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With the League of American Cyclists declaring May as Bike Month, and cities all over the world increasing pedestrianisation and cycling facilities, now seems like a good time to ask: will the city of the future be a car-free zone?
You could argue that our cities have already started to evolve in that direction. London currently has many shared-space schemes planned, including one on Exhibition Road that will see curbs, signage and road lines removed. The theory is that pedestrians, cyclists and drivers are more likely to use their own judgement and create a safer city, a belief supported by various shared-space schemes successfully and safely implemented in mainland Europe.
So what about a space exclusively for pedestrians and cyclists? There are already many of these car-free zones on the planet, but most are in small, barely populated islands. The Ile de Brehat off the northern coast of France, and Sark – a tiny island 80 miles off the south coast of England – are both car free, with Sark’s neighbour Herm taking it one step further by banning bicycles.
However, islands don’t share a border with other countries and are therefore more able to enforce uncommon rules – just look at how Australia and Britain continue to drive on the left hand side of the road – so is the replication of these car free societies possible in a city? There are few examples that suggest it can, but Louvain-la-Neuve – a planned-city in Belgium – is one of the few. Inhabited from 1972 onwards, the city operates an ‘automobile under’ system which means the street level is entirely car free, with all roads and parking provided underneath the city.
Of course, planned cities can implement ambitious design concepts that older cities could never even contemplate, but if London’s efforts with shared-space schemes and the recent pedestrianisation of Times Square in New York are reflective of the direction cities are moving in, is it just a matter of time before the city is handed over to pedestrians and cyclists, and becomes a car free zone?