Cars have been a dominant mode of transportation in many cities around the world for decades, but they also pose significant challenges to the environment, public health, and urban livability. Reducing car dependence in cities can have various benefits for the planet and the people, such as:
- Lowering greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. Cars are a major source of carbon dioxide and other pollutants that contribute to global warming and harm human health. According to the World Health Organization, air pollution causes 4.2 million deaths each year1. By shifting to more sustainable modes of transport, such as public transit, walking, and cycling, cities can reduce their carbon footprint and improve their air quality.
- Improving physical and mental health. Driving can also increase the risk of obesity, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and stress2. On the other hand, active transportation, such as walking and cycling, can promote physical activity, reduce sedentary behavior, and enhance mental wellbeing3. Studies have shown that people who commute by bike or foot are happier, healthier, and more productive than those who drive4.
- Enhancing urban livability and social cohesion. Cars can also negatively affect the quality of life and social fabric of cities. They take up valuable space that could be used for parks, plazas, playgrounds, and other public amenities. They also create noise, congestion, and safety hazards that discourage people from interacting with each other and enjoying their surroundings. By reducing car dependence, cities can reclaim their streets for people and create more livable, vibrant, and inclusive communities.
How to Reduce Car Dependence in Cities
Reducing car dependence in cities is not an easy task, but it is possible with the right policies, incentives, and infrastructure. Some of the strategies that cities can adopt include:
- Expanding and improving public transport systems. Public transport is a key alternative to cars that can provide efficient, affordable, and accessible mobility for urban residents. Cities should invest in expanding their public transport networks to cover more areas and modes, such as buses, trains, trams, subways, ferries, etc. They should also improve the quality and reliability of their public transport services by using smart technologies, integrated ticketing systems, real-time information, etc.
- Promoting walking and cycling. Walking and cycling are the most sustainable and healthy modes of transport that can also enhance the livability and attractiveness of cities. Cities should encourage walking and cycling by providing safe, comfortable, and convenient infrastructure, such as sidewalks, bike lanes, bike-sharing schemes, pedestrian crossings, traffic calming measures, etc. They should also raise awareness and education about the benefits of active transportation and create a culture of walking and cycling among their citizens.
- Restricting or discouraging car use. Cities should also implement policies and measures that restrict or discourage car use in certain areas or times, such as congestion pricing, parking fees or limits, low-emission zones, car-free days or zones, etc. These policies can help reduce traffic demand and congestion, as well as generate revenue that can be used for improving public transport or other urban services.
Reducing car dependence in cities is a crucial step towards creating a more sustainable, healthy, and livable urban future. By shifting to more sustainable modes of transport, such as public transit, walking, and cycling, cities can lower their greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, improve their physical and mental health, and enhance their urban livability and social cohesion. To achieve this goal, cities need to adopt a comprehensive and integrated approach that involves expanding and improving public transport systems, promoting walking and cycling, and restricting or discouraging car use. By doing so, cities can not only survive, but thrive in the 21st century.
- World Health Organization. (2018). Ambient (outdoor) air quality and health. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/ambient-(outdoor)-air-quality-and-health
- Frank, L. D., Sallis, J. F., Conway, T. L., Chapman, J. E., Saelens, B. E., & Bachman, W.. (2006). Many pathways from land use to health: associations between neighborhood walkability and active transportation, body mass index, and air quality. Journal of the American Planning Association, 72(1), 75-87.
- Mueller, N., Rojas-Rueda, D., Cole-Hunter, T., de Nazelle, A., Dons, E., Gerike, R., … & Nieuwenhuijsen, M.. (2015). Health impact assessment of active transportation: A systematic review. Preventive medicine, 76, 103-114.
- Martin, A., Goryakin, Y., & Suhrcke, M.. (2014). Does active commuting improve psychological wellbeing? Longitudinal evidence from eighteen waves of the British Household Panel Survey. Preventive medicine, 69, 296-303.