Life Without Cars

I’ve just learned of a city of 80,000 people that is safe, quiet and full of open space.  What’s the secret?  They banned cars.

The city is Pontevedra in northwest Spain.  Its transformation was the brainchild of its mayor since 1999, Miguel Anxo Fernández Lores: “Before I became mayor 14,000 cars passed along this street [outside his office] every day. More cars passed through the city in a day than there are people living here.”  Once elected, it only took him a month to “pedestrianize” all 300,000 sq m of the medieval center.  “The historical center was dead,” he says.  “There were a lot of drugs, it was full of cars – it was a marginal zone.  It was a city in decline, polluted, and there were a lot of traffic accidents.  It was stagnant.  Most people who had a chance to leave did so.  At first we thought of improving traffic conditions but couldn’t come up with a workable plan.  Instead we decided to take back the public space for the residents and to do this we decided to get rid of cars.”

The mayor’s plan stopped cars crossing the city and got rid of street parking, closed surface car parks in the city center and opened parking underground and on the periphery with 1,686 free places.  Traffic lights were replaced by roundabouts and the speed limit in outer zones was dropped to 30 km/hour.

In addition to being quieter, the city is safer — 30 people died on those streets in traffic accidents from 1996 to 2006, only three died in the next 10 years, and there have been no deaths since 2009.  Plus the air is cleaner, the city has gained 12,000 new residents, and small businesses have been able to stay.

Of course, there have been some problems — complaints about not enough parking spaces in the right places and there still can be traffic jams.  But if you’re fed up with our automobile-centeric society, this would be a good model to copy.

For more information, see ” ‘For me, this is paradise’: life in the Spanish city that banned cars” by Stephen Burgen in The Guardian  (  The photo came from that site.


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