Are Car-free Housing Developments Sustainable?

no car sign

In urban areas there is a rise in ‘green’ residential buildings, and emerging is the ‘car-free housing’ concept. Car- free housing is exactly what you would expect; a residential development (usually apartments in dense urban areas) with no parking provided for cars. It is fundamentally a home for people who do not own a car and in some cases a legal contract has to be signed to say that they never will while residing in these particular developments.

However, as a Transport Planner my professional leanings lie more with developing strategies to provide alternative means of travel for people other than the car, rather than actually deterring car ownership. While I totally agree that travel by non-motorised or public transport is far more efficient and sustainable than travel by car (when taking into account fuel emissions and the construction of roads etc), with the increasing availability of low emission and electric vehicles, why is owning a car so unsustainable? The majority of people want to own a car for personal freedom and leisure and may for example commute everyday to work by tram or cycle.

A far more efficient use of space within a building could be to enable car parking spaces to be rented out or sold separately to the apartment itself so that people who wish not to own a car do not have a wasted parking space. A ratio of 1 parking space for every 2 to 4 apartments could well achieve maximising efficiency of parking areas while maintaining attractiveness of the development to potential buyers.

By encouraging too many car-free housing projects there could be an increase in the demand for on street parking and a high turnover of occupancy as people’s choice to own a car changes (especially with the rise in low carbon vehicles).

The car-free housing concept is the ultimate ‘stick’ in personal travel, which has to be complimented with public or non-motorised travel alternatives. But, could the stick be too sharp given the changing nature of vehicle engines and personal freedom? My advice to developers is do not jump on the bandwagon without giving this considerable thought!

By Abigail Evens
Meinhardt Group
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