Should CBDs be Car-Free?

Artist's impression of a car-free Swanston Street in Melbourne  Credit: The Age

Artist’s impression of a car-free Swanston Street in Melbourne
Credit: The Age

A recent article in The Age puts the spotlight on cars and their role in Australian Cities. 

If you’ve been to Europe lately – there’s a noticeable trend. Cities are either being closed off to cars, or it’s becoming very expensive if you want the privilege of driving around.

Stockholm, London, Milan, Brussels and Paris (just to name a few) are all cities that have started restricting vehicle access in their centres. (In fact the European Commission has even spoken of Car Free Centres across Europe by 2050 in several discussion papers.)

So what about Australia?

An article this week in The Age suggests that perhaps it’s time for an Australian City (AKA Melbourne) to take the plunge.

Michael Short writing for The Age says that:

“It’s happening all over the world, and experts reckon it ought to happen here – cars should be progressively prohibited from the CBD and most streets all-but entirely turned over to pedestrians, cyclists and public transport…

Yes, many European cities, which tend to be higher density than ours, were largely built before cars were invented, so it is perhaps easier to make the transition in such places, and we will clearly have to invest heavily in public transport. We need to anyway; we just do not have sufficient space to rely on using cars to get into the CBD.”

It’s worth reading the article in its entirety.  It comes to the conclusion that this whole “let’s try to get cars through the centre of cities” has been something of a failure. It’s created congestion by design.

Vintage Adelaide

Vintage Adelaide photo from Papillionaire. Explanation: Adelaide’s urban planning from the end of the 19th century to the 1930s heavily focused on bike traffic. That’s because most of the city’s inhabitants had to commute long distances to work or to access vital services, and cars weren’t readily available.

But what would be the consequences of a car free city? (Both positive and negative.) It would undoubtedly bring up lots of questions such as access for emergency vehicles, commuters in outer suburbs etc.

What do you think? Can you imagine Adelaide in 2050 without cars? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Become a member of Bicycle SA today and help us create a brighter future for cycling – as well as enjoy many benefits such as insurance and retailer discounts. 

17 Comments. Leave new

Imagine King William St with cars gone and only the tram moving slowly through.

It would be thronging with people, cafes, bringing so many into the city.


It would certainly excluded the disabled from accessing some parts of the CBD.


It would be Awesome to see Adelaide car free, as soon as possible! Even just some of the main streets such as Rundle St/Hindley St should be car free, even just at certain times. Everytime it is (like for Fringe/Tour down under) the whole city has an amazing vibe! I have watched a fantastic documentary series on how changes to the transport system and thinking outside the box has a positive impact on communities socially and health wise. Here’s a link for the series – I highly recommend it as it goes through examples of changes in Paris, London, Portland etc!

Nicola Bonnefin
April 17, 2015 8:56 am

No cars in CBD??? Fabulous idea!!! Can’t happen soon enough!!
Would need more city parking on city-fringe so people can park and transition to the city.
Park and ride either by bike or public transport from the same hub…


I believe it’s a worthy idea, but an idea needing infrastructure around the city for it to be feasible. What I find remarkable to consider is the space that would be freed up. All those roads, ripped up, replaced with…??


I’m for this. It won’t happen in my lifetime. A recent trip to Northern Europe has opened my eyes as to what is possible, but I’m afraid any changes that Australia embraces will be small and take way too long.


It would be great to see us take a step in the right direction by creating some car free streets which become bike only streets. I am teaching myself to ride in the city, but narrow streets and lots of traffic do not yet feel safe to me. Anything to encourage more cycling, cleaner and greener transport options and healthier people.


