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Visions of car-free cities

Visions of car-free cities

By Jeremy Williams

Can you imagine your street with fewer cars? What about your town centre?

That’s an invitation that Possible have been putting to residents in four British cities. Focus groups in Leeds, Birmingham, Bristol and London considered what roads might look like if they were low-traffic and climate-friendly. Planners, architects and campaigners were consulted, and the results were drawn up into visualisations. The new street scenes remove the cars, and instead feature public transport, cycling and walking, generous public spaces and lots of greenery. You can browse the collection here, with a couple below to whet your appetite.

This one is the traffic-blighted environs of Leeds United’s Elland Road football ground. The space is transformed into a welcoming public space that would serve thousands of football fans, with an abundance of trees, street foods, parks and play spaces. Bonus points for the urban cable car.

To the south, one of the streets the project tackled is the notorious accident hotspot of Hyde Park Corner. I have personal experience of this one. When I lived in London a few years ago, I borrowed a friend’s bike to try out my commute and see if I could cycle to work instead of taking the bus. It was Hyde Park Corner that decided the question for me. There wasn’t any way to avoid it on my route. Neither was there any way to navigate its multiple lanes of angry traffic safely. Plenty of others do it every day and some appear to see it as some kind of extreme sport, but I decided London cycling was not for me.

It would have been different if it looked like this. Possible and the local residents reimagine the junction entirely, limiting traffic to one side and creating new public spaces and gardens. These are popular suggestions, and reflect what the area looked like before the car arrived in London in the early 1900s.

Projects like this aren’t just about eye candy. They’re about demonstrating how things could be. This is really important in a hostile debate around cars. From school streets to low traffic neighbourhoods to congestion charging, the debate is often framed in negative terms – the ‘war on motorists’ being the ultimate expression of this. The aggressive defence of private motoring makes it much more difficult than it should be to talk honestly about what we want our streets to be, who they should serve, and the kinds of places that make us happy and fulfilled.

As it turns out, these sorts of visualisations can make a useful case for change. People don’t always support car-free streets in the abstract. Possible proved this in London, where 49% of residents supported the pedestrianisation of Hyde Park corner when first asked about it. A second poll showed people the picture above, and 72% supported the change.

If you live in any of the cities mentioned, Possible have tools for you to press for these sorts of changes, and links to email your councillors. If you live elsewhere, see what you can take inspiration from to transform your own streets.

First published in The Earthbound Report.

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