Here's Why Cities That Go Car Free Tend to Stay Car Free

Cars are great, but there are some places where they just make everyone miserable. Like cities.

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The Times Square Alliance shows off a street art display, spelling out Car Free in street furniture, in Times Square in New York on April 21, 2016 as a testament to one of the first Car Free street spaces in recent history.
Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP (Getty Images)

Cities. They suck for cars, suck for driving and it turns out their inhabitants tend to have better lives without cars making noise, jamming everything up and polluting all over the damn place. If you’d like examples of the good that eliminating cars can actually do for urban centers, check out this illuminating read from Next City.

The article highlights four major roads in four major cities, like San Francisco’s John F. Kennedy Drive, which first became car-free seven days a week during the pandemic, and will remain that way due to a ballot measure just passed:

In April, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a motion keeping JFK Drive closed to cars, along with 40 improvements that would make the park more accessible to disabled people, seniors and others.

The 1.5 mile street in San Francisco’s famed Golden Gate State Park was then the subject of dueling ballot measures this month — Prop J would keep cars out and Prop I would reopen the street to motorized vehicles. Supporters of Prop I argued that permanently closing the drive to cars would exclude people with disabilities from accessing the park. In the end, voters passed Prop J with almost 60% voting “yes” and rejected Prop I with over 60% voting “no.”


The point about people with disabilities being excluded along with cars is kind of weak when you consider that the JFK Promenade project has already increased the number of ADA-compliant parking spaces available to visitors and installed a shuttle. It’s also made life safer for pedestrians:

Jodie Medeiros, who leads the pedestrian advocacy group Walk San Francisco, says car-free movement at JFK is critical to protecting pedestrians from vehicle traffic. “For two years, we have seen how much people not only love but really need this car-free space,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Car-free JFK is all about our safety.”

According to San Francisco Recreation and Parks, visits to the park increased 36% since the closure, totalling nearly 7 million visits, while over 90% of the streets in the park are still open to cars.

New York City’s 34th Street — a.k.a. Paseo Park — presents another example:

Started in the early days of the pandemic, the 34th Avenue open street project was organized as part of New York City’s Open Streets initiative. Volunteers from the neighborhood put out traffic barriers every morning and started organizing events, activities and games. This year, only 20 miles of open streets remain in the city, down from a high of 83 miles.

The city’s department of transportation says that the project has reduced traffic violence involving pedestrians by a whopping 41.7%. A study conducted by Streetsblog showed a dramatic reduction in all car crashes.


Head to Next City for the full story. I briefly lived in Brooklyn before the pandemic and didn’t bring my car with me because it didn’t make much sense. I really missed driving it, but of course I would not have wanted to in Brooklyn, and the time I spent there ultimately taught me for a whole host of reasons that I am not a city person. I also had the privilege to leave the city if I wanted. For the lives of people who can’t or don’t want to, these are good steps.