Are we addicted to our cars? In the United States, the car is king. Many American cities (particularly in the Western US) were founded after the invention of the automobile, meaning their development has been shaped by the car to a much greater extent than European cities, which often grew up from old medieval towns where walking (and horse and cart) were the traditional mode of transport.

For trips under one mile, statistics show that Americans rely on their cars almost 70% of the time, while Europeans rely on bicycles, walking, or public transport 70% of the time. So, could Europeans take it even further? Would they be prepared to give up their cars for short trips entirely? Several European cities, including Brussels, Vienna and Copenhagen, already have car-free areas. Should these areas be expanded, and should other cities follow their lead?

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in by Yannick, who thought that all cities ought to be car free. He argues that most trips in cities are below 10 kilometers, which (he says) is “bikeable”. In Yannick’s view, “cars simply should not be the norm if we are to become sustainable”. Is he right?

To get a response, we spoke to Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, Research Professor in Environmental Epidemiology at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal). What would he say to Yannick’s comment?

Next up, we had a comment from Christiane, who thinks that every Sunday of every year should be car-free in every city. Is that a realistic proposal? Here’s what Mark Nieuwenhuijsen had to say:

Finally, we had a comment from Oranje, who believed it wasn’t enough to promote alternatives to cars, such as bike lanes and better public transport. In his view, there should actually be disincentives for car-driving in big cities, such as tolls in the center, high-parking fees, etc. Would Mark Nieuwenhuijsen agree?

Should cities try to go “car-free”? Do the environmental and public health benefits outweigh the drawbacks? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – New York City Department of Transportation
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109 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Andrew Potts

    yes because its the easiest, quickest and cheapest way to travel in a city or town. Scary stuff for Germany because the drop in people buying cars would be felt .

    • avatar
      Ágnes Losonczi

      You too don’t give a damn about those, who are unable to ride a bike or walk, when especially these people live in cities, near all the services and medical treatment necessary for them! Most unfair!

    • avatar
      Andrew Potts

      Dont be silly the more people cycling means less congested space for people who really need a car improving access. Stop virtue signalling and actually think about the next step.

  2. avatar
    Ivan Burrows

    How do you intend to get stock to the shops ? , out of town shopping centres have already decimated independent retailers so all that policy would do is finish them off.

  3. avatar
    Yordan Vasilev

    The European cities are not as Americans. We have some remarkable buildings since the Medieval Times and since newer times. Despite of that, the invirement will become cleaner without cars. Because of that, yes, we should try the European cities to go “car-free”.

  4. avatar
    Kimmo Linkama

    If you live in the centre of an urban environment, if there are sufficient and high-quality bike lanes, if public transport is developed enough, if there is a working goods delivery system, and if you live somewhere that doesn’t get 50 cm of snow at -30°C, by all means.

    The rest of us will have to rely on our cars, as unfortunate as it may be.

    Another point: incentives always work better than placing limits on what people can do. If such rules and regulations are one-sidedly put in place “from above”, it will only create antagonism between the administration and the people.

    Looking at things strictly from their own perspective, there are always people who know better how others should live their lives.

    • avatar
      Lonzo Bildelberg

      producing hydrogen from water requires a lot of energy, that would mostly come from coal power plants

    • avatar
      Daniel Meternă

      Lonzo Bildelberg that’s why innovating must became priority.

    • avatar
      Stef Kostov

      Try to convince ppl they don’t need a car

    • avatar
      Dilyana Pencheva

      Това нямаше нищо общо с моя въпрос

    • avatar
      Dilyana Pencheva

      Аз не съм казала че не съм съгласна с теб

    • avatar
      Ágnes Losonczi

      And what about the disabled?! People are so dense and insensitive!

  5. avatar
    Paul Vincent

    With the advent of EVs…AI. .ride sharing (uber/lyft) car ownership in cities will become redundant…

    • avatar
      Paul Vincent

      To be clear…I’m not saying that cars will disappear…just that ownership of one will increasingly become redundent…when you can call for a ride when you want…of course personal transport will always have a place….

    • avatar
      Παυλος Χαραλαμπους

      I standard that but the way i see things the % of the personal cars will be heavily dependent on the money invested on other means of transportation and the city’s architecture it self 😉
      I think it’s also a social-economic matter for example in some countries employers are so much distrust the mass transportation that often hire only people with personal vehicles

    • avatar
      Ágnes Losonczi

      Παυλος Χαραλαμπους who cares about the disabled, who can’t ride a bicycle or walk and for whom public transportation is also a no go?