No cars in adelaide cbd would work better than most adelaide citizens could predict.
Waiting around at crossings for cars to go by in the cbd is an annoying and unnecessary delay. No one enjoys driving in the cbd. You move at snail pace and wish you hadn’t been so lazy as to drive into town when you could have parked a few blocks away and walked or ridden a bike or caught the bus or train.
Imagine how much better the cafés would do with no petrol fumes accompanying the coffee.
I often ride with a child on the back of my bicycle and park 5km from town when I visit. The biggest detergent is the lack of safe routes for me to travel to the city. Improved and dedicated bicycle routes, alongside improved public transport would go a long way to swaying the general car loving (‘it’s too unsafe and too costly in time to take public transport or ride a bike’) public on board.
The potential of a car free cbd is an exciting prospect that can only lead to a progressive, environmentally conscious, prosperous central adelaide.
I’ll be there!!


I agree that car free city centres are a goal to go for.
How do businesses get deliveries??
and we would need some very significant improvements to public transport for those of us who live outside of the city’s.


Yes, lets start putting this sentiment into the conversation. The streets in the city will never get any wider. We can be brave now and create something truly wonderful for the future. Ljubljana in Slovenia is showing the way when they say that cars do no contribute to street life.

Christopher Millington
April 18, 2015 11:26 am

With a CBD such as Melbourne’s, with a good tram and bus service going up and down most of the grid, a bike free area seems eminently suitable. However Adelaide, at present does not have enough public transport options around the CBD for people who don’t or can’t ride. But with appropriate transport strategies (which I don’t think would cost much, except for the car park owners) it could be done, and make going into the city a much more pleasant experience.

Gabrielle De Mey
April 19, 2015 8:23 am

Yes!! I believe making CBD car free increases quality of life, economic viability and overall positive metropolitan atmosphere.


See my 1986 (yes, thirty years ago!) paper ‘Adelaide 2000 – a Second Look’ in Artlink 6,5:7-9. The removal of cars from the CBD has to be considered in a wider context of how our cities have to be structured to reduce dependency on private motor vehicles. Extension of public transport is only part of the solution which has to be considered as a long-term development, ten times or more the life of any particular elected government. This then implicates our adversarial parliamentary system of government and how that needs to be changed so that elected members to parliament represent their electorate in the parliament, not the policies of particular political parties.

Brony Williams
April 21, 2015 11:48 pm

Adelaide is a beautiful open plan city (thanks to the vision of Col. William Light) and lends itself wonderfully to being converted to ‘car free’ status in the manner of Stockholm etc. I’m a cyclist (and by necessity a driver) but my preference is always to choose not to take my car and choose public transport wherever it’s available in the city square mile. I’m also continually disappointed at current urban design in Adelaide which is completely pedestrian/wheelchair/cyclist/ unfriendly with drivers adopting a ‘size matters’ approach barging through intersections and around corners and clogging up the streets. Heaven help those who are older, disabled, or just not so quick on their feet. Importantly though, if we wish the cars to go we need to replace them with something. I’m happy to walk and escape the tyranny of my computer any time, but for those times when you really need to be somewhere in the city quickly maybe provide small electric buses covering a grid across the city to enable people to get around quickly and safely in any weather. Cars that do have to go into the city centre could be given special permits (per London example). The air would be much fresher too and the buzz and vibe of our lovely city increased through more people walking and cycling about their business. I’m all for a ‘car free’ city!!

Julian Grenfell
April 22, 2015 1:33 am

Adelaide was designed for wheeled traffic of a horse and cart variety. It is not some medieval city (perhaps the authors have never been to Europe or Japan). These have cafes, museums etc in the old town and larger shops, hospitals, large modern offices etc in the modern part served by cars. The suggestion is very impractical. Cities are just not for tourists and young people with a lot of time on their hands to hang about. How would you transport around the sick and elderly, take young children in to city and collect items bigger than clothing when in the city? BikeSA should realise that most of its members are motorists and will continue to be so. Focus on proper bike paths like Linnear Park being being built instead of this close the CBD to cars nonsense.


We would do what people did 100 years ago before department stores and shopping centres were built in the suburbs. Everyone went into the city and they mostly went with public transport because we had an extensive, efficient tram network. We did it then and we can do it again. Somewhere along the way we went backwards and people got used to it. Now it’s difficult to get back to a better system.


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