Mobility Car-Free How to Create a Pop-Up Car-Free Zone in Your City

How to Create a Pop-Up Car-Free Zone in Your City

Lauren McAskie
I love talking to passionate CityChangers from around the world, hearing their stories and what drives their activism, then writing up guides for others to get inspired by. There's only one thing that could top a car-free city for me, and that's one made out of chocolate... but a girl can only dream. In the meantime, I'll work on making the first come true.

Once every year a ‘World Car Free Day’ takes place in various big cities around the world. If your city does not yet host a car-free event, keep reading this guide on how to create a pop-up car-free zone to learn more about how you can get the ball rolling in your own local community.

Normally taking place in mid-September every year, World Car Free Day encourages cities to close their central through roads and main traffic networks and replace them instead with pop-up walking and cycling infrastructure, markets, café and restaurant extensions, children’s play areas, outdoor street furniture and street music/theatre.

A car-free day might sound like something only large cities can pull off that could take months or even years of planning…

But there are plenty of ways that you can get started in setting up a smaller car-free ‘pop-up’ event in your own local area which may even encourage bigger car-free measures to be implemented in the long run.

Why Organise a Car-Free Pop-Up Event?

There are so many reasons that a car-free day or small event could be beneficial for your community:

Temporary street closures can help to align your city with greater public health goals by encouraging walking, cycling, and other forms of active transport while providing an incentive for people to get outside, interact with others and enjoy the pleasant streetscape.

It is an opportunity for learning, to showcase to the public how city life can be rejuvenated and provides a chance for members of the community from all walks of life to enjoy arts and crafts markets, food, play and rest areas, music, and street theatre etc.

Not only is it great for public physical and mental health, but it is also a great way to help small local businesses and commerce to thrive. Creating an attractive pedestrian area supports economic income and subsequently helps to create a healthier local economy. 

Perhaps most importantly, it is an opportunity to see what life could be like without cars on the streets that aren’t necessary for them to drive along, and in turn, illustrates how much pollution affects our own lives on a daily basis.

But what actually are the key steps in making all of this possible?

How to Make the Dream a Reality

1. Preparation and Planning

As when trying to organize any event in general – putting in the work when it comes to planning will be the key to success.

  • Prepare as soon as possible: The sooner you begin to gather your thoughts and ideas for your car-free event, the more time you will have to put the pieces together. Usually, a 4-6-month window is recommended, but if you’re co-ordinating a smaller event, then a smaller time frame of a couple of weeks is probably possible.
  • Choose a location: Decide where exactly you want your car-free pop-up zone to be based on which road you think could be repurposed in the best way. You may need to consult with neighbours and make an advance application to close off particular streets depending on where you live.
  • How to repurpose: Generate ideas about what you can do with the closed-off car zone. Ask yourself how you can show that there is really a better use for this urban space than for through traffic. Make sure to consult with others about what you think would be the best use of the area. For example, if there are lots of children living in the neighbourhood where you intend to create the car-free zone, then ensure there are plenty of interactive objects and play areas for them.
  • Traffic diversion plan: you will also need to draft diversion plans for through traffic, decide how many barricades you will need, and allow for the visualisation of the cordoned-off street by creating diagrams to present to your local department of transport.

2. Involve and Consult

The involvement of different organizations, residents, and politicians will also be essential for your car-free event.

  • Make a list of potential partners: decide who you want to be involved in the organisation of the event from the get-go. This could be local community officials, representatives, NGOs, or community groups. Ask them for feedback, ideas, and inspiration for how the event could go.
  • Ask for funding: consult your local government representative to find out which levels of government may be prepared to be involved with funding for the pop-up and how much they are willing to invest.
  • Petition and get permission: make sure that you speak to your local neighbours and get them on board with the car-free day. Help them to understand the benefits it will have and how it will help the local community. Once you have obtained signatures, apply for permission and/or a permit from your city’s transportation department to host the event.

3. Spread the News

  • Flyers and banners: get help from friends and volunteers to put up signs, posters and hand out flyers about the event. Spread as much information as you can about the event to get as many people involved as possible and generate media coverage surrounding the pop-up.
  • Online presence: creating an online event on social media platforms will encourage people to spread the word and generate more interest.

4. Setting Up the Event

  • Collect the materials you need: obtain barricades and no-parking signs from your local council and ask for donations for things you could put in the pop-up zone such as recycled street furniture, boxes, and crates to create a fun atmosphere.
  • Get help from partners and volunteers: gather the volunteers and helpers you need at least 2/3 hours ahead of planning. Ensure that all of the alternative route signage is adequately in place for motorists and buses.

5. Post-Event Follow-Up

  • Ask for feedback: after the event has finished, follow up with those who attended to ask how they thought the event was, if they found it useful and whether or not they think there could be any improvements for next time. Be open-minded to constructive criticism to understand how future events could be made better.

Conclusion

The aim of this guide is not to give a comprehensive formula about how to construct a car-free event, but instead to give you some ideas and tips about how to get started in making your car-free city plans come to fruition. 

There is scope for everyone, no matter what age or background, to get involved in the car-free movement and get your city to participate in improving its streetscapes for the benefit of everyone. Have a look at these more detailed resources for more information on organising car-free events:

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