    • avatar
      Paul Vincent

      That’s why I didn’t focus on mass transportation….but on on demand personalized transport options.

    • avatar
      Παυλος Χαραλαμπους

      Ágnes Losonczi those people probably will always have to rely on a personal vehicle, actually that’s was my point for me some cities can’t be changed at least not dramatically and there will always need a big fleet of cars to move around people and us as said is also a social matter,most transportation has to do with going to / returning from our jobs and employment now days lets say is unstable you can’t give up your car if you don’t know what will happen next, were you are going to work tomorrow etc

  6. avatar
    Edita Buržinskaitė

    Well, I don’t think you can get rid of cars completely but lessening traffic and encouraging other modes of transport is entirely possible.

    17/10/2018 Chiara Garau, Assistant Professor in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Cagliari, Italy, has responded to this comment.

    17/10/2018 Frédéric Mazzella, founder and President of BlaBlaCar, has responded to this comment.

    17/10/2018 Richard Cartwright, founder of FlowX, has responded to this comment.

    • avatar
      Mário Lobo

      Some of the ongoing solutions go from paying toll to exclude older cars.

  7. avatar
    Παυλος Χαραλαμπους

    For some cities its almost impossible(just think what will happen if we ban cars from Athens) but small towns and islands should do it
    Check for example the Greek island of hydra it’s car free for at least a decade and everyday life is running compete smoothly. Also small towns and islands should at least try to disconnect them selfs from the main electric grid in order to use locally produced ” green ” energy

    • avatar
      Luísa Cunha Ventura Gagean

      Yannick Cornet things must be done quickly. Citys must have Hydrogen mooved vehicles. If you are not in a hurry, to work, or something else, then you can ride a bycicle. There are a lot of obssessive ideas that make me crazy, in EU. Freedom is needed

    • avatar
      Paul Vincent

      Luisa…i will bet you that within the next decade, car ownership will plummet…why ecpend the capital cost and running cost of something you use for 20% of the time…..ride sharing…AI….EVs (autonomous cars)…will dominate.

  8. avatar

    We should use less automobile in city. The advantages are enormous :
    – better health (by exercices)
    – less energy consumption
    – less pollution
    – re-dynamism of the economies of the cities.
    – discover our neighborhood
    – etc.

    Advantage of cars :
    – faster ? when there is few cars
    – need infrastructure and a lot of space
    – take away services from each other (school, market, etc.)

    • avatar

      but for example a disadvantage not using a car could be a great amount and trust me you might end up in a problem with your job e.g. going on time.yes less pollution but then what are the roads for mate what do we d with them.

  9. avatar

    Yes, or probably in city centres. Not entire cities car-free. That would never work in Athens for example.Instead of total ban why not try electric cars in cities and electric motor bikes?

  10. avatar
    Phet Sophansay

    It depends. If what I buys in the shop is delivered for free and the public transport is good. Why not?

  11. avatar
    Chris Pavlides

    No. Practically its not possible with current infastructures & real life needs. But we could support further bikes & other alternatives.

  12. avatar
    Florin Holban

    As long as THE PUBLIC INTEREST IN A CAR FREE CITY CENTER is not left in private hands yes! If a company will provide this and that transportation and mobility systems city dwellers will be slaves to the profit made by skyrocketing prices of just going from A to B!

    • avatar
      Ágnes Losonczi

      A carfree city neglects it’s citizens, who are unable to ride on a bike or walk. Not fair at all!

    • avatar
      Florin Holban

      Combustion engine powered vehicle free… And no, locomotion is perfectly available for those who don’t walk, or ride or see or any other “motric” disability…

  13. avatar
    Giannis Dimitrakis

    If all cities are willing to drop taxes, why not. If they are not willing to drop taxes, hell, I will drive anywhere I want.

    • avatar

      Its not always about that there might be an another solution

  14. avatar
    Cãlin Rednic

    Pretty late for this kind of questions, when cities grew and strech for tens of kilometers, when most of their inhabitants comute on long distances in infinite directions. It should be best to find solutions to optimize all kinds of traffic instead…

  15. avatar

    What about daily journeys her it takes you about and hour and a half that can not always work out with out a car besides sometimes you might you have to use the motor way you never know plus walking on the motor way you cannot walk or ride a bicycle.

  16. avatar
    Ian Woodford-Smith

    UK road maintenance, or lack there if presents potholes risk to cyclists.
    Our city Centers may be based on old street patterns but with expansion; shop, work & home locations have increased car use.
    Public transport provision is often weak & expensive.

