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A Tipping Point in Human History

Hamish Stewart - Car Free Day

06 September 2019/Categories: PTRC News

A Tipping Point in Human History

Throughout history, humans (and transport planners!) have focused much of our energy on creating cities, and now that most of humanity lives in cities, cities are shaping our future prospects as a species. To quote research from Yale University “the conversion of Earth’s land surface to urban uses is one of the most irreversible human impacts on the global biosphere” [1]. Taking back redundant street and parking space is a great opportunity. 


Time for a 21st century approach to urban land use & mobility planning


By 2030, the world is likely to add new urban areas the size of Mongolia, over 1.5 million km². Much of this expanded area will cover prime agricultural and at least 30% of this total area will be concrete roads and parking. As a result of this inefficient approach to land use and a preference for great stretches of empty concrete, urban expansion is one of the primary drivers of habitat loss, species extinction, and the destruction of prime agricultural land [2]. This revolves around designing cities for the internal combustion engine vehicle rather than people.

That is why it is so important to see London and other global cities come together to reconsider the future of mobility of our cities on World Car Free Day and beyond. 


A global opportunity to celebrate the streets as our most abundant shared public space 


Changing the way our cities are designed is vitally necessary for the prosperity and health of all human societies and our shared environment. Like all great transitions, the transition to traffic-free city centres and cleaner air starts from the ground up, with residents coming together from across London to test out new ideas and approaches to using the streets, the city’s most abundant public space.


Systematic traffic removal in city centres a triple opportunity


The greatest opportunity of all in going traffic-free is the land that is freed up for alternative uses as new public parks, affordable housing and commercial space. Land devoted to roads and parking can also create new space for public transport. That is why cities from Addis Ababa and Amsterdam to London, Paris, New York and Brussels are all rethinking their streets and reclaiming redundant road and parking space for more socially and economically productive uses.


In the private car-dominated cities of today, road surfaces and parking take up an average of 30% of urban land. In North American cities and international cities following an American urban design matrix, roads and parking lots can account for up to 50% of the total urban land surface [3]. In London alone, 6.8 million parking spaces spaces take up over 8,000 hectares of high value land.  


Transport planners should be leading the global transition to healthier, more prosperous cities


Join us for the World Car Free Day London Summit 19-20 September to engage with peers from around the world on the transition to traffic-free city centres. Register here.



[1] 'Environmental Impacts of Urban Growth:' 

[2] Seto et al (2011) 'A Meta-Analysis of Global Urban Land Expansion:' 

[3] 'Land Use Footprint in Selected Central Areas:' 



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