Until a few years ago, the small city of Ghent in Belgium struggled with traffic and smog in its city center. Then, in 2017, the city adopted a new traffic plan to limit non-essential cars from its center and used a tactical urbanism approach to make the change cheaply, adding planters and simple concrete barriers to block off roads and cameras to help with enforcement. Now more than a third of residents commute by bike, and smog is no longer such a problem.
Following in Ghent’s footsteps, the small city of York plans to ban most cars from its medieval city center by 2023. As with other cities designed before the existence of cars—York was first settled by the Romans in 71 AD—it’s better suited for walking than driving. It has the same street plan as it did when “the Vikings were here”, and it’s not designed to take the volume of cars seen now, which leads to congestion.
The city now has to figure out how the car ban will actually work and will begin meeting with residents to figure out the details. The ban only applies to “non-essential” private cars, so the streets won’t be completely free of vehicles—delivery trucks, taxis, disabled drivers, buses, and others will still be able to drive in the area.
But by dramatically reducing the number of cars, the city expects that buses will be able to move more quickly, making public transportation more appealing, and biking will feel safer, so more people choose to bike.
If York can manage to make its city car-free, it could provide a blueprint that other small, older cities can follow.