  17. avatar

    If public transport and other options are efficient enough

  18. avatar

    Yes. Air quality, better capacity.

  19. avatar

    Reducing or eliminating personnel transport to cities will also reduce the number of people travelling to those cities which will destroy the local economy. where whole streets were once full of small traders & markets there are now rows of empty shops. This in turn increases criminal activity & decline further reducing visitor numbers. Read up on the impact of out of town shopping centres & the effects of the internet on the bricks & mortar retail sector for the evidence.

  20. avatar
    Nikola Aslanov

    Depends on a lot of things actually. There should be an alternative before cars are “banned”. Depends on the city size and layout, is it plain or there are hills. All proposals I list below are for personal and company cars only, they should not affect police, ambulances, fire-department trucks. For taxi-s I’m not sure how they should be treated.
    If we want efficiency and clean air – the public transport must be encouraged by all means. Car taxes must be increased, some additional taxes must be added for cars entering city center. Sunday can be made car-free in the city centers, or only electric cars may be allowed. All additional money gathered that way must be used to improve public transport quality and affordability. My opinion is that for many medium sized cities public transport can relatively easy be made free, with money from car taxes and property taxes. That way families will think before buying a second or even third car, and every one will consider using the public transport as it is free. And free transport will be actually good for the tourism and for the trade. The air pollution will be lower. The traffic will be better and there will be no traffic jams. Some cities like Tallinn in Estonia are already trying this.

  21. avatar

    For small towns it’s a easy goal
    For example at Greece we have entire islands ” car free ” for decades
    But big cities..some of them can’t be corrected ..

  22. avatar

    no, to take car is also a way to go to the center. I don’t see any reason why I should be forced to share my personal space with hundreds of other people in a tram or bus. People should have more alternatives to select from. But, for sure, I don’t want that some town makes the public transport ”for free”, because ”free” means wasting money of tax contributors.

  23. avatar

    The problem with the air has a name – electrical vehicles. The problem is the uncontroled pupulation, not the cars. The old cities weren’t build for this hudge population. Yes probably is not a good idea to go with by car in the downtown, but try to go to the doctor with your old grandma, who walk hard, by bus…

  24. avatar

    “It’s harder to rally people around a threat to humanity than one that endangers their own backyard.” I spotted this profound yet disturbing truism, albeit perhaps logically Darwinian, in an essay (titled “Crossing Lines”) in the July/August issue of The Walrus.
    Especially with so much of the planet literally as well as emotionally on fire, it highlights for me the apparently prevailing penny-wise-pound-foolish widespread human mentality when it comes to the serious man-made pollution, though immediately free from our societal view, that’s toxifying our life-sustaining natural environment and worsening an already dire global warming reality.
    Perhaps it helps explain the increase in per capita automobile ownership (including SUVs) in Canada last year, compared to 2016, especially in B.C.; it’s something that UBC’s Sauder School of Business economist Werner Antweiler describes as “a disconcerting picture”, considering serious global greenhouse gas concerns. “The number of vehicles has grown faster than the number of people in the country.”
    I often wonder whether that unfortunate aspect of our general nature that permits us our tunnel vision regarding environmental degradation, will be our eventual undoing?
    Maybe due to (Spaceship) Earth’s large size, there seems to be a general oblivious mentality as though even the largest contamination event can somehow be safely absorbed into the environment—air, sea, and land.
    For example, it’s largely believed that when released into gritty B.C. coastal waters, diluted bitumen (dilbit) will likely sink to the bottom, as with the 2010 Michigan spill in which dilbit is still being scraped off of the Kalamazoo River floor.
    I wonder, could that sinking characteristic perhaps appeal to some people who are usually apathetic towards the natural environment deep below the water surface: i.e. it will no longer be an eyesore after it sinks—i.e. out of sight, out of mind?
    Indeed, it’s safe to assume that, had the (central B.C., August 4, 2014) Mount Polley copper and gold mine massive tailings pond release of a slurry of years’ worth of waste into Polley Lake—yet for which there were no B.C.-environmental-law charges laid against Imperial Metals regardless of its clear recklessness—been located in plain sight just off of, say, Vancouver’s scenic attraction Stanley Park instead of in a region of natural wilderness, it would not have received the relatively minute mainstream news-media coverage it has to date.
    Apparently it’s the nature of our beast; although, just because some human behaviour is common or ‘normal’, doesn’t necessarily make it moral or ethical.
    It may be the same mentality that allows the immense amount of plastic waste, such as disposable straws, to eventually find its way into our life-filled oceans, where there are few, if any, caring souls to see it.
    Could it be the same mentality that, when randomly asked by a Global News TV reporter (a few months back) what he thought of government restrictions on disposable plastic straws, compelled a young male Vancouverite wearing sunglasses to retort, “It’s like we’re living in a nanny state, always telling me what I can’t do.”
    Astonished by his utter shortsightedness, I recall wondering whether he was the same sort of individual who had a sufficiently grand sense of material entitlement—a.k.a. the “Don’t tell me what I can’t waste or do, dude!” attitude—to permit himself to now deliberately dump a whole box of unused straws into the Georgia Strait, just to stick it to the authorities who’d dare tell him that enough is enough with our gratuitous massive dumps of plastics into our oceans (which are of course unable to defend themselves against such guys seemingly asserting self-granted sovereignty over the natural environment), so he could figuratively middle-finger any new government rules with a closing, ‘There! How d’ya like that, pal?!”
    And, of course, the condition is allowed to fester via a mainstream news-media, being socially liberal and/or economically libertarian, that seems to not have a problem with such childish oh-well perspectives; the same narrow-mindedness that often makes me question whether we really have plausible hope in turning around our recklessness in time?
    After all, why worry about such things immediately unseen, regardless of their most immense importance, especially when there are various undesirable politicians and significant social issues over which to dispute—distractions our mainstream media seem only too willing to provide us?
    Besides, what back and brain busting, home-mortgaged labourer sustains the energy to worry about such things immediately unseen, regardless of their most immense importance?
    I see it somewhat analogous to a cafeteria lineup consisting of diversely societally represented people, all adamantly arguing over which identifiable traditionally marginalized person should be at the front and, conversely, at the back of the line; and, furthermore, to whom amongst them should go the last piece of quality pie—all the while the interstellar spaceship on which they’re all permanently confined is burning and toxifying at locations rarely investigated.
    As a species, we really can be so heavily preoccupied with our own individual admittedly overwhelming little worlds, that we’ll miss the biggest of pictures.

