For some people, imagining a life without cars is impossible or just unrealistic given their dependence and lack of other transit options; but alternative urban planning schemes for transportation can help places function better without the automobile. Some of the best examples can be found in small sized towns, but a city doesn’t have to be small to be car free. Looking at the way Wengen, Switzerland achieves mobility without cars shows the benefits available and how easily it can be implemented anywhere, either in principle or in segments within larger communities.
Wengen is nestled halfway up the mountainside of the Swiss Alps, inaccessible by car due to the steep terrain just like an island is surrounded by water. The town began as a summer hiking destination in the 1800s, then later developed into a winter ski resort once a train was built to bring visitors up the mountains year round. Today the train remains the only access point to Wengen, but public transportation is not the only option; people have a variety of ways to get around that have been inspired by both the climate and landscape.
During the winter, when snow blankets the town, people can ski and sled into Wengen from the mountains above - making winter sports more than leisure activities. Most everyone drags a sled around with them when they go about their errands, whether it’s for hauling groceries, children or just to get home down the hillside a little faster. Some vehicles do exist for public services and construction, but they are small enough to be towed up on the train and all private vehicles are left down in the valley. People also use ATV’s, snowmobiles and bicycles to get around or hire a horse and carriage for a comfy ride.
Even if some motorized elements remain, the enclosed shell of the private car is removed and speed is reduced, which enriches the interaction between people on the street. This experience does not have to happen solely in small towns where everything is within walking distance; pockets of pedestrianization have been proven to enrich neighborhoods everywhere. In a small town like Wengen, it makes the atmosphere more inclusive and personal through spontaneous meetings. More in-person interaction strengthens community relationships, allows you to get to know your neighbors, improves your health and safety and supports the local economy.
There are many advantages to living without a car but in order for a city to function, it must provide public and private options for mobility no matter the distance and prioritize the individual. Getting around on a human scale spurs interaction, and in Wengen this does not only happen on the main streets but also on the steps that connect hillside homes, shortcuts behind shops and pathways between the buildings.
Taking these minor elements into consideration, what changes can you make to help your town reduce its dependence on the automobile and revive life on the street?
Credits: Images by Tara Whelan, data linked to sources.