Car ownership has long been a symbol of wealth and status. With the increasing awareness of the impact of motor vehicles on the planet, however, it may become more of a hindrance in the coming years. Several major urban areas around the globe are now taking steps towards carless futures, ones in which walking, biking, and public transportation are encouraged. These cities are looking towards bans on automobiles in certain zones to reduce artog and congestion, two problems that have plagued major cities for decades.
Visitors and residents of cities around the globe have long known that it can be more of a disadvantage than benefit to own a car in those places. Traffic gridlock is part of everyday life in such cities as New York, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Beijing, Paris, and London. Moreover, cities are seeing growing problems with smog and the resulting health effects, noise pollutions, and motor vehicle related fatalities. A few cities have already put restrictions on the number of automobile registrations leading to an increase in vehicle prices.
Carless in Hamburg, Germany
Likewise, cities are considering going careless. The beginnings of carless futures are being already being fashioned in several European metropolises. For example, the city of Hamburg, Germany, the second-largest city in the country, unveiled a bold plan earlier this year to reroute most private vehicles away from its main thoroughfares and possibly eliminate all cars by 2034. This ban would only be in effect for the center of the city in order to reduce inner traffic flow.
As part of Hamburg’s Grünes Netz (Green Web) plan, the city would also arrange for the expansion of pedestrian and bicycle routes. These would then be connected with parks, cemeteries, and community gardens so residents and visitors alike can enjoy the sights without the hazards of thousands of vehicles whizzing by. They can participate in outdoor recreation and feel closer to nature right in the heart of the city. Hamburg believes a carless future will help it fight rising temperatures and flooding.
Carless in Helsinki, Finland
The city of Helsinki, Finland is also looking towards a future where car ownership would not be necessary. In order to do so, city planners are putting their hopes in technology, especially smartphones. According to their mobility on demand system forecasted to be in place by 2025, people would be able to not only choose between several cheap public transportation options but purchase tickets from their phones. Users specify their origin and destination and can then choose from shared bikes, ferries, minibuses, and driverless cars. Helsinki has already rolled out its impressive minibus service called Kutsuplus which allows smartphone users to indicate their own pick-up and drop-off locations.
Several smaller communities have already gone carless. Michigan’s Mackinac Island and Sark Island off the English Channel Coast are the best known examples along with Venice, Italy. Numerous major cities have implemented pedestrian-only zones to help curtail congestion. There are other options to going careless as well. Cities might consider banning the use of certain types of vehicles like internal combustion engines while letting electric or hydrogen vehicles have free reign while another option is to charge urban congestion fees.
This, of course, does not mean that car ownership will completely disappear. Many city-dwellers still prefer to own a vehicle for last-minute trips to the grocery store or to take vacations to other parts of the country. In addition, the auto industry remains a powerful force that will most likely oppose any efforts on the outright ban of vehicles. Nevertheless, with major cities taking steps towards carless futures, car ownership could become a thing of the past.