Why making some (or many) Boston streets car-free might not be so crazy

An idea to close some Boston streets to traffic was floated during a live Twitter chat with Boston Mayor Martin Walsh. Could it become reality?
An idea to close some Boston streets to traffic was floated during a live Twitter chat with Boston Mayor Martin Walsh. Could it become reality? –Suzanne Kreiter / The Boston Globe

UPDATE: This story has been updated to include statements provided to Boston.com from Jerome Smith, Boston’s chief of civic engagement.

Some streets in Boston could become occasional car-free zones in the near future, according to a tweet sent from the City of Boston’s official handle. On Wednesday, during a live Twitter chat with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, a question from @ConciergeBoston asked about the possibility of closing certain Boston streets during summer months.

In response, a tweet from the City of Boston’s official twitter account said the city is “actively looking into this at several locations around the city.’’

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Jerome Smith, chief of civic engagement for the City of Boston, elaborated on the proposal to close Newbury street to vehicles in an email to Boston.com.

“This year, the Mayor gave us a task: create fun, new ideas for pedestrians, supporting public spaces,’’ said Smith. “With this in mind, we proposed closing Newbury Street to vehicles for a day, creating a pedestrian-only avenue for residents and visitors to enjoy Newbury Street and its establishments.’’

Smith said the city has received a “large amount of positive feedback from the community.’’ A day for pedestrian-only access to Newbury Street is expected to be announced in mid-June. He said the city will work with Newbury Street businesses and establishments to address any community concerns, and may eventually expand the event.

This is not the first time the idea of car-free areas around Boston has been floated. As The Boston Globe noted, Cambridge shuts down part of Memorial Drive on most Sundays during the summer.

But some suggestions have gone further, envisioning an almost entirely car-free city. And recent events indicate the idea isn’t as impossible as it might sound.

In 2014, a research paper from New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation predicted Boston will work to phase out the car by 2032.

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The Rudin Center’s scenario predicts a sharing economy will take root by 2032, which will mean greater reliance on public transportation, bike-sharing programs like Hubway and ride-share services like Uber and Lyft. The researchers predict autonomous taxis will eventually be the only vehicles operating in Boston.

There are a lot of steps between present-day Boston and the future predicted by the Rudin Center, but some of them are already underway.

Automakers are already predicting traditional car ownership needs will change over the next few years and are trying to carve out a stake in the ride-sharing market. On Thursday, General Motors announced it plans to expand its ride-sharing service Maven into the Boston area by the summer. If such programs take off, it could mean fewer cars on the roads, and more space for pedestrians.

Earlier this year, a Boston-based architectural firm sketched