrived at 2:30 p.m. It took me 65 minutes longer than the average travel time. What was the reason? Well, it was the end of the school day. People who were there to pick up the kids had literally parked their cars on the freeway because there was no parking space. I didn’t see any school buses… just hundreds of cars parked haphazardly. I am writing about one city here but I am sure that the story would not be any different in the other cities of Pakistan.

We prefer private cars over public transport just for the sake of our comfort. Cars impede rather than enhance mobility as cities grow in size and people and their activities crowd into dense neighborhoods. Large cities have struggled with population and car growth and have concluded that the solution cannot be an endless expansion to provide space for more cars. We need to think in the opposite direction. It is past time to start making more room for pedestrians and cyclists rather than for cars.

Car-Free Cities

Before COVID-19 hit the cities, the AQI index, according to environmental activist Dawar Hameed Butt, had reached the deadly level of 500 points. The absence of traffic during the COVID-19 lockdown reduced the AQI to 70 points. This startling difference highlights how much cars contribute to the city’s growing problem with smog and air pollution. Fewer cars on roads will translate into less air pollution.

Cities all over the world have focused heavily on developing inclusive shared means of transportation that can move commuters every day with the least amount of congestion. These priorities are evident in the transportation systems of London, Seoul, Beijing, Tokyo, and New York. The inhabitants of modern cities are relying more on shared and public forms of transportation than on owning an automobile.

Eliminating cars completely from the roads is practically impossible but Pakistan can certainly take some baby steps. Areas prone to congestion can be declared as car-free zones. The citizens should be encouraged to use shared modes of transportation. Parking rules need to be developed. Donald Shoup contends that parking regulations must be centered on preventing car ownership and promoting public welfare, not the other way around. Regressive parking fees can be applied based on how often cars utilize certain facilities, roadways, and spaces.

It’s time to redesign our cities such that people come first and not cars. It is necessary to launch such programs that would contribute to reducing the number of vehicles on the road.

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Murryam Hafeez

I am a Transportation Engineer by profession and also a voracious reader. I read everything, from novels to the ingredients written on my jar of peanut butter.
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