Lots of places close streets to cars for a day, but what happens when you do it for a month?
Could this happen in North America? Take a neighborhood and ban cars from it for a month?
It happened in 2013 in Suwon, South Korea, and it’s happening in Johannesburg, South Africa, later this year. It’s the Eco-Mobility World Festival, intended to “mobilize and raise local and international support for ecomobile alternatives to fossil-fuel transport,” and looks like a whole lot of fun. According to the Urban Idea, the Suwon fest was a huge success.
Around 4,300 residents in the neighborhood adopted an ecomobile lifestyle to experience how traveling through integrated, socially inclusive, and healthy transport options can positively change their routines. The residents used a variety of vehicles such as bicycles, trailers for carrying children and goods, tandem bicycles, recumbent bikes, pedelecs (electric assisted bicycles) and velo-taxis.
After the festival ended, the city also gathered residents for a huge meeting to ask for ideas for more permanent
changes. The biggest result: The speed limit was cut nearly in half, to about 18 miles per hour. That meant that commuters no longer wanted to use the neighborhood as a shortcut, and traffic started to disappear. Neighbors also decided to eliminate side parking on some major streets — and parking on sidewalks — which helped encourage people to start walking and biking to run errands.
Why a month? According to festival creative director Konrad Otto-Zimmermann, it takes that long for people to really adapt; any less and people can just rearrange their appointments and work around it. “It has to be a month in order to hit people’s daily agenda, so they really experience ecomobility in their daily life.”
When Toronto tried closing its streets for a day, the mayor went nuts and said “We have parks for people to walk, for exercise, to do yoga. You don’t have to close down a major street to walk, do yoga — that’s for parks.”
But as Gil Peñalosa of 8-80 cities (a nonprofit organization based in Toronto dedicated to helping cities become more pedestrian- and bike-friendly) notes, we have to break out of this mindset and take back the streets.
Building more roads to solve transport problems is like putting off a fire with gasoline. We should put pedestrians as our priority and question the role of streets. People need to walk, and walking must be best friends with cycling and public transport.
Perhaps that’s the message of Suwon: Cars have their place, but they shouldn’t dominate the city; they should play nice with cyclists and pedestrians. When changes are made that affect daily habits, people adapt. So slow down the cars, promote alternative means of transport — because streets are for people.