A ‘pedestrian Bostopia’: Could Boston ditch the cars?

Eerily empty Boston streets.

In the wake of a new, multi-billion dollar state transportation plan unveiled yesterday, Metro considered at an out-of-the-box option that might ease some of Boston’s transportation woes: What if we went car-free?

After all, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has adopted the mantra, “The car is no longer king in Boston,” the MBTA has seen a steady rise in ridership, Hubway has taken off, and driving in the city is a notorious headache.

There are plenty of cities and villages across the globe that prohibit or restrict vehicular travel, so why not Boston?

“That is quite the question,” said WalkBoston Executive Director Wendy Landman, who said that while a car-free future may be a stretch for Boston,  having a “car-light” city is not far fetched.

“When I think of a fantasy city with no cars, Venice comes to mind. There is an incredible amount of freedom that comes with it. You’re not worried about being hit by a car.”

The city’s streets were void of all but emergency vehicles following the Blizzard of ’78, a time that Landman, then in her 20′s, described as “magical.”

“If you want to imagine Boston without cars, just look at those photos,” she said. “There was a brief window when it was a car-free city, and it was a lot of fun. I cross-country skied everywhere. I remember going into a restaurant in Harvard Square and there was a line of skis propped up near the door. ”

But if the Hub went car-free for good, Landman said, ideally there would be reliable public transit for people who are not able to walk, run, skateboard or bike to their destinations.

“I think what people really want is choice,” she said. “The ideal situation is not to have no cars, but just to have cars behaving well.”

As tempting as it may seem for the city’s cyclists, skiers and T enthusiasts, Nicole Freedman of Boston Bikes said that the city banning cars is not a likely scenario: “Are there any cities that don’t have cars?”

“I think the Mayor has done a fantastic job promoting cycling in the city,” she said, pointing to a 100 percent rise in cycling since 2007. “The Mayor is strongly behind biking, walking and public transit.”

As for Venice’s reputation as the car-free capital, Freedman said: “They have boats!”


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