Urban Fold

Bring Cars In, Or Keep Cars Out?

In some cases, argues Yonah Freemark, it makes more sense to bring cars into your downtown than to keep them out. Freemark visits Raleigh, North Carolina, where the city opened its pedestrian-only downtown to cars with some success.

Freemark writes, "Downtown Raleigh used to be a real nine-to-five place, the sort of American inner-city that managed to attract a fine lunch crowd but a much smaller group for dinner, and an even tighter circle for anything after that. Like the central business districts of many state capitals, North Carolina's was plagued by its almost overwhelming reliance on office workers, its few residents, and its decided lack of street life.

Part of the problem, it seemed, was the presence of a pedestrian mall at the center of the city on Fayetteville Street. Much as in other U.S. cities, Raleigh planners had assumed that moving cars off the city's main drag would improve quality of life and expand business, but the result was unfortunately frequently the opposite. By the early 2000s, the Fayetteville Street Mall was downright dour at night."

Thanks to Next American City

Full Story: Raleigh’s Downtown Upgrade Pans Out



Avoid false dichotomies -- relearn how to make car-free zones

Note that in the article, the redeveloped downtown (now that cars are allowed back) is a place where, "cars move slowly up and down the corridor, while pedestrians luxuriate in the generous sidewalks. During special events, the whole street can be converted to close off cars—and that doesn’t disturb the overall traffic patterns much downtown." If that kind of traffic calming would have been done in the first place, perhaps the whole area might not have declined.

It should come as no surprise that simply removing cars from a downtown area that is essentially an office park by day results in a dead zone. The problem seems to be that some developers, planners, and architects do not seem to know how to create car-free zones that truly thrive.

Please check:


A car-free area's success seems more complex than just lack of cars, but requires a wide mix of cultural, commercial, business, residential, and tourism activity to thrive.

People have been making and living in car-free areas for several millennia. I think we in the 21st century might be able to figure out how to do it again. And, indeed, it might be just a matter of making pedestrians feel comfortable and allowing a wide variety of neighborhood-building commerce and activity to thrive.

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