April Streeter ponders six (might be) car free cities.

Friend April Streeter, diligent reporter for the busy Treehugger cars+ transportation blog, called in to World Streets on Monday to talk car free(r) cities. We applauded her decision to try to find a range of very different kinds of cities, pushed a bit to bring Guadalajara and at least one Chinese city, in addition to the more usual suspects, and urged her on with all due caution. Here is what she came up with.

Six Cities That Could Easily Be Car “Lite” or Car Free

– For full article with illustrations, please click: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2010/01/six-cities-that-could-be-car-free.php

Freiburg, Germany’s Vauban development is the most well-known example of a city area that has successfully turned away from car-centric culture. It’s a big step that can be fraught with difficulties and also with a huge reward: more people-friendly, livable streets. Surprisingly, there are scores of car-free zones around the globe, but very few cities (we’re talking populations of 50,000 or more citizens) seriously and consistently are pursuing the necessary planning measures to move to car free, or even car lite. However, here are five cities and one bonus entry that could begin the transition.

1. Geneva, Switzerland is Rich and Ready.
Earlier in January 2010, Geneva’s City Council members voted 2 to 1 to close 200 of the city’s streets to car traffic. That’s a huge first move put forth by the Green Party but supported by Social Democrats and even the center Radical Party. However, the measure is in no way guaranteed, as it may face stiff opposition from the city’s business leaders. They should take note of Copenhagen’s move to make some streets car free – business hasn’t suffered and in some cases has improved!

2. Davis, Calif. U.S.A. Does Biking Best (Some Say).
O.K., maybe Davis is just a big college town rather than a bona fide “big city” but it’s got a few advantages as far as car free is concerned: a relatively good climate, not too many hills, a great bike infrastructure (the city is getting ready to build a 1.7 million bike-only thoroughfare under a major road and considers itself Bike City, U.S.A.). It also has a fairly well-functioning bus system and a sort of stealth car-free culture. Innovations in Davis include a car “lockdown” during the University’s enrollment period due to the great mass of bikes on the campus, plans for a cycling museum and a month-long celebration of cycling each year in May called Cyclebration.

3. Inner Paree Would Be Lovely Car Free.
Eric Britton of Worldstreets.org says Paris, France has everything it takes to have a carfree inner city. He lists the city’s purposeful gradual removal of parking spaces, and the high cost of inner-city parking as two disincentives for car owners to drive their cars directly into the city, and also the high level of noncar households (60% or more) as another sign that Paris can easily go carfree. Forward momentum? Of course, that plum that is Vélib bike-sharing is great, and Paris’ plans to keep expanding the system are enouraging. Paris also has great car sharing and plans to implement electric car sharing with its Autolib program. And then there’s Paris Plages, that month of summer when the city turns a portion of the Expressway on the banks of the Seine into an inland beach, with sunbathing, kayaking on the river, people watching…and no cars.

4. Big City Guadalajara Needs a Big Plan.
Make no mistake about it. Guadalara, with 1.6 million residents and Mexico’s second largest city, is still steered by the motorized trifecta of car, bus, and truck. In fact, some people think crossing the street is southern-style Russian roulette. Yet Guadalajara has some factors that nevertheless make it a good candidate for a car lite or car free place. Guadalajara has won awards for its quick (2 year) implementation of a full BRT (bus rapid transit system) called Macrobús as part of its “Movilidad Urbana” project. In addition, Guadalajara didn’t originate the idea but has taken to heart the Ciclovia approach to improving city streets – every Sunday there’s a six-hour stretch when 15 kilometers of the city’s streets are turned over to pedestrian and all other non´motorized bike-style traffic. That 170,000 city residents enjoy this Via RecreActiva every weekend says a lot about the city’s possibilities as an oasis of inner city car lite or car free living in spite of its current urban bustle. Promising initiatives? A plan to make the Centro Histórico in the inner city a completely pedestrian zone.

4. Malmö, Sweden, Takes Baby Steps to Progress.
Sure, it may only be radical groups like Klimax that are willing to come out and say “car free inner city” is their goal for this southern Swedish city. However, Malmö’s city government is taking baby steps that may one day end up in the very same place. The city’s premier sustainable housing development Bo01, is dense, walkable, and virtually car free. Your first impression of Malmö if you step off the train at the Central station, is not of a car-oriented inner city but of a bike- and pedestrian-accommodating small town. Steps taken include Bo01, Western Harbor’s car free streets, and over 400 kilometers of bike paths for this city’s 285,000 residents.

6. Anywhere, China, Could Decide to De-Car.
And the bonus burg? Well, this is a 3D stylized map of Guangzhou, China, but it could be any of a number of China’s rapidly developing big cities. As car culture has swept the cities so swiftly, there’s still a chance for many of them to fairly easily change direction, and decide to go car lite. According to Carbusters, Guangzhou’s Xiguan region of the city still sports very low car usage (less than 1 percent of trips). Pedestrian alleyways predominate. Guangzhou, with 13 million inhabitants, has its own 14-mile-long BRT system, which when it formally opens next month is expected to transport 23,000 passengers an hour!’

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About the author:
In this slot at the end of contributed articles, we generally try to place a few sober words that will permit our readers to know a bit about the author. But this time the temptation is too great, so now you have a short bio note in April’s own words.
“April is a former bilingual cocktail waitress who left the warm beaches of Hawaii to pursue an upstanding career as reporter on the new and exciting digital world for MacWEEK magazine in San Francisco. When she finally couldn’t stand the thought of writing about one more wireless local area network router, she recast herself as an environmental and sustainability journalist for Tomorrow magazine in Stockholm, Sweden. A few years later, she escaped the Scandinavian chill to become editor of Sustainable Industries magazine in Portland, Oregon, where she today is a freelance writer and Hatha yoga teacher forever on the lookout for a good/local/organic/sustainable/fair trade Swedish burrito.”