Pontevedra Provides Inspiration Ahead of World Car Free Day

Posted on 20 September 2019

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World Car Free Day takes place this weekend and if you’re not convinced that your contribution is important, CarTakeBack have looked into the ripple effect from one small city in the north of Spain.

If Mayor Lores and the story of Pontevedra can’t convince you, we’re not sure what will!

Pontevedra, the Car-Free City

In 1999, Miguel Anxo Fernández Lores became Mayor of Pontevedra. Once a city riddled with crime, pollution and 28,000 vehicles passing through per day; Pontevedra is now a UN award-winning city.

20 years ago, Lores pedestrianised 300,00sq m of the Iberian city, in turn, banning cars from the city. Roads were replaced with granite flagstones, parking was moved underground, speed limits were reduced, and more green areas installed. The people of Pontevedra were put first. 

The only exemptions from the ban were delivery vehicles, residents with garages, taxis and public transport.

Flash forward to now and Mayor Lores remains in office, CO2 emissions have been reduced by 70%, 12,000 more people live in the city and 90% of residents walk to buy their groceries.

But how has this impacted the rest of the world?


The natural starting point of this chain effect has to be Madrid, just 384 miles from our friends in Pontevedra. Spain’s capital has set a deadline of 2025 for all cars to be banned.

Like its compatriot city, the only vehicles that are allowed in the city centre are residents, zero-emission delivery vehicles, taxis and public transport.

It sounds drastic (and familiar) but the results are positive: There has been a 14.2% decrease in CO2 emissions and a 9.5% increase in spending on Madrid’s main shopping street, Gran Via.


Pontevedra’s effect in Paris is more direct. It needs to be, since Paris has the worst air quality levels in Europe. Luckily, Mayor Lores himself has delivered conferences and “master-classes” in the French capital.

In planning to be car-free, the Mayor of Paris, Anne Higaldo is using the Pontevedra plan in the design of the Parisian streets. While this is in progress, Paris enjoys respite on the first Sunday of every month; between 10am and 6pm the city becomes 100% car-free.

During this time, delivery vehicles, public transport, taxis and VTCs are allowed to enter but only through designated entry and exit points, with the added restriction of 20km speed limit.


Back in Blighty and we can see the true ripple effect caused by Pontevedra. London’s plans look a lot like Paris’ which are, of course, modelled on the Iberian city.

Mayor Sadiq Khan has promised to have eliminated cars from the Old Smoke by 2025. Steps towards this goal have already seen London introduce a congestion charge and an Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ).

ULEZ zones only permit certain vehicles into the area, while the congestion charge means that drivers must pay £11.50 per day if they’re driving between 7am and 6pm. This has already cut CO2 emissions by 35%.

In 2017, the UK government announced that there would be an outright ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040.


Like the UK, in 2017 Norway announced that new vehicle sales would be banned. They also took it the extra mile, pledging to stop the sales by 2025 (the same year that most capital cities plan to be car free!)

The work of Norway’s capital, Oslo, to be car-free, is unsurprisingly similar to Pontevedra.

In downtown Oslo, over 750 parking spaces have been replaced with green space, making car use very difficult. To make up for the now arduous task of driving, public transport options have been enhanced.

The results so far include a significant improvement in the air quality and 10% more pedestrians.


Capital cities do have the burden of more streets to pedestrianise and more infrastructure to update. 

There is, however, some serious car-free work going on in the German capital. While they have had low-emission zones since 2008, Berlin is set to be the first car-free European capital in 2030.

Berlin’s communities will take back the space when the roads are closed - playgrounds, urban gardening and affordable housing will replace the former roads. 

It is exciting to think that just 50 years on, Pontevedra’s legacy will come to life in a capital city.

The Pontevedra Effect

Pontevedra is inextricably linked with the rapid development of car-free cities. Miguel Anxo has consulted on the development of the most congested cities, from Shanghai to Mexico City - and Berlin’s 2030 vision is testament to this.

Of course, this is in the future and there are barriers to come. What we would say, however, is that this little car free city can teach us a big lesson – so why not be a little more Pontevedra and go car free on Sunday 22nd September.