The Mayor of London recently announced plans for the UK capital’s first car-free day, which started on 22 September. Other cities, many in Europe, have instigated car free central zones, Florence being one the earliest. Rome restricts the movement of vehicles in the central area. This concept will increase. Changes with air travel will take quite a bit of time, but meanwhile we all can help offset air travel impact by embracing other modes of ground transport and car free places.
The following places are permanently car-free, and open to visitors…
You’ll find waterways, not roads, in the beautiful Dutch town of Giethoorn. It dates back to the 13th century, when enterprising monks came here and dug out the canals in order to transport peat. Residents of Holland’s so-called ‘Venice of the North’ rely on bikes, kayaks and canoes. Bridges criss-cross the canals, and are used as ice rinks by locals in the winter.
Rottnest Island WA Australia
Rottnest has the largest cycle hire outlet in the Southern Hemisphere. There are 1,300 bikes to hire at the Rottnest Island Pedal & Flipper rental outfit. And despite the lack of cars, there are still plenty of roads: smooth, well-maintained ribbons of tarmac allow cyclists to roll between the island’s 63, coral reef-fringed beaches. Many will probably know Rottnest best as the home of the adorable quokka. But during your visit, don’t shy away from the island’s dark past (it was used as a prison for Aboriginal men and boys). Free guided walking tours will provide insight.
Home to just 800 people, Brännö is a car-free island close to Gothenburg. It was put on the map by the late Lasse Dahlquist, a Swedish composer whose ballads were inspired by this wind and wave-bashed paradise. Visiting Brännö feels like stepping back in time. Almost all of the houses are made from wood, and the main modes of transport are kayak and bike. It’s a popular birdwatching spot (razorbills are especially common here) and amenities include a bakery, post office, cafe and a handful of restaurants.
Fire Island New York
Fire Island is a forested, wildlife-filled paradise just a short ferry ride from Long Island. Bikes are the best way to get around the 15 hamlets and two villages on the island, but don’t panic if you’re not a keen cyclist – everything is completely flat. Delivery companies transport goods using towable wagons, which are also used by residents (almost every house has one). There are several hotels, the largest of which is The Palms – a boutique property in lively Ocean Village, the island’s largest community.
It’s all about four legs (not four wheels) in Zermatt, a beautiful Swiss town in the shadow of the mighty Matterhorn. It’s been car-free longer than any local can remember, and cars aren’t allowed past Täsch, five kilometres from Zermatt. An electric shuttle bus ferries visitors and residents from Täsch to Zermatt’s centre, although horse-drawn carriages are the preferred mode of transport in the town’s centre.
In 1997, Ghent’s then-mayor Frank Beke announced plans to pedestrianise 35 hectares of the city centre – turning it into Europe’s largest car-free zone outside Venice. Shortly after, a local shop-owner mailed him a bullet, concerned that the plan would turn the area into a ghost town. It didn’t. Far from it. Today, Ghent’s car-free city centre is thriving, with playgrounds instead of parking lots and one of the best cycle lane networks in Europe. There are now weekly car-free Sundays, when the entire city is closed to traffic – an event being replicated in Brussels and Antwerp, too.
Finally, a look to the future. Oslo plans to become a carbon neutral city by 2030, an aspiration which involves the elimination of cars. The process to become a completely car-free city began in 2017, with the removal of 300 parking spaces (400 more were removed in 2018). At the same time, a growing number of streets are being closed to traffic, while road tolls for drivers are being increased. Residents are encouraged to apply for grants for electric cargo bikes – a mode of transport now used by many delivery companies within the city.