Sep 8, 201309:00 AMPoint of View
Returning Streets to People
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Cities today tend to be car-centric landscapes. Sidewalks place pedestrians directly beside exhaust-spewing vehicles with little to no buffer. High-speed thoroughfares or highways dissect neighborhoods and lack appropriate pedestrian or bicycle infrastructure. These conditions are seen around the globe; yet some cities are finding opportunities to reintroduce car-free zones that give the streets back to the people. Strøget in Copenhagen has set a standard as a successful and charming pedestrian-only throughway, and cities like San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles have been taking steps to follow their example.
As designers of urban space, we want to know what makes these inspiring auto-excluding endeavors a success. Here is a brief look at some examples and offer five tips for city officials, developers, designers, and community members to consider when pursuing car-free spaces for their own communities.
The Strøget, car-free since 1962, is one of Copenhagen’s top destinations for shoppers and tourists.
Strøget, Copenhagen, Denmark
The Strøget is possibly the best-known example of a successful zone. It originated when Copenhagen experimented with this concept during the 1950’s when they closed the four-block area to cars for two days during the Christmas holidays. In 1962, without public announcement or input, the road remained closed. Like other movements that eliminate cars, this was controversial, and it took time for people to see the benefits. The original opposition to shutting down the street is the same as the arguments that come up today:
- Shoppers would forget or not go to local stores without the opportunity to drive by them.
- Traffic would become congested on surrounding streets of the car-free zone.
- The local community would not be interested in gathering in these public spaces.
Copenhagen’s worries were assuaged, as the car-free area became one of the top destinations for shoppers and tourists. Local businesses found their sales rising by 25-40%. It catalyzed the economy of surrounding areas and helped define the walking and biking culture that has helped earn Copenhagen the title of 2013’s most livable city.
San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles
Going “car-free” isn’t solely reliant on adjacent retail spaces. Since 1967, San Francisco has made the eastern half of JFK Drive car-free on Sundays. This street, which goes through Golden Gate Park, attracts droves of cyclists, runners, stroller-pushing parents, roller-bladers, and dog walkers to the park and greatly increases park use.