While full car bans have captured headlines in the United States, headlined by Market Street in San Francisco and 14th St. ‘Busway’ in New York City. These US cities pale in comparison to the aggressive car reduction policies being discussed in the Paris Mayoral election.

While the Paris Mayoral election may appear far afield from American transportation concerns, what happens across the Atlantic is frequently a preview of what is to come. Paris’ Velib bike share program inspired New York’s Citi Bikes, while London’s congestion fee served as the model for New York’s forthcoming congestion charge.

Within Paris’ urban innovation, Mayor Hidalgo has proposed eliminating nearly 75% of all on-street parking in the city, equating to roughly 60,000 parking spaces. This marks another revolutionary change in policy across the Atlantic. Other notable European schemes include a full car ban in the core of Madrid, Barcelona’s superblocks, and Denmark’s cycle highways. The question becomes, what form would a similar proposal take in the United States and whether there are current examples of such radical interventions.

  • Portland, Oregon, the U.S. leader in bike infrastructure and sustainable modes, perhaps is the closest to removing on-street parking at scale for alternative uses. Its Central City in Motion plan seeks to remove 1,000 street spaces (or approximately 5% in downtown Portland). The reallocation of space will go towards the creation of bus-only and bike lanes.
  • Seattle, Washington is an early adopter of bus-only lanes, and is also a national leader in parking reform. While not formally adopted yet, Seattle is exploring a superblock scheme for the Capital Hill Neighborhood. The proposal would eliminate through traffic and parking in order to expand the pedestrian realm in one of Seattle’s densest neighborhoods.
  • New York City, New York embarked on a number of major transportation policies in 2019, including the adoption of congestion charging and the passage of safe street legislation. The adoption of these plans represents a phase shift in the conceptualization and management of New York City’s streets. Furthermore, the successful adoption of the 14th Busway has increased calls for more transit-only thoroughfares in the city.

Overall American cities significantly lag European leaders. However, the recent adoption of aggressive alternatives to driving shows a strong appetite for change. In many ways, the American trajectory mimics the European experience. Copenhagen, Paris, and Barcelona each pursued incrementally more aggressive policies over the span of decades, in the case of Copenhagen the bicycle movement dates to the oil shocks of the 1960s. The fact American cities are adopting a succession of more aggressive policies in shorter time spans suggests more radical approaches may be closer than they appear.