  25. avatar
    Lamar Hosang

    Cities shouldn´t be car-free.Some people already have cars and it is fast and good transportation to them.People might not afford a bike or can’t ride one because they are too old to do so.It might not fit for them and cars can be easier to ride.

  26. avatar

    That would be a lost cause.

    • avatar
      Debating Europe

      Hey Христо, why do you think so? :)

    • avatar

      Because it’s impossible. The best thing you can do is to turn city centres car-free :)

  27. avatar

    No! Let the choice free. I feel more bothered by cyclists, who do not stay within the cycling lanes, do not respect traffic signs and if they take their crap to the public bus or metro, they smell and they easily stain someone’s outfit with their dirty wheels. Cars do not bother me in town, the cyclists do

  28. avatar

    Can the bicycle pull a truck full of food?

  29. avatar

    Impossible in Lisbon because public transportation is inneficient . I work and must travel on the bridge between Lisbon and Almada. Bykes are not alowed, nor pedestrians.
    This is good for Amsterdam.

  30. avatar

    With cities in continuous expansion, with the need to increase the number of small local businesses, with the continuous increase of time price and also with the (not so) new sanitary maneces I don’t think that the question makes sense. With the technologies that we have these days building a performant infrastructure and optimizing traffic should be a “piece of cake”. There is only the need of “wanting” to do that…

  31. avatar

    I think the main problems of environment come from USA Brasil Russia India China Indonesia…

  32. avatar

    That will likely target the average citizen only, while exceptions for elite or wealthy who can afford the higher tax that will likely be levied. Europe is well known for it’s high taxes on energy, especially car fuel. Some countries have a special tax for electricity and the the tax it again with VAT on the final sum. Vehicle taxes, transfer and road taxes, are also based on horsepower of the vehicle resulting in anyone can own and operate a private vehicle but only if they wealthy enough. It’s evident why the average European drive such small underpowered cars while only the wealthy affluent Europeans drive normal cars with decent engines.

  33. avatar

    No. Absolutely not
    That has bad influence on economy, you need truck to bring in supplies and products to local shops and market,
    More over in any city building and renovation is essential and it needs cars
    If by car you mean personal car then maybe but does they actually has that much influence on air pollution as truck and other vehicles?
    And what about emergency cases where car actually helpful?
    In case of personal car i am 65% for yet i still doubt its efficiency as i said

  34. avatar

    They should not try they should just do it

  35. avatar

    Definitely yes, or at first driverless community cars only – driverless UBER electric taxis only

  36. avatar

    Do it in filthy places like India and China

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