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Plans for Oxford Street's pedestrianisation revealed
Plans for the pedestrian ‘piazza’ on London’s Oxford Street. Photograph: Westminster Council

Famous streets all over the world are going car-free

From Miami to London, Paris to Shenzhen, big cities across the globe are putting pedestrians first as they emerge out of lockdown

Huw Oliver
Written by
Huw Oliver

The city streets smelled pretty sweet last spring. Well, comparatively sweet. In urban centres worldwide, traffic fell off a cliff and a ramble down Broadway, La Rambla or the Champs-Élysées felt not quite pollution-free but far healthier (and a great deal less hectic) than usual.

Ditto for basically every city in the world. From Mexico City to Bangkok and Rome, locals all got a kick out of wandering down the famous streets with basically no other people for company – though the greatest thrill, looking back, was probably the lack of vehicles.

With the health and environmental benefits so clear for all to see, it perhaps isn’t surprising that many authorities swiftly pounced on opportunities to push through measures that prioritise cyclists and pedestrians. In some cases, cities have banned cars from major thoroughfares – or entire areas – completely.

Brits probably will have heard about the plans to transform 150 metres of London’s Oxford Street – between Great Portland Street and John Prince’s Street – into a pedestrian ‘piazza’. But that’s nothing compared with Edinburgh’s ten-year project to banish traffic from most of the city centre by 2030. That will involve pedestrianising strips including George Street, which will be home to abundant shrubbery, widened pavements and a vast Dutch-style cycling thoroughfare.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Miami’s Ocean Drive has been turned into a (potentially permanent) pedestrian promenade with increased seating, while Robertson Boulevard in Los Angeles – location of the city’s vibrant Pride parade – will now be closed off to cars on weekends.

In China, meanwhile, there’s a whole new car-free district being built in Shenzhen, called Net City, which will soon be home to 80,000 people. And yet the real big boy is Paris. The mayor, Anne Hidalgo, has promised to ban all through traffic in the city’s first four arrondissements, which take in a vast stretch of the centre from Place de la Concorde to Place de la Bastille, as early as next year.

In London terms, for example, that’s the equivalent of all of Mayfair, Soho, Covent Garden, Bloomsbury, Marylebone and half of Waterloo ditching cars. Puts those Oxford Street plans into a bit of perspective, eh?

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