September 28th, 2015

On Oct 1st the neighborhood of Sandton — the second largest central business district in Johannesburg, South Africa — begins an incredible experiment. For the entire month of October select streets in Sandton will be entirely off-limits to cars.

It’s an experiment called the EcoMobility World Festival (ecomobility, meaning environmentally-friendly means of tranport like biking, walking and public transit) and the goal is to “showcase the potential for a neighborhood within a major world city to adopt an ecomobile lifestyle and experience its impact.”

For one month, a significant part of Johannesburg will become an example of a sustainable, environmentally-conscious city of the future could look like. This is music to our alternative transportation loving ears.

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Sandton is one of the most congested areas in Johannesburg with around 80,000 cars and more than 100,000 people moving within the neighborhood daily. No cars on these typically congested streets will be a big change for those who travel them daily and the idea is being viewed by residents with mixed emotions.

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The playful streets in Suwon during Ecomobility Festival 2013 via flickr

While the concept of car-free streets in Sandton is serious, the whole festival is intended to be a joyous one. It’s the opportunity for fun neighborhood interactions with pop-up parks, music and interactive exhibits featuring the opportunity to test out transportation options of the future.

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Image of Suwon via The Urban Idea

And Sandton is not alone in the car-free experiment. In 2013 the city of Suwon in South Korea undertook the same challenge (photo above). And in short, it worked. After the car-free month in Suwon, the city decided to lower the speed limit which reduced congestion, car parking was permanently removed from certain streets and sidewalks, and every month Suwon continues to host a car-free day.

The number of commuters in Sandton is growing by 3.4% per year and at that rapid rate traffic is projected to literally stop unless interventions are made. Hopefully this car-free experiment will change the mentality in Sandton and encourage people to think outside the car to make lasting improvements.

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