Could the transformation of city centres into areas that prioritise pedestrians, cyclists and public transport bring social, environmental, and economic benefits to city centres? Yes, according to a report by Transform Scotland.
It suggests that the Scottish Government, which has committed to reducing car mileage by 20% by 2030, should look at how car-free interventions have worked in Europe, citing Bremen in Germany, Lund in Sweden, and Enschede in the Netherlands, as scalable examples.
Oslo’s Car-Free City Life scheme was analysed, and the report’s author believes a similar scheme could work in Glasgow, which has a population of 590,507 (compared to Oslo’s 650,000).
The report, Open for Business, says that crucial to any scheme’s success is the commitment of city centre business. It makes a series of recommendations for gaining business support, including the need for local authorities to be flexible and open to amending proposals.
Author Jamie Wylie said: “Scotland can learn from our friends in Europe how to design and deliver car-free city centres to best meet the needs of our businesses, which will bring wider benefit not just to the environment, to the businesses themselves but to our communities as well.”
What could car-free cities look like?
After domestic and long-haul flights, single-passenger cars were found to be the mode of transport that produced the most CO2 emissions in the UK in 2019. This factor, paired with growing concerns over damaging air quality, has resulted in many cities, including Birmingham, introducing Clean Air Zone taxes.
Cycling is already a popular way for people to get around, and with increased investment in cycle lanes during the pandemic, it’s likely that more people will adopt cycling for short trips. Currently, bikes and e-bikes make up six per cent of miles travelled in cities around the world. Scientists have speculated that if bikes make up 14% of these journeys by 2050, we’d see an 11% decrease in carbon emissions. The rollout of other micro mobility schemes, such as hired cargo bikes, and hired e-scooters, is likely to expand when nationwide trials complete in early 2022.
Free public transport
Some cities, such as Tallinn and Dunkirk, have trialled free public transport schemes with great success. In a 2019 UK survey, the main reason why public transport fails to entice commuters is cost. When questioned why they chose to drive instead of using public transport, 39% of respondents in the UK identified ‘higher fares’ as the main reason. On average, a journey via bus, metro, or train in London costs £4.39 (one of the most expensive places to use public transport in the world), £4.21 in Stockholm, £3.60 in Copenhagen, £3.48 in Oslo, and £2.89 in Berlin.
Edgar Savisaar, the then Mayor of Tallinn, celebrated the scheme, saying: “First of all, citizens have more mobility options in town. Secondly, there are environmental benefits, as air quality is getting better. Thirdly, there are major improvements in the traffic flow.”