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The most effective ways of reducing car traffic

car trafic. Photo.
New study quantifies how well 12 measures reduce car use, drawing from real-world experience in cities across Europe.

Researchers have identified the top 12 ways European cities have been able to curb car use. The most effective measure was applying a congestion charge, with the notable case of London, where city traffic dropped by 33% following the change. Most success stories involved both “carrots” to encourage sustainable mobility and “sticks” to restrict cars, according to the study.

– Transport is a major source of climate pollution in Europe, and these emissions aren’t really declining. Current policies heavily subsidize private car use and parking, hiding the true costs of driving for society. The newly launched EU Mission aims to have 100 climate-neutral cities in Europe by 2030. This will be nearly impossible to achieve without reducing car traffic. To make progress, we need to know the most effective ways to free cities from excessive dominance by cars, says Kimberly Nicholas, Senior Lecturer at Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS).

The study quantifies how well 12 measures reduce car use, drawing from real-world experience in cities across Europe. Kimberly Nicholas and Paula Kuss screened nearly 800 peer-reviewed studies and case studies to uncover those dozen measures.

the 12 best ways to reduce city car use. Illustration.

– We didn’t find one silver bullet - the cities that were successful combined a few different policy instruments, especially charging for or restricting driving and parking, combined with investing in public and active transport infrastructure like bike lanes, says Kimberly Nicholas.

Especially effective measures included a congestion charge, which cities including London, Milan, Stockholm, and Gothenburg have used to reduce traffic across the whole city center by 12-33%. Oslo’s replacement of parking spaces with strollable car-free streets and bike lanes, and Rome’s restriction on cars entering the city center, with violation fines used to finance public transport, both reduced car traffic around 10-20%.

About 75% of initiatives were led by local city governments, often in collaboration with local companies or local public transport providers and civil society.

Collaborations between cities, employers and universities could also play an important role in reducing traffic. Utrecht reduced the share of commuters traveling by car by 37% by providing mobility services including free public transit pass for employees and workplace shuttle buses. Bristol in the UK and Catania in Italy both reduced car commutes to the university by 24-27% with travel planning for staff to use car-sharing, walking, biking, or public transport, or mobility services to provide free public transport for students respectively.

– Our results show that there are already European cities succeeding at reducing car use and improving quality of life and sustainable mobility for residents. With this analysis, we hope other cities can learn from and implement these successes,” concludes Kimberly Nicholas.

car use reduction strategies. illustration.

Read the study here: A dozen effective interventions to reduce car use in European cities: Lessons learned from a meta-analysis and Transition Management (link)

The measures mentioned in the article are described in more detail in a feature article in The Conversation: 12 best ways to get cars out of cities – ranked by new research (link)

About Kimberly Nicholas

Kimberly Nicholas. Photo.

Kimberly Nicholas is a Senior Lecturer in Sustainability Science at Lund University in Sweden. She studies how to manage natural resources to both support a good life today, and leave a living planet for future generations.

Read more about Kimberly Nicholas