Pedestrian zones (also known as auto-free zones and car-free zones, as pedestrian precincts in British English, and as pedestrian malls in the United States and Australia) are areas of a city or town reserved for pedestrian-only use and in which most or all automobile traffic is prohibited. Converting a street or an area to pedestrian-only use is called pedestrianisation.
Pedestrianisation usually aims to provide better accessibility and mobility for pedestrians, to enhance the amount of shopping and other business activities in the area or to improve the attractiveness of the local environment in terms of aesthetics, air pollution, noise and crashes involving motor vehicle with pedestrians. However, pedestrianisation can sometimes lead to reductions in business activity, property devaluation, and displacement of economic activity to other areas. In some cases, traffic in surrounding areas may increase, due to displacement, rather than substitution of car traffic. Nonetheless, pedestrianisation schemes are often associated with significant drops in local air and noise pollution, accidents, and frequently with increased retail turnover and increased property values locally.
A car-free development generally implies a large scale pedestrianised area that relies on modes of transport other than the car, while pedestrian zones may vary in size from a single square to entire districts, but with highly variable degrees of dependence on cars for their broader transport links.
Pedestrian zones have a great variety of approaches to human-powered vehicles such as bicycles, inline skates, skateboards and kick scooters. Some have a total ban on anything with wheels, others ban certain categories, others segregate the human-powered wheels from foot traffic, and others still have no rules at all. Many Middle Eastern kasbahs have no wheeled traffic, but use donkey-driven or hand-driven carts for freight transport.
The idea of separating pedestrians from wheeled traffic is an old one, dating back at least to the Renaissance. However, the earliest modern implementation of the idea in cities seems to date from about 1800, when the first covered shopping arcade was opened in Paris. Separated shopping arcades were constructed throughout Europe in the 19th century, precursors of modern shopping malls. A number of architects and city planners, including Joseph Paxton, Ebenezer Howard, and Clarence Stein, in the 19th and early 20th centuries proposed plans to separate pedestrians from traffic in various new developments.
The first "pedestrianisation" of an existing street seems to have taken place "around 1929" in Essen, Germany. This was in Limbecker Straße, a very narrow shopping street that could not accommodate both vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Two other German cities followed this model in the early 1930s, but the idea was not seen outside Germany. Following the devastation of the Second World War a number of European cities implemented plans to pedestrianise city streets, although usually on a largely ad hoc basis, through the early 1950s, with little landscaping or planning. By 1955 twenty-one German cities had closed at least one street to traffic, although only four were "true" pedestrian streets, designed for the purpose. At this time pedestrianisation was not seen as a traffic restraint policy, but rather as a complement[clarification needed] to customers who would arrive by car in a city centre.
Pedestrianisation was also common in the United States during the 1950s and 60s as downtown businesses attempted to compete with new suburban shopping malls. However, most of these initiatives were not successful in the long term, and about 90% have been changed back to motorised areas.
In the United States, several pedestrian zones in major tourist areas were successful, such as the renovation of the mall in Santa Monica on Los Angeles' Westside and its relaunch as the Third Street Promenade; the creation of the covered, pedestrian Fremont Street Experience in Downtown Las Vegas, and new pedestrian zone created in the mid-2010s in New York City including along Broadway (the street) and around Times Square.
During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, some cities has made the pedestrianization of additional streets in order to encourage social distancing and in many cases to provide extra rooms for restaurants to serve food on patios extended into the newly available spaces. In the United States, New York City closed up to 100 miles (160 km) of streets to cars across the city. In Madrid, Spain, the city pedestrianized 19 kilometres (12 mi) of streets and 235,000 square metres (58 acres) of spaces in total. The COVID-19 pandemic gave also birth to proposals for radical change in the organisation of the city, in particular Barcelona, being the pedestrianisation of the whole city one of the key elements, proposing an inversion of the concept of sidewalk.
