Atlantic Cities
The Big Fix

Cutting Car Use at the Neighborhood Level

Cutting Car Use at the Neighborhood Level
Payton Chung

Getting people out of their cars is a common goal for many urban planners and even some developers. But the idea is not always so easy to achieve, especially in car-dependent places. Eight relatively new developments in Europe, however, offer insights into how small-scale projects can encourage alternate transportation options.

A new report from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy looks at these new developments and explores how they’ve limited car use – either though overt parking restrictions, alternative transportation programs or urban design.

The report looks at one project in London, one in Switzerland, and two each in The Netherlands, Germany and Sweden. Authors Nicole Foletta and Simon Field note that each successfully employs a combination of “push” measures to discourage car use and “pull” measures to encourage a variety of transportation options.

Foletta and Field look specifically at modal splits, which explains the overall transportation diet of a place and its people – how many own and drive cars, how many ride bikes, how many walk, and how often. By comparing the splits and the number of cars per 1,000 residents to nearby reference areas, the report shows how these new developments have encouraged less car use across the board.

One of the most intriguing examples is the Vauban project in Freiburg, Germany, a 5,000-person mixed used community completed in 2010. A key element of the development’s master plan was that car use should be less convenient than alternatives. Its parking-free residential streets, expensive off-site parking, low speed limits, and certain car-limited thoroughfares help achieve that goal. Bike parking is included with each residence. Large cycle and pedestrian paths criss-cross the development, and public transit is also readily available, with a tram stop within 400 meters of every residence. In Vauban, there are about 160 cars per 1,000 people, while the surrounding city of Freiburg has 393 cars per 1,000. Only 16 percent of trips are made by car in the development, compared to 30 percent outside.

The Greenwich Millennium Village is a mixed use and car-reduced development in London. The multi-phase project began construction in 1999. When compared to the greater London area as a whole, Greenwich Millennium Village didn’t reduce car ownership much if at all – which is understandable for a residential enclave 9 kilometers from the city center. But it did greatly reduce use of private cars. Eighteeen percent of all trips in the Village are made by car, compared to 44 percent in the surrounding Greenwich area. Foletta and Field note that the project employs a combination of high density, limited through-streets for cars, parking located away from housing units, and a network of cycle and pedestrian paths throughout. And by unbundling parking spaces from apartments, people without cars won’t be granted parking spaces they don’t need.

Notably, seven of the eight projects profiled in the report are former brownfields, which offer lessons for other cities looking to develop disused industrial lands.

The authors also note that all of the car-free and parking-free projects they studied had grassroots support early on in the process. And it’s important to recognize that each of these developments started out with the intention of reducing car use. It wasn’t a coincidence.

These developments offer a number of lessons for new development projects that seek to reduce car use and, in turn, carbon emissions. By designing compact neighborhoods that link closely to shopping and mixed use areas, long-distance travel can be largely eliminated. And by creating links to public transit and developing cycle and pedestrian pathways to transit stops, access will be easier for residents. One over-arching lesson from these developments is the role of parking in determining car use. By limiting the amount and availability and ease of parking, these places have seen marked reductions in car use.

Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for The Atlantic Cities. He lives in Los Angeles. All posts »

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