In a recent review published in Environmental International led by CREAL, an ISGlobal allied center, the researchers found that an increasing number of cities are planning to become partly private car free. They mainly focus on the reduction of private car use in city centers. The likely effects of such policies are significant reductions in traffic related air pollution, noise, and temperature in city centers. For example, up to a 40% reduction in NO2 levels has been reported on car free days. These reductions are likely to lead to a reduction in premature mortality and morbidity.
The researchers aimed to describe the plans for private car free cities and its likely effects on public health. “We have reviewed the scientific literature on plans for private car free cities, restricted car use, related exposures and health”, says Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, researcher at CREAL and ISGlobal and first author of the study.
Many cities across the world are beginning to shift their mobility solution away from the private cars and towards more environmentally friendly and citizen-focused means. “Hamburg, Oslo, Helsinki, and Madrid have recently announced their plans to become partly private car free cities. Other cities like Paris, Milan, Chengdu, Masdar, Dublin, Brussels, Copenhagen, Bogota, and Hyderabad have measures that aim at reducing motorized traffic including implementing car free days, investing in cycling infrastructure and pedestrianization, restricting parking spaces and considerable increases in public transport provision”, explains Nieuwenhuijsen. Such plans and measures are particularly implemented with the declared aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These reductions are also likely to benefit public health.
Furthermore the reduction in the number of cars, and therefore a reduction in the need for parking places and road space, provides opportunities to increase green space and green networks in cities, which in turn can lead to many beneficial health effects. All these measures are likely to lead to higher levels of active mobility and physical activity which may improve public health the most and also provide more opportunities for people to interact with each other in public space. Furthermore, such initiatives, if undertaken at a sufficiently large scale can result in positive distal effects and climate change mitigation through CO2 reductions. The potential negative effects which may arise due to motorized traffic detouring around car free zone into their destinations also need further evaluation and the areas in which car free zones are introduced need to be given sufficient attention so as not to become an additional way to exacerbate socioeconomic divides.
“We need to do further research, including full chain health impact assessment modeling to quantify the potential health benefits of such schemes, and exposure and epidemiological studies to measure any changes when such interventions take place”, concludes the researcher.
Mark J. Nieuwenhuijsen, Haneen Khreis. Car free cities: Pathway to healthy urban living. Environmental International, June 2016.