A pedestrian zone may be limited in scope, for example, a single square or street being for pedestrians, but a city where residents still largely get around in cars. A car-free town, city or region may be much larger.
A car-free zone is different from a typical pedestrian zone, in that it implies a development largely predicated on modes of transport other than the car.
Other examples are:
To assist with transport from the car parks in at the edge of car-free cities, there are often bus stations, bicycle sharing stations, and the like.
The term car-free development implies a physical change: either build-up or changes to an existing built area.
Melia et al. (2010) define car-free developments as residential or mixed use developments which:
This definition (which they distinguish from the more common "low car development") is based mainly on experience in North West Europe, where the movement for car-free development began. Within this definition, three types are identified:
The more common form of carfree development involves some sort of physical barrier, which prevents motor vehicles from penetrating into a car-free interior. Melia et al. describe this as the "limited access" type. In some cases, such as Stellwerk 60 in Cologne, there is a removable barrier, controlled by a residents' organisation. In Amsterdam, Waterwijk is a 6-hectare neighborhood where cars may only access parking areas from the streets that form the edges of the neighborhood; all of the inner areas of the neighborhood are car-free. 
Several studies have been carried out on European carfree developments. The most comprehensive was conducted in 2000 by Jan Scheurer. Other more recent studies have been made of specific car-free areas such as Vienna's Floridsdorf car-free development.
Characteristics of car-free developments:
The main benefits found for car-free developments:
The main problems related to parking management. Where parking is not controlled in the surrounding area, this often results in complaints from neighbours about overspill parking.
There were calls for traffic to be reinstated in Trafalgar Square, London, after pedestrianisation caused noise nuisance for visitors to the National Gallery. The director of the gallery is reported to have blamed pedestrianization for the "trashing of a civic space".
Local shopkeepers may be critical of the effect of pedestrianization on their businesses. Reduced through traffic can lead to fewer customers using local businesses, depending on the environment and the area's dependence on the through traffic.
A large number of European towns and cities have made part of their centres car-free since the early 1960s. These are often accompanied by car parks on the edge of the pedestrianised zone, and, in the larger cases, park and ride schemes.
In Belgium, Brussels implemented Europe's largest pedestrian zone (French: Le Piétonnier), in phases starting in 2015 and will cover 50 hectares (120 acres). The area covers much of the historic center within the Small Ring (the ring road built on the site of the 14th century walls), including the Grand Place, the Place de Brouckère/De Brouckèreplein, the Boulevard Anspach/Anspachlaan, and the Place de la Bourse/Beursplein.
Central Copenhagen is one of the oldest and largest: it was converted from car traffic into a pedestrian zone in 1962 as an experiment, and is centered on Strøget, which is not a single street but a series of interconnected avenues which create a very large pedestrian zone, although it is crossed in places by streets with vehicular traffic. Most of these zones allow delivery trucks to service the businesses there during the early morning, and street-cleaning vehicles will usually go through these streets after most shops have closed for the night. It has grown in size from 15,800 square metres (3.9 acres) in 1962 to 95,750 square metres (23.66 acres) in 1996.
A number of German islands ban or strictly limit the private use of motor vehicles. Heligoland, Hiddensee, and all but two of the East Frisian islands are car-free; Borkum and Norderney have car-free zones and strictly limit automobile use during the summer season and in certain areas, also forbidding travel at night. Some areas provide exceptions for police and emergency vehicles; Heligoland also bans bicycles.
In the Netherlands, Rotterdam's city center was almost completely destroyed by German bombing in 1940. The city decided to build a central shopping street, for pedestrians only, the Lijnbaan. This served as a model for many other such streets in the early post-World War II era, such as Warsaw, Poland and the UK's first pedestrianised shopping precinct in Stevenage in 1959. Rotterdam has since expanded the pedestrian zone to other streets.
In Britain, shopping streets primarily for pedestrians date back to the thirteenth century. A 1981 study found that many Victorian and later arcades continued to be used. A third of London's 168 precincts at that time had been built before 1939, as were a tenth of the 1,304 precincts in the U.K. as a whole.
Early post-1945 new towns carried on the tradition of providing some traffic-free shopping streets. However, in the conversion of traditional shopping streets to pedestrian precincts, Britain started only in 1967 (versus Germany's first conversion in 1929, or the first in the U.S. in 1959). Since then growth was rapid, such that by 1980 a study found that most British towns and cities had a pedestrian shopping precinct; 1,304 in total.
Some Canadian examples are the Sparks Street Mall area of Ottawa, the Distillery District in Toronto, Scarth Street Mall in Regina, Stephen Avenue Mall in Calgary (with certain areas open to parking for permit holders) and part of Prince Arthur Street and the Gay Village in Montreal. Algonquin and Ward's Islands, parts of the Toronto Islands group, are also car-free zones for all 700 residents. Since summer 2004, Toronto has also been experimenting with "Pedestrian Sundays" in its busy Kensington Market. Granville Mall in Halifax, Nova Scotia was a run-down section of buildings on Granville Street built in the 1840s that was restored in the late 1970s. The area was then closed off to vehicles.
In the United States, these zones are commonly called pedestrian malls or pedestrian streets and today are relatively rare, with a few notable exceptions. They were more closely tied to the success of retail than in Europe, and by the 1980s, most did not succeed competing with ever more elaborate enclosed malls. Almost all of this generation of pedestrian malls built from 1959 through to the 1970s, have disappeared, or were shrunk down in the 1990s at the request of the retailers. Half of Kalamazoo's pedestrian mall, America's first, has been converted into a regular street with auto traffic, though with wide sidewalks.
This became a method that some cities applied for their downtowns to compete with the growing suburban shopping malls of the time. In the 1960s and 70s over 200 towns in the United States adopted this approach. The idea of exclusive pedestrian zones lost popularity through the 1980s and into the 1990s and results were generally disappointing, but are enjoying a renaissance with the 1989 renovation and relaunch of the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, California, the 1994-5 Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas and recent pedestrianization of various streets in New York City.
The Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, VA is one of the longest pedestrian malls in the United States, created in 1976 and spanning nine city blocks. A number of streets and malls in New York City are now pedestrian-only, including 6½ Avenue, Fulton Street, parts of Broadway, and a block of 25th Street.
A portion of Third Street in Santa Monica in Greater Los Angeles was converted into a pedestrian mall in the 1960s to become what is now the Third Street Promenade, a very popular shopping district located just a few blocks from the beach and Santa Monica Pier.
Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, which had previously been a shopping street with traffic, was converted into a pedestrian only street in 1960. The designer was Morris Lapidus. Lincoln Road Mall is now one of the main attractions in Miami Beach.
Mackinac Island, between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan, banned horseless carriages in 1896, making it auto-free. The original ban still stands, except for emergency vehicles. Travel on the island is largely by foot, bicycle, or horse-drawn carriage. An 8-mile (13 km) road, M-185 rings the island, and numerous roads cover the interior. M-185 is the only highway in the United States without motorized vehicles. Fire Island in Suffolk County, New York is pedestrianised east of the Fire Island Lighthouse and west of Smith Point County Park (with the exception of emergency vehicles).
Supai, Arizona, located within the Havasupai Indian Reservation is entirely car-free, the only community in the United States where mail is still carried out by mule. Supai is located eight miles from the nearest road, and is accessible only by foot, horse/mule, or helicopter.
Argentina's big cities, Córdoba, Mendoza and Rosario, have lively pedestrianised street centers (Spanish: peatonales) combined with town squares and parks which are crowded with people walking at every hour of the day and night.
In Buenos Aires, some stretches of Calle Florida have been pedestrianised since 1913, which makes it one of the oldest car-free thoroughfares in the world today. Pedestrianised Florida, Lavalle and other streets contribute to a vibrant shopping and restaurant scene where street performers and tango dancers abound, streets are crossed with vehicular traffic at chamfered corners.
Paquetá Island in Rio de Janeiro is auto-free. The only cars allowed on the island are police and ambulance vehicles. In Rio de Janeiro, the roads beside the beaches are auto-free on Sundays and holidays.
Downtown Rio de Janeiro, Ouvidor Street, over almost its entire length, has been continually a pedestrian space since the mid-nineteenth century when not even carts or carriages were allowed. And the Saara District, also downtown, consists of some dozen or more blocks of colonial streets, off-limits to cars, and crowded with daytime shoppers. Likewise, many of the city's hillside favelas are effectively pedestrian zones as the streets are too narrow and/or steep for automobiles.
Eixo Rodoviário, in Brasília, which is 13 kilometers long and 30 meters wide and is an arterial road connecting the center of that city from both southward and northward wings of Brasília's Plano Piloto, perpendicular to the well known Eixo Monumental (Monumental Axis in English), is auto-free on Sundays and holidays.
Chile has many large pedestrian streets. An example is Paseo Ahumada in Santiago and Calle Valparaíso in Viña del Mar.
The historic center of Cartagena closes some streets to cars during certain hours.
In downtown Armenia, Colombia there is a large pedestrian street where several boutiques are located.
Santa Marta also has permanent pedestrian zones in the historic center around the Cathedral Basílica of Santa Marta.
The Historic center of Mexico City has 12 pedestrian streets including Madero Street, and as of June 30, 2020, is expanding the number to 42 pedestrian streets. Génova is a busy pedestrian street in the Zona Rosa as is Plaza Garibaldi downtown, where mariachis play.
Playa del Carmen has a pedestrian mall, Quinta Avenida, ("Fifth Avenue") that stretches 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) and receives 4 million visitors annually with hundreds of shops and restaurants.
Jirón de La Unión in Lima is a traditional pedestrian street located in the Historic Centre of Lima, part of the capital of Peru.
In the city of Arequipa, Mercaderes is also a considerably large pedestrian street. Also, recently three of the four streets surrounding the city's main square or "Plaza de Armas" were also made pedestrian.
Nanjing Road in Shanghai is perhaps the most well-known pedestrian zone in mainland China. Wangfujing is a famous tourist and retail oriented pedestrian zone in Beijing. Chunxilu in Chengdu is the most well known in western China. Dongmen is the busiest business zone in Shenzhen. Zhongyang Street is a historical large pedestrian street in Harbin.
In Hong Kong, since 2000, the government has been implementing full-time or part-time pedestrian streets in a number of areas, including Causeway Bay, Central, Wan Chai, Mong Kok, and Tsim Sha Tsui. The most popular pedestrian street is Sai Yeung Choi Street. It was converted into a pedestrian street in 2003. From December 2008 to May 2009, there were three acid attacks during which corrosive liquids were placed in plastic bottles and thrown from the roof of apartments down onto the street.
In India, a citizens’ initiative in Goa state, has made 18 June Road, Panjim's main shopping boulevard a Non-Motorised Zone(NoMoZo). The road is converted into a NoMoZo for half a day on one Sunday every month.
In Pune, Maharashtra, similar efforts have been made to convert M.G. Road (a.k.a. Main Street) into an open-air mall. The project in question aimed to create a so-called "Walking Plaza".
Pedestrian zones in Japan are called hokōsha tengoku (歩行者天国, literally "pedestrian heaven"). Clis Road, in Sendai, Japan, is a covered pedestrian mall, as is Hondōri in Hiroshima. Several major streets in Tokyo are closed to vehicles during weekends. One particular temporary hokōsha tengoku in Akihabara was cancelled after the Akihabara massacre in which a man rammed a truck into the pedestrian traffic and subsequently stabbed more than 12 people.
Also in South Korea, in 2013, in the Haenggun-dong neighbourhood of Suwon, streets were closed to cars as a month-long car-free experiment while the city hosted the EcoMobility World Festival. Instead of cars, residents used non-motorized vehicles provided by the festival organizers. The experiment was not unopposed; however, on balance it was considered a success. Following the festival, the city embarked on discussions about adopting the practice on a permanent basis.
Ximending in Taipei, Taiwan is a neighborhood and shopping district in the Wanhua District of Taipei, Taiwan. It was the first pedestrian zone in Taiwan. The district is very popular in Taiwan. In central Taiwan, Yizhong Street is one of the most popular pedestrian shopping area in Taichung.
In Thailand, some small streets (Soi) in Bangkok are designed to be all-time closed traffic, the city's famous shopping streets of Sampheng Lane in Chinatown and Wang Lang Market nearby to Siriraj Hospital, are the most popular for both local and tourists shopping streets. Additionally the city has built long skywalk systems. Walking Street, Pattaya is also closed to traffic. Night markets are routinely closed to auto traffic.
Huế in Vietnam has made 3 roads into pedestrians-only on weekend nights. Also, Hanoi has opened an Old Quarter Walking Street on weekend nights.Ho Chi Minh City also changed Nguyễn Huệ street into pedestrian zone.
North Africa contains some of the largest auto-free areas in the world. Fes-al-Bali, a medina of Fes, Morocco, with its population of 156,000, may be the world's largest contiguous completely carfree area, and the medinas of Cairo, Tunis, Casablanca, Meknes, Essaouira, and Tangier are quite extensive.
In Australia, as in the US, these zones are commonly called pedestrian malls and in most cases comprise only one street. Most pedestrian streets were created in the late 1970s and 1980s, the first being City Walk, Garema Place in Canberra in 1971. Of 58 pedestrian streets created in Australia in the last quarter of the 20th century, 48 remain today, ten having re-introduced car access between 1990 and 2004. All capital cities in Australia have at least one pedestrian street of which most central are: Pitt Street Mall and Martin Place in Sydney, Bourke Street Mall in Melbourne, Queen Street Mall and Brunswick Street Mall in Brisbane, Rundle Mall in Adelaide, Hay Street and Murray Street Malls in Perth, Elizabeth Street Mall in Hobart, City Walk in Canberra, and Smith Street in Darwin. Many other mid-sized and regional Australian cities also feature pedestrian malls, examples include Langtree Avenue Mildura, Cavill Avenue Gold Coast, Bridge Street Ballarat, Nicholas Street Ipswich, Hargreaves Street Bendigo, Maude Street Shepparton and Little Mallop Street Geelong.
Empirical studies by Jan Gehl indicate an increase of pedestrian traffic as result of public domain improvements in the centres of Melbourne with 39% increase between 1994 and 2004 and Perth with 13% increase between 1993 and 2009.
Most intensive pedestrian traffic flows on a summer weekday have been recorded in Bourke Street Mall Melbourne with 81,000 pedestrians (2004), Rundle Mall Adelaide with 61,360 pedestrians (2002), Pitt Street Mall Sydney with 58,140 (2007) and Murray Street Mall Perth with 48,350 pedestrians (2009).
Rottnest Island off Perth is car-free, only allowing vehicles for essential services. Bicycles are the main form of transport on the island; they can be hired or brought over on the ferry.
In Melbourne's north-eastern suburbs, there have been many proposals to make the Doncaster Hill development area a pedestrian zone. If the proposals are passed, the zone could be one of the largest in the world, by area.
In New Zealand, it is becoming more common to use public transportation against cars, such as in Queenstown, a prominent pedestrianised area including multiple lanes and streets inside the main blocks. Queenstown Lakes District Council and affiliated groups including Destination Queenstown and Downtown Queenstown propose adding another stretch into a car free zone. This is continuing with large grassed settings along the full pedestrianised promenade. Auckland is also starting to pedestrianise malls and streets.
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