Car free Utopia

What a crazy idea. Who could have ever thought of such a thing? A place where you’re allowed to walk or bike around without feeling like you’re going to die? How utopianish! I guess since campuses are kind of set up with this idea in mind then it’s probably not a new thing and I might be the last one to hear about it, but it’s still exciting to know that it’s not just an idea, but it has a name, too.

Anyway, a carfree city is a city where automobiles and most motorized vehicles are excluded, so that residents can conduct     most of their everyday activities without having to be in or around cars.     The carfree city is made up of many districts (neighborhoods) with a     central transit stop that moves you quickly and comfortably to the rest of     the city. The compact, mixed-use development pattern allows personal     mobility within the carfree zone to be achieved by walking or biking.     Parking lots or garages at the edge of the carfree district provide access     to cars when they are the logical choice for certain trips outside the     district. Carfree development is ideally suited to car-sharing, which     further decreases the number of vehicles and parking spaces needed.

All but the     heaviest cargo is transported by human- or electric-powered means, from     stroller carts for groceries to electric flat-bed tow-carts for commercial     freight. A freight depot at the edge of the carfree district would handle     shipping and receiving of freight to and from external destinations and     provide facilities for transferring freight from trucks to local vehicles.

Not all car     free zones are the same. The one thing they have in common is that they are     closed to through traffic, but there are different restrictions in     different zones. Some cities close streets to all cars. Period. Some are     open to delivery vehicles or removal vans.      Then there are emergency vehicles. There wasn’t very much     information on the individual policies of everything, but the ones I found     are open to emergency vehicles and I would also think that this applies to     all zones, but I have no proof for that.

There is another form of car-free development, so     familiar we have until recently overlooked its potential. Most     pedestrianized city or neighborhood centers in Britain are almost entirely     commercial. But a few farsighted councils, such as Exeter, have brought     back housing and residents, without cars or allocated parking, into city     centers that would otherwise be deserted after 6pm.

Groningen, the Netherlands’ capital of cycling, has     the largest car-free center in Europe: half-pedestrianized, entirely closed     to through traffic, with 16,500 residents, three-quarters of whom have no     car in the household. Forty percent of all journeys within the city are made     by bicycle.

So who in the U.S. is following this crazy trend and how does it affect them?

A quarter of households in Britain – more in the larger cities, and a majority in some inner cities – live without a car.

San Francisco- Every Saturday starting May 26 through Sept. 30, bicyclists, joggers, and pedestrians will have free rein on almost a mile of John F. Kennedy Drive, the main drag through Golden Gate Park. The usual denizens of the road – autos – will be banned, detoured elsewhere.Skip to next paragraph

Vehicles are already prohibited in parts of the park on Sundays, and the decision to “go carless” on Saturdays as well concludes a heated seven-year debate. In the end, arguments that such road closures promote family activities, more active lifestyles, and tighter-knit communities carried the day.

The auto’s demotion at Golden Gate Park follows dozens of similar moves in at least 20 American cities in the past three years. It’s a trend that is gaining ground rapidly in the US, say urban planners.

• New York is proposing to shut down perimeter roads of Central Park and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park all summer long.

• Atlanta plans to transform 53 acres of blighted, unused land into new bike-friendly green space.

• Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago, and El Paso, Texas, are planning events to promote car-free days in public parks, most in the hope that the idea will become permanent or extend for months.

Many cities across America are declaring that parks are for people (and animals I might add), not cars which is why so many are closing roads within the parks.

Are there problems? Of course.

Worries about traffic congestion, parking problems, and loss of visitors for businesses and museums are first in people’s mind, not the beneficial effect this could have.  But studies are showing that traffic problems can be minimized, shops and museums get more visitors, and residents begin to cherish their where-the-action-is location.

Not everyone is convinced, saying the jury is still out on how no-car zones affect neighborhood vitality. In San Francisco, the de Young Museum has said its delivery schedule must be adjusted because of the new road closure, and it is concerned that patrons with physical disabilities may not be able to get to the museum as readily.

The model city for road closure is Bogotá, Colombia, which in 1983 embarked on a program called ciclovia (bike path), in which designated streets were closed to cars every Sunday but open for jogging, biking, dancing, playing ball, walking pets, strolling with babies – anything but driving. One-and-a-half million people now turn out each week for ciclovia. Other cities in Latin America followed suit, closing parts of parks or whole urban districts to cars – some intermittently, some permanently. A result: revitalized neighborhoods and an influx of people.

Smaller US cities, from Davenport, Iowa, to Huntington Beach, Calif., are also starting to create car-free zones.

Beginning this month, El Paso will detour cars from seven roads every Sunday from 7 to 11 a.m. so that cyclists, joggers, and pedestrians can use them instead.

When a city is poor, they make all kinds of excuses on why they readjust their city to help the environment and themselves. I know this because I live in one of these cities. But to not drive cuts costs for everything. People will start walking and biking which will lead to lower obesity rates, less air pollution will lead to less hospital bills, not to mention the costs of not driving which you can save a tremendous amount immediately.

El Paso was also in the poor city range. They were populated with obese people and people risking their lives to ride or walk when there were no lanes for them to do so. A national magazine declared the city one of the four fattest in the US. This was when people finally decided to get to work.

Two years of planning and $100,000 in donations made the program possible. El Paso is the first ciclovia city in Texas. “It has just 25 percent of the park space of the average US city, a smaller tax base, and few spaces for pedestrians or bicyclists, says Beto O’Rourke, a city council man who championed the idea, “This solves a lot of problems at once.”

The trend reflects cities’ response to residents who, after streaming back to city centers, want more pedestrian amenities.

“The great thing about ciclovia is that cities can do it very inexpensively. All the infrastructure is already there; there is no added capital cost,” says Gil Penalosa, former parks and recreation director for Bogotá who helped expand its network of closed roads from 8 miles in 1997 to 70 miles today.

In some ciclovia cities, such as Guadalahara, Mexico, fears that autoless streets would cause economic hardship have dissolved. Some merchants actually had to return to their stores on Sundays because the thousands of visitors wanted everything from food and drink to curios.

So, yes. I do believe this a fabulous idea even if it may be a new one. I believe the impact of doing this would be huge. I hope it keeps catching on.

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