Carfree, Low Car ? What?s the Difference?

Carfree, Low Car ? What?s the Difference?


S Melia, University of the West of England, UK


This study of European carfree developments and potential demand in the UK found significant benefits from the continental European models whereas the UK concepts of ?low car? or ?car free? housing result in a lose-lose scenario.


This paper will summarise key findings of a four-year study of carfree developments around Northern Europe, and potential demand for carfree housing in the UK. In addition to analysing existing evidence, the study included a survey of a ?low-car development? with a residential travel plan in the UK, finding important differences between the two concepts. Whereas the continental models of carfree development bring tangible benefits, the British concepts of ?low car? or ?car free? housing result in a lose-lose scenario.

The different types of carfree development across Europe can be categorised as follows:
1. Vauban ? the stellplatzfrei (literally ?free from parking spaces?) model
2. The (more common) Limited Access model ? where vehicles are physically excluded from the core of the site.
3. Pedestrianised centres in most European cities are almost entirely commercial, but some have residential development within them. Some areas with a significant residential population have also been retrospectively pedestrianised. The most extensive example is Groningen, where the city centre, partially pedestrianised and entirely closed to through traffic, houses 16,500 people.

From these three types, carfree developments can be defined as developments which:

? Normally provide a traffic-free immediate environment;
? Are designed to facilitate movement by non-car means;
? Offer no parking or (more usually) limited parking separated from the residences.

Based on current practice carfree developments bring greater benefits than ?low car? developments where residents are subject to restrictions on car ownership and use, but do not benefit from any improvements in their local environment. A comparison with a case study, from Poole, Dorset, England, will illustrate this.

Evidence from this study and elsewhere shows that European carfree developments offer the following benefits:
? They reduce car ownership and use by changing the way people behave i.e. they do more than just attract people who live carfree anyway;
? They permit development at higher densities with fewer problems;
? Result in lower CO2 emissions per resident;
? Lead to more socialising between neighbours;
? Give greater autonomy for children.

The main problems encountered in carfree developments relate to the management of parking and vehicular access. The European models suggest some different ways in which these problems may be addressed.
This study found the greatest potential demand for housing in carfree developments in the UK, particularly in the short-term, amongst ?carfree choosers? i.e. those who can afford a car but choose to live without one. In the UK, as elsewhere in Europe, these people are concentrated in the inner areas of larger cities and most would prefer to stay in such places, although many would like to live somewhere smaller, or more rural. Detailed questioning about their needs for services and public transport suggests that a carfree rural lifestyle is not realistic for many, however.

For demand and supply reasons the greatest potential for carfree developments lies in the inner areas of larger cities. It may be possible to build carfree developments elsewhere, but the public transport ? particularly rail ? connections would need to be exceptionally good. These conditions are sometimes provided in Northern Europe, but do not seem likely in Eco-towns or ?sustainable? urban extensions in the UK, which are more likely to encourage car dependency as a result.

In the UK, the term ?car free housing? is often used to mean any form of housing without parking, usually on conventional streets open to traffic. With no advantages to compensate residents for the lack of parking, these properties tend to sell for lower prices. Limited evidence from the continental carfree developments suggests the attractions of a better immediate environment can more or less compensate for this. As property consultants in the UK typically have little or no experience of this, they often advise developers that parking provision and vehicular access are essential for profitable residential developments. This is proving a serious barrier to carfree development in the UK.

The study concluded that carfree development can make a significant contribution to sustainable transport and land use policy objectives, and that it is generally most appropriate in areas of high population density where the potential benefits of traffic and parking reduction are greatest.


Association for European Transport