flexiblefullpage -
billboard - default
interstitial1 - interstitial
Currently Reading

Do car-free downtown zones work? Oslo, yes; Chicago, no

billboard - default
interstitial1 - interstitial
Transportation & Parking Facilities

Do car-free downtown zones work? Oslo, yes; Chicago, no


Rob Cassidy | November 1, 2019
Oslo opera house and public space

Courtesy Pixabay

Two well-researched articles explore the question of whether keeping cars out of downtown is good or bad for business, for people's health, and for the environment.

Adele Peters, writing in Fast Company, has a positive answer to her own question: "What happened when Oslo decided to make its downtown basically car-free?" The Norwegian capital's city center has been made pretty much a no-no zone for cars. The city removed 700 parking spaces, and repaced them with bike lanes, mini-parks, and benches. Disabled drivers, emergency vehicles, and EVs still have access. Everyone else has to park in a reduced number of garages.

At the same time, the city beefed up public transit and made bicycling safer via a more-connected bike network. Its bike-share program reached 3 million trips in 2018.

Despite initial resistance from downtown businesses and car owners, says Peters, Oslo's city center has flourished. Oslo's vice mayor of urban development, Hanne Magnussen, said that some streets that were converted to pedestrian-only have become some of the most popular streets in the city.

 

STATE STREET, THE NOT-SO-GREAT STREET

Then there's what happened 20 years ago when Chicago decided to make State Street, its once great but quickly declining retail shopping nucleus, free of cars. As Mary Wisniewski, Transportation Reportwer for the Chicago Tribune, recently noted (in "Failure & bus fumes," October 27, 2019), the State Street Mall, originally billed as a car-free shopping paradise, started with high hopes. The city pumped $17 million into plantings, widening the sidewalks, and modernizing subway entrances, all in an effort to get pedestrians shopping, shopping, and shopping some more.

It didn't work. Wisniewski cites several reasons for the failure of the State Street Mall: "a racial subtext" (quoting a city planning historian: "Business owners felt that State Street was becoming too black"); fumes from buses ("It was like a big bus station," a biking enthusiast told her); even unfriendly light fixtures. The sidewalks were so wide - 40 feet - that most pedestrians never even came close to the shop windows along the street.

By 1993, City Hall had had enough. Then-mayor Richard M. Daley hired Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to lead a team on a $25 million restoration of State Street. Sidewalks were trimmed to a width of 22 feet. Previously closed street lanes were opened up. Cars were allowed back.

As a retail nexus, State Street has yielded primacy to Michigan Avenue, the Magnificent Mile. Maybe it was a natural, almost Darwinian, phenomenon: cities do evolve. But closing State Street to cars to create a suburban-type mall probably speeded up the process.

Do these street closings work? Wisniewski cites New York's closing of parts of Times Square as a success - that is, if you don't mind being assaulted by Disney figures and walking Statue of Liberty lookalikes trying to get you to pay for a photo op with them.

Your thoughts? I'd be glad to hear from you: rcassidy@sgcmail.com.

More from Author

Rob Cassidy | Oct 2, 2020

Everyone's getting a fire pit!

Skeleton fire pit in Chicago, October 2020

Rob Cassidy | Mar 30, 2020

Your turn: Has COVID-19 spelled the death knell for open-plan offices?

COVID-19 has designers worrying if open-plan offices are safe for workers.

Rob Cassidy | Mar 25, 2020

Coronavirus pandemic's impact on U.S. construction, notably the multifamily sector - 04-30-20 update

Coronavirus pandemic's impact on U.S. construction, notably the multifamily sector - 04-30-20 update

Rob Cassidy | Nov 20, 2019

Word of the Year: "climate emergency," says the Oxford English Dictionary

The Oxford Word of the Year 2019 is climate emergency.

Rob Cassidy | Oct 9, 2019

Multifamily developers vs. Peloton: Round 2... Fight!

Readers and experts offer alternatives to Peloton bicycles for their apartment and condo projects.  

Rob Cassidy | Sep 4, 2019

Peloton to multifamily communities: Drop dead

Peloton will no longer sell its bikes to apartment communities.

Rob Cassidy | Sep 3, 2019

Top 10 indoor amenities in multifamily developments for 2019

In-unit washer/dryer heads our ranking of the top indoor amenities in multifamily housing developments. 

boombox2 -
native1 -

More In Category



Reconsidering construction robotics

After decades when experts predicted that robots would become more prevalent on construction sites, it would appear that the industry has finally reached that point where necessity, aspiration, and investment are colliding. 


halfpage1 -

Most Popular Content

  1. 2021 Giants 400 Report
  2. Top 150 Architecture Firms for 2019
  3. 13 projects that represent the future of affordable housing
  4. Sagrada Familia completion date pushed back due to coronavirus
  5. Top 160 Architecture Firms 2021

 


Magazine Subscription
Subscribe

Get our Newsletters

Each day, our editors assemble the latest breaking industry news, hottest trends, and most relevant research, delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe

Follow BD+C: