City logistics Car-free model city Ghent: a conceivable concept for German cities?

Thanks to a consistent mobility plan, the city centre of the Belgian city of Ghent has been car-free since 2017. To what extent can this scenario act as a model for large German metropolises? And what does this mean for parcel delivery?

Thanks to a consistent mobility plan, the city centre of the Belgian city of Ghent has been car-free since 2017. (Photo: Shutterstock)

German cities have been experiencing an increase in delivery traffic for years. In many places, congested streets and a lack of loading zones are creating ever more challenges in parcel delivery. The Belgian city of Ghent uses an approach that could possibly act as a model solution. Ghent has declared its city centre a car-free zone.

Until a few years ago, the city centre of Ghent still looked like this: cars standing bumper to bumper on centuries-old cobblestones of the historic city centre. Traffic jams were a daily occurrence, parking space was in short supply and cafés removed their al fresco tables due to poor air quality and severe traffic noise. The city sprang into action and created a mobility concept called the “circulatieplan” (circulation or traffic plan), which was put into practice on 3 April 2017. Since then, buses, taxis and rescue services have been the only vehicles allowed access to the city centre. Delivery vans have to leave the area by 11 a.m.

Fresh air in the city centre of Ghent

Many of the 260,000 inhabitants of this city in north-western Belgium have long since come to terms with the new situation and no longer use their own car to get to the centre. In the past five years, the number of car-sharing vehicles has more than tripled. And those who have not switched to cycling or public transport entirely, regularly use one of the 10,000 rental cars. Another effect is that the prevalence of e-bikes is booming not only among the residents of Ghent, but also among delivery companies. From food to parcel delivery, companies are increasingly replacing large and small delivery vans with e-bikes to get their goods to their destination.

Car-free areas in other cities already a reality

Cities such as Copenhagen, Oslo and Madrid are also strongly prioritising their mobility concepts, with all of them already having car-free city centres. In these cities, last-mile parcel deliveries are done with cargo bikes, e-scooters and e-bikes. And since the roads are open, transport is smooth sailing.

The development of city centres by political means inevitably leads to a change in the way people think. Copenhagen plans that by 2025, 75% of all of their residents’ daily travelling will be done on foot, by public transport or by bicycle.

A realistic mobility concept for Germany?

The university town of Ghent with its almost 250,000 inhabitants is often compared to Freiburg. City planners and logistics experts can clearly follow the “circulatieplan” there and see what works in practice. One of the questions that comes up in Germany is whether this car-free city centre model might also have a future in German metropolises.

Some German cities are daring to take the first steps with decelerated traffic concepts: in Hamburg, for example, the Mönckebergstrasse is open only for bus, taxi and bicycle traffic. In the coming years, this city will in fact play a nationwide pioneering role in implementing further concepts. An experiment is currently under way, where until October the city hall district is to remain car- and truck-free during the day. A staggering 87% of local restaurants in the neighbourhood were in favour of the experiment.

A focus on emission-free delivery methods

In future, car-free city centres could also be a conceivable step towards decelerating the congested city areas in Germany. Different mobility concepts are already indicating how logistics can help shape change, especially in densely populated urban areas. From delivery by e-van or cargo bicycle to the use of mobile micro hubs – all these are central components of alternative and emission-free city centre logistics. For the time being, fully automated deliveries via robots, drones or autonomously driving cars remain but a vision for the future.

(Author: David Siems)

Next article