Car-free city centres spread across the UK

traffic warden logging vehicles outside homes in Ealing, London


A number of cities have made, or are planning to make, their centres free from traffic. In the UK Bath, Birmingham, Oxford and York have recently announced their intention, but schemes have already been implemented in other places including Barcelona in Spain, Ghent in Belgium and the Norwegian city of Oslo.

In 2017,  Oslo began the process of creating Bilfritt Byliv or ‘Car-Free Livability Programme’. Approximately 1.3 sq km was designated to form an improved urban environment for the 1,000 people who call Oslo’s city centre home, and the 100,000 who travel to and from the area daily.

Improvements would include reduced air pollution, congestion and carbon emissions – but also address physical inactivity and improve life in the city.

Beginning with six pilot areas, 350 street car parking spaces were removed and more dedicated parking spaces were added for the disabled, goods deliveries and commercial parking for tradespeople working in the city. By summer 2018, 760 street parking spaces had been removed and public transport was improved.

Around 9,000 car spaces now exist to make it possible to drive into the city but large areas have been freed up to make room for safe, public pedestrianised spaces so that people could engage in ‘life in the streets’, and pedestrians and cyclists take precedence over private vehicles.

The project involved input from the people of Oslo and those consulted included interest groups, residents of all ages, businesses and those who visited and worked in the city centre.

The plan was to ‘improve city life’ by gradually reducing the impact of vehicles and transition the city centre into a car free space, improve lighting and increase green spaces as well as outdoor dining, performance art and cultural activities in public spaces.

The project received support from local people and 65% responded to a climate survey in 2018 to say that they believed Oslo’s traffic volume was too high. 54% agreed that Oslo would be improved by the provision of more car-free streets.

30% of the vehicles sold in Oslo are electric and the city is well on the way to its target of cutting carbon emissions by 50% by 2020 and becoming carbon neutral by 2050. Oslo became the European Green Capital of 2019 thanks to its energetic approach to the environment and climate. Find out more here.

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