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What are Carfree Cities?

A primer on the carfree model and its relevance today

Part 1    

Cars cars cars...

As the name makes it clear, the carfree concept is a reaction to the automobile-oriented development of urban transportation in the 20th century. Before we jump into the wonderful world of carfree cities, please bear with us for a quick overview of the bad news first. 

An almost endless list of problems has arisen due to car culture. Cars kill over 3,000 people every day in crashes. That is as many people as died in the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US, but every day. Beyond that, and just as heart-breaking, are the many more people who sustain serious and often lifelong debilitating injuries. This might be a musician who can't play music any more, or the principal income provider of a family whose career is cut short. Cars and the fossil fuel industry heavily pollute the air, causing severe respiratory disorders and other diseases contributing to the 11,500 daily deaths from outdoor air pollution. The dust from cars and trucks alone amount to a significant contribution to environmental pollution. To top it all off, transport emissions rank among the worst accelerators of the climate crisis. 

Time lost while stuck in traffic costs societies billions of dollars in lost productivity. Cars devour huge amounts of city space, robbing children of places to play. This seriously limits cognitive and social development in the crucial first few years of a person's life.

Young people and families end up with few safe places to gather outdoors. Easy, healthy, and safe travel by walking, cycling, and public transit become difficult or impossible due to the space dominated by moving and parked cars. For more evidence and statistics on the impacts of car culture – check out our Fun Facts. 

Billions of people suffer from the problems caused by cars in cities all over the world. People’s lives are dramatically disrupted, whether it is through effects on health and wellbeing, loss of loved ones, filthy air and lack of exercise, or the absence of connection to nature and open spaces, long hours spent in commuting to and from work, and the amount of money and energy spent to sustain this unfeasible mode of urban travel.


Part 2    

There is a better way

Instead of getting hopelessly depressed, let’s shift our attention to the alternative: the magical world of carfree cities.


A carfree city is first and foremost a city for people – a city without cars, trucks, or motorbikes. Instead of a car-dominated city, it is a city of wide pathways and green open spaces, where people easily get around by walking, cycling, and using public transport. 

Larger electric vehicles are used solely for emergency services or special needs, and freight is organized by light rail and various other forms of innovative last-mile delivery.


Cities have existed for thousands of years, but cars have only been around for a hundred years. How did cities function back then? For most of their existence, cities were defined by short distances – which means that everyone could get to where they needed to be by simply walking there. Carfree cities are built on this important advantage. 

When the threat of swiftly moving machines is eliminated from the urban landscape, children are free to explore their neighborhood and city without fear. 

A carfree city is a city with clean air. It is a city of people commuting by foot, bicycle, and public transit, arriving quickly and safely to work or school, with an overall enriched physical and mental health owing to their physical activity. Liberated from the blare of motorized traffic and honking horns, a carfree city is characterized by sounds of merriment, the ding-a ling of bicycle bells, the occasional jingle of a tram, and the chirping of birds. 

A carfree city is a delightfully green city with lots of open space, parks, meadows, and inviting destinations. A city where community spaces are abundant and neighbors meet spontaneously for informal conversations or to organize a street party, kindling new friendships and connections. 

While not every city will be able to transform into a carfree city immediately, CCA believes that it is fully feasible and necessary, especially to mitigate the growing risks from climate change. A quick and effective adoption of the carfree model on a global scale, in cities of any size, is imperative and can only be achieved by changing existing urban planning schemes along the principles of this model. There is no time to lose. 



Climate scientists and the population at large have come to realize that globally, we need to urgently draw down the use of fossil fuels in the next ten years, to maintain the hope of avoiding the worst climate scenarios. The good news is that urban transformation, along the lines of what is described here, will go far in pulling humanity back from the brink of a climate catastrophe, while at the same time majorly improving the quality of life of urban residents. Such a transformation would be a win-win situation for our planet and for people everywhere. We can't think of a better solution set.

An excellent place to start would be to restrict or eliminate the movement of automobiles and other motorized transport in city centres. Neighborhoods should have ample carfree streets and squares for people to enjoy and call their own. A tremendously important task - which should be the focus of green urban investments - should be given to upgrading the quality of public transportation and the design of cityscapes, to bolster and encourage the movement of non-motorized travel. The goal should be to create a city that is a reflection of its people and the best habits of healthy living. 

While it is understandable that many people are attached to their cars, or may have a hard time imagining a carfree city or a carfree lifestyle, we believe that for the majority of people, once given the chance to try out and experience a carfree city, they won't want to go back. Especially once they can see the benefits with their own eyes and realize that all of their needs can be met, while enjoying newfound freedoms.

How can we ever achieve such a radical transformation and arrive at the magical place of carfree cities? The best way is by growing the movement of people and allies who share this vision and want to be a part in bringing it to reality. CCA invites you to explore the pages of this website to draw inspiration on how we can work towards these important and transformative goals together.


Why we love carfree cities

reduced carbon emissions

safe travel

no traffic congestion

reduced national fiscal burden

reduced individual expenses

ease of walking & cycling

promotes healthy living

efficient public transport

less air pollution

reduced municipal fiscal burden

lower greenhouse gas emissions

reduces heat island effect

greater accessibility

vastly improved public space

greener cities

greater opportunity for creative public places

boosts the local economy

reduces reliance on non-renewable resources

greater equity


Practical suggestions

1. Check out our manifesto, toolkit, and other resources

2. Sign up as an ally of our network

3. Subscribe to our newsletter

4. Join our regular webinars

5. Have a look at our regional pages. If there is no group in your area you can connect to, create your own group - we'll give you space, offer you free consultations and a warm welcome to our network

Learn more about carfree cities

J.H. Crawford has created a thorough and comprehensive plan for carfree cities in his books Carfree Cities and Carfree Design Manual as well as his website

If you would also like to explore all of the topics concerning carfree cities in further detail, please visit the Carfree Cities Manifesto.

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