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City streets should not have cars. But how?

Jos Hesselink • 25/02/2021
The arrival of the car has radically changed the spatial development of our cities and the infrastructure in the Netherlands.
In order to bring cars and freight traffic safely and quickly from A to B, highways and motorways, bridges and viaducts, traffic lights and pedestrian crossings were necessary.

Cities were more accessible than ever and the space outside the city beckoned. Sub-urbanisation was a fact and this led to the well-known congestion on Dutch roads. Despite this, the car still accounts for almost 75% of the total distance traveled by people (drivers and passengers).

After decades of (re-) urbanization, it is becoming increasingly busy in the cities and we are making more intensive use of the limited space. There is less space for a car and it often turns out not to be the fastest means of transport. Especially in large cities, the car is increasingly being exchanged for an often more sustainable alternative. Residents have been using cargo bikes and electric bicycles, scooters or scooters for years now. And for the 'last mile delivery' of our packages and groceries, an alternative to the delivery van in the form of (electric) cargo bikes (or something similar) is increasingly being used.

Local authorities have the challenging task of ensuring that the inner-city infrastructure is efficient and safe for all these road users. Due to the increasing importance of quality of life and health, more and more car-free or car-free inner cities are being created, bicycle streets where the car is only a guest and new neighborhoods are being constructed with only local traffic. By facilitating a wide variety of amenities in the neighborhood - in accordance with the "15 minute city" idea - the need to have a (own) car also decreases. Reducing transport flows also limits nitrogen emissions, which is good for our health, among other things. A good example from abroad is the Spanish town of Pontevedra, a completely car-free city, where 70 percent of journeys are made by pedestrians. This has reduced pollution by 61 percent and road traffic by 90 percent. The infrastructure and public space have been adapted to facilitate quality of life.

The car itself is also developing. For example, there are more and more electric cars - although these are mainly lease drivers - and in the cities you see more and more (electric) shared cars that make having a second car or even having your own car superfluous. A trend that will ultimately lead to fewer cars in the city (standing still) and the design of the city changing. This will only happen radically with the arrival of the autonomous driving car - although we do not know now whether that will take another 5, 10 or 20 years. This substantially increases the quality of life in cities, making the city more attractive to live in. With the advent of autonomous driving cars, people suddenly have access to their own "private train" and people may prefer to live outside the city. What does this mean for public transport and its current infrastructure?

In the city's vision of the future, there is no longer any room for (own) cars and certainly not for parked cars. Without this being at the expense of the accessibility of that city. From ‘mobility hubs’, residents, visitors and commuters alike can get out of and into the city using a means of transport of their choice. Autonomous vehicles are charged or temporarily parked there. They are also the places where people meet for (business) appointments, pick up their groceries or packages and where people want to live in the neighborhood. By designating strategic places in and on the outskirts of the city as 'mobility hub' accessible by bicycle, public transport and car, we can presort and stimulate future needs. By opting now for livability and a different way of accessibility, we make a strategic, sustainable choice for our spatial planning in the long term and we increase the value of the city.

Every month a column is published on a topic related to the value of the city. This vision arises from internal research and dialogue with internal and external stakeholders, in close collaboration with consultants and analysts from our Real Estate Strategy & Innovation team. More background can be found in the Insight: Mobility Hub: enabler for future accessibility (in Dutch).

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