Becoming a car-free city is a thing: For quite some time now, more cities and their residents have been enjoying the benefits of non-motorized traffic. They have set up pop-up bicycle paths and are encouraging people to walk. Bicycle-friendly and walkable cities are becoming cleaner, safer, and more livable.

But what about the suburbs? How can they overcome their car-dependency and become car-free communities?

The suburbs are often organized like their big sisters, the cities, only smaller. Only in terms of being car-dependent, they seem to surpass them. Even if they do have transit options and a bicycle infrastructure, cars often still rule for small local trips.

It seems for many the comfortable and convenient choice. But who wants to be defined by dependence?

Car-free, not car-dependent

What is working for metropoles is also good for smaller cities or villages, because car-free or car-reduced planning is possible for communities at any scale.

Maybe this won’t happen overnight like in Barcelona. The recent pandemic-related lockdown in Barcelona was used to transform streets with 13 miles of bright yellow bicycle lanes painted over the old car lanes.

This kind of transformation does not have to stop at big cities’ limits.

The key to no longer being car-dependent is not only a good public transport system, but also enough space. Safe spaces for cyclists and pedestrians, fair and inclusive. Active transportation infrastructures increase livability in car-free cities and communities.

Maybe it helps to remember why many people seek to live in the suburbs: Okay, it’s more affordable. But isn’t it also the charm of less traffic, noise, and air pollution, that lures especially young families to the suburbs? The hope that in an environment like this, their kids will grow up healthier and happier?

But instead, the car-centric lifestyle in the suburbs made things worse. Not only for children, the elderly or non-car owners who are forced to walk or cycle in peril, sharing their routes with lots of motorized vehicles – but for everyone!

Boosting walkability and cycle use

It’s time to put the citizen in the spotlight and no longer the car. That means that stores, medical care, schools, restaurants, gyms, and other institutions should be within walking distance. It also means creating car-free zones and enough space for gardens and children’s play areas. Or simply places for neighbors to sit together in the shadow of trees and talk to each other.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

So, the question is: How can citizens, after decades of relying on cars, be encouraged to walk and cycle instead? These and more questions will be discussed among experts – from mayors to planners – in our upcoming free webinar “Suburbia no more: Reviving Main Street”. Get inspired!

Join our free webinar

Top mobility experts answer your questions about walkability and cycling in car-dependent communities.

About the Author

Whether it is pedestrian accessibility, public transport or city logistics – Petra is interested in solutions that move people and goods in a sustainable and efficient way. She writes about research projects, urban logistics and mobility concepts.

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