The cities going car-free

Last month Oslo’s newly elected city council announced that they would ban all cars from the city centre by 2019. It’s a bold step for Norway’s capital city, and it will be facilitated with major investment in cycling infrastructure and improvements to public transport.

In making its move, Oslo joins a small but growing club of cities making radical decisions about cars. Milan and Dublin have also announced plans to move towards total pedestrianisation.

Here are a few more cities experimenting with new methods of traffic control:

Bogota, capital of Columbia, has a long history of trying to wrestle the streets back from private cars. Perhaps the most famous is when the mayor issued citizens with red and white cards so that they could give live feedback to drivers – red for offensive driving and white for courteous behaviour – a sort of traffic management by public shaming. The city began an annual car-free day in 2000 as a way of highlighting alternatives. It now closes to traffic every sunday afternoon, and people go running or walking in the streets instead. Once a week the streets belong to the pedestrians, which is a neat idea. It’s also one of several places, mostly in South America, that uses road space rationing: 20% of cars, depending on your licence plate, are banned from the roads for the day. Once a week, you’re going to have to get the bus.

Closer to home, Paris held its first Journée sans voitures this summer. It was a unique opportunity for citizens and tourists to enjoy the city without the traffic, and it’s also an opportunity to clear the air. You may remember that France had to ban half its cars for a day last year when air pollution got out of hand, again based on whether you had an odd or even number plate. Just this week the mayor announced that these temporary bans would be used again if the city recorded three days of high pollution in a row.


Madrid has long term plans for greater pedestrianisation, and has a city plan that gives priority to walkers. Inspired by La Ramblas in Barcelona, several of its biggest streets will be cleared of cars and planted with trees. In order to reduce car numbers as these changes come in, the number of parking places in the city is being reduced. It usually gets drivers squealing, but reducing parking spaces is one of the most dependable ways to encourage people to take public transport. In fact, as of this year, you’re not even allowed to drive your car into the city unless you’ve booked a parking place in advance.

Events in Toronto over the summer showed how difficult some of these decisions can be to get through. The city had proposed demolishing the Gardiner Expressway, the raised highway that separates the city from the waterfront. With it gone, the whole area could be rejuvenated around the shore of Lake Ontario. Council members from the downtown all supported this move, but those from the suburbs instead pushed through a hybrid plan that will just reduce its size – a real missed opportunity to dramatically improve the face of a global city, in my opinion.

Controlling traffic in cities is always politically fraught and drawn out – we’ve been talking for decades about pedestrianising Oxford Street in London – so kudos to cities like Oslo biting the bullet and banning cars altogether.


  1. I wonder how the elderly, invalids and accidents will be dealt with – (hope the accidents don’t wait too long for an ambulance).

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