Not so long ago, Air pollution dropped across the world during the quarantine decreed because of COVID-19, with outstanding images illustrating the considerable drop in CO2 emissions. The drop in nitrogen dioxide emissions across the planet was caused mainly by the new behavioural changes; over a number of months, there were hardly any cars on the streets in cities in which the authorities had decreed confinement. In China, CO2 emissions dropped by 25% in March 2020! With the experience of car-free cities conducted in the real world, the issue of shifting mobility solutions resurfaced. Climate change is becoming as real as the approximately seven million deaths across the globe each year due to air pollution. Such plans are particularly implemented with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, benefiting public health, and reducing road accidents. Major cities like Paris, Milan, Dublin, Brussels and Copenhagen have launched several measures to reduce motorized traffic, including car-free days, investing in cycling infrastructure and pedestrianization, and significant increases in public transport budgets.
Flexible transport is great –if not the greatest- challenge for rural areas and rural-urban regions, and new and green transport methods are urgently needed to foster sustainable and integrated regional development. While it may sound good on paper, and despite having positive results for citizens’ health and quality of life, creating car-free hubs and areas comes with significant challenges, in terms of favourable conditions, gaining support from citizens and businesses, in urban areas as well as the rural ones. The main issues and challenges of creating car-free areas can be summarized as the following:
First of all, driving the significant changes needed to reduce- if not remove- private-owned vehicles needs to be supported by the political leadership with a strong and consistent roadmap, as well as solutions to the potential problems that could occur in the process.
Gaining support from the community
Governments not only need to be committed in order to successfully implement the car-free vision, but they require the local population and business owners’ dedication. Some might argue that reviving struggling high streets needs fewer cars since people travelling by bike or on foot are more likely to frequent the businesses they pass. However, an adverse effect on business might occur due to the disruption caused by transitioning to the car-free mobility attitude. If the majority isn’t in favour of going car-free, maintaining the momentum needed to fully adopt the change would be questionable.
Fully integrated urban development strategy
the car-free notion may be easily imagined, but even if governments and their governed communities are equally committed, making it a reality needs the development of a comprehensive strategy.
Shift from mobility to accessibility
In order to push individuals out of their vehicles and allow them to embrace alternative modes of transport, a robust infrastructure is crucial to make it safe, comfortable and efficient for people of all ages and mobility levels. Who would rather take a bike while it’s raining outside? This brings us back to the commitment of the political leadership, and the faith needed in order to cope with the fallout of perhaps inconveniencing everyone during the switch progress.
Letting everyone know how to manage the changes in their everyday lives can’t be done without the concurrent development of a media strategy, which is essential to ensure smooth progress and to prevent chaos from reigning during the transition period, as well as the completion of the project.
Limited transport options
To fully embrace car-free mobility, car alternatives need vast improvements from covered walkways to underground cycle paths and skyway systems, in order to appease sceptical people and prevent them from feeling limited by the absence of the car from their options.
What about rural mobility
If cities can be relatively more equipped to handle car-free transportation, they are far from suffering the potential challenges of rural mobility. Sustainable mobility issues in rural areas, compared with urban mobility issues, have so far been poorly covered in the European public debate. Access to everyday essentials can be a major challenge in lightly populated areas, as the time and distance necessary to arrive are longer than what it could have been in urban hubs. In addition to that, families who live in the countryside need to travel, on average, twice as far to reach their desired destination (work, errands, etc.), journeys that are mainly made by car.
Developing sustainable, flexible, and smart rural connectivities needs to overcome societal, economic, and environmental issues at the same time. In France, rural mobility became one of the priorities of the LOM law (the “Loi d’Orientation sur les Mobilités”, which surrounds all decisions on mobility), as it’s getting more and more necessary to offer new mobility solutions for rural populations.
The LOM law, published in December 2019, is a French reform to improve mobility while considering environmental issues; this law was approved in order to accelerate the growth of new mobility solutions, reduce reliance on cars, and achieve a successful ecological transition.
Despite the fact that some measures may have already been implemented in certain regions, they are yet to be improved and perfected. Private initiatives are extremely important to support the overall process; the French company Padam Mobility, for example, is actively involved in the development of rural mobility solutions in France via the LOM law, putting forward several areas for improvement, such as facilitating multimodality, promoting walking and bicycling buses, and promoting low-carbon vehicles. Demand-responsive transport (DRT), which optimizes routes taking into consideration every user’s needs, is proven to be cost-effective, convenient, and straightforward, allowing getting around more easily.
Since the beginning of 2020, lifestyles have shifted in order to fight the spread of the pandemic, which means human adaptability can be harnessed once again in order to achieve car-free mobility and lessen our negative impact on the environment. Governments, local councils, businesses, private initiatives, and individuals must be entirely convinced of the benefits, and heavily involved and committed to the vision of car-free mobility. There was a day when humankind couldn’t comprehend the ability to fly!
If you think this is impossible, you better think twice!