• Urban Mobility
  • E-Bikes
  • Sustainability
  • Europe
  • COVID-19

European Cities Accelerate Toward a Car Free Future

Sagie Evbenata
Jun 30, 2020


Global lockdown measures to control the coronavirus outbreak have considerably decreased urban vehicle journeys. Citizens have appreciated the reduction in traffic and benefited from improved air quality, less noise pollution, and improved safety for pedestrians and cyclists. A recent Transport and Environment survey found that over two-thirds of European citizens support the restriction of polluting vehicles entering city centers and reallocating public space to walking, cycling, and public transport.

Cities are Fast-Tracking the Deployment of Cycling Infrastructure

Cycling has boomed in popularity during the lockdown and the construction of pedestrian and cycling infrastructure has been accelerated to avoid gridlocked city streets. Cycling has become the ideal mode of transport in Berlin, for example—the city has pioneered a high speed process for the installation of pop-up bike lanes in 3-10 days, compared with the usual decade timeline.

Social distancing on London’s public transport is expected to reduce capacity to around 13%-15% of normal. To mitigate the effect on the city’s roads, London’s Streetspace program is anticipated to create one of the world’s largest car-free zones. Some of the city’s busiest thoroughfares are expected to be closed to cars, benefiting cyclists and pedestrians. This arrangement aligns with the mayor’s transport strategy, aiming for all residents to complete 20 minutes daily active travel and 80% of all journeys to be made by walking, cycling, and public transport by 2041.

Measures in several other European cities may become permanent following London’s success:

  • Rome and Milan have commenced the installation of over 110 miles of temporary and permanent cycle and pedestrian routes.
  • Budapest installed 12 miles of temporary bike lanes and is in consultations to extend this across the city.
  • Dublin is permanently transforming its city center to restrict cars and prioritize pedestrians and cyclists as part of the city’s new transport plan.
Large-Scale Plans for Sustainable Mobility in City Centers

National policies have been recently proposed across Europe to speed up the transition to EVs, such as in Germany, France, and the UK. Cities are taking things a step further; York is aiming to have the UK’s first zero emissions city center by restricting internal combustion engine vehicles and permitting only EVs and bicycles. Furthermore, some major European capitals are aiming to substantially restrict the access of all vehicles to their city centers.

Paris has committed to constructing 870 miles of cycle paths during 2020 and, during the lockdown, created 30,000 bike paths in 1 month. The city’s Deputy Mayor of Transportation declared that bicycle usage could overtake cars as soon as 2025.

The mayor of Athens stated that the pandemic has provided an opportunity to accelerate ambitious infrastructure plans to allocate 50,000 m (about 31 miles) of public space to cyclists and pedestrians that might otherwise have taken years to accomplish. In the grandest city transformation scheme since hosting the 2004 Olympics, major streets in the historic city center are anticipated to become car free to improve air quality, benefit the quality of life for its citizens, and enhance the tourist experience.

Momentum Builds for Micromobility Options

There is momentum building across Europe and some of these initiatives are being implemented in cities around the world, including Bogotá, Mexico City, Vancouver, and New York City. In addition to the increase in cycling and walking, car-free city centers are likely to result in an upsurge in other micromobility options, such as electric scooters and electric bikes. Parking facilities could also be displaced, encouraging the development of hubs where incoming drivers can park and continue their journeys on bike, foot, or other sustainable modes. The world will be observing and learning from the benefits of cleaner air, peaceful streets, and more communal city spaces from the leading European examples.