New York City goes car free

You have to give it to the guy—he doesn’t take punches lying down. Last summer New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan to clear out vehicle-clogged NYC streets flopped in Albany. But rather than tuck his tail and run, Bloomberg rebounded with a new plan—a car-free zone in NYC. The so-called Summer Streets experiment will ban vehicles along a 7- mile stretch from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park for six hours during three consecutive Saturdays in August. The zone will host fitness and dance classes where pedestrians can take to the streets like a Broadway musical.

Of course some are already complaining that the plan will hurt business, but according to the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, car-free zones may actually help business because customers on foot tend to spend more than those in vehicles. And though three days is hardly a loud cry for environmental change, it sends a message that pedestrians are finally on par with motorists. The mayor says that cities such as London, Paris, and Bogota have had success with car-free zones for years, but can pedal-pumping Americans hand over the keys? Surprisingly, the answer is “yes.” Car-free zones already dot the nation; you just have to know where to look. Here are a few:

Portland, Oregon – No big surprise, but the most bike-friendly city in the U.S. actually has two car-free zones: RiverPlace and Portland Center. The city also recently hosted the Toward Carfree Cities conference, which concluded with Sunday Parkways—a one-day festival in June that turned the street over to pedestrians.

Boston, Massachusetts – There’s no chance you’ll be able to “pahk ya ca” in certain areas of old downtown Boston, where several streets in the commercial district are car-free zones.

Williamsburg, Virginia – Colonial Williamsburg’s tagline “That the future should learn from the past” couldn’t be more fitting when talking about car-free zones. Visitors to the restored colonial-era village will need to travel around the old-fashioned way—by buggy or foot. Just be sure to look out for the redcoats!

There are also several car-free islands in the U.S. Check out vacation getaways Mackinac Island in Michigan and Tangier Island in Virginia.

And don’t forget the pedestrian malls, which can be found in a handful of states, including the 16th Street Mall in Denver, Colorado, and the K Street Mall in Sacramento, California.

For more information, check out the CarFree City Web site. 

By Jessica A. Knoblauch, Plenty intern


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