Controlling vehicle speed and priority, or removing traffic from a street entirely, is a low-cost way to achieve a more human space and better walking and cycling safety.
The change can be for a pop-up or single day event (eg Ciclovia, Play Streets or Open Streets), or longer term (e.g. testing a street closure for vehicles in a residential block).
These changes work best in urban centres: suburbs, town or city centres, or residential streets where vehicle speeds or ‘rat running’ are affecting people’s ability to bike or walk.
Implementation of these projects is usually low cost if they’re done without additional amenity improvement, but can feel like a significant loss or restriction. They will generally require more communication and engagement with the community.
If the project is about informing a permanent change, or testing how the rest of the network works, the traffic restriction will generally need to be in place for at least four weeks to allow people time to get used to the change and find new routes.
Closing roads to traffic permanently is determined by the Local Government Act which has a number of requirements. However, closing streets temporarily for events is much more achievable, as is filtering (eg blocking traffic entering one part of the street, but still allowing traffic on the street itself). Temporary street closures will require significant communication, particularly on busier streets.
Ghent, a city of 256,000 inhabitants, implemented a mobility plan in 2012 to address growth in car trips, increasingly poor air quality and noise pollution. They implemented a traffic circulation plan in 2014 which made it possible to access the city centre in a car, but not drive through it. This plan resulted in an increase of 37% in people cycling, traffic has reduced by 13% during rush hour, and crashes have dropped by 40%.
In 2016 Oslo approved a plan to remove cars from its city centre in order to be carbon neutral by 2030. The city banned cars from a number of streets and reallocated around 700 car parking spaces to make room for other uses such as seats, cycleways and small parks. Traffic restrictions diverted drivers to the ring road around the city centre, and were delivered gradually through six pilots. The number of people walking in the city has increased by 10% and cycling levels have tripled in the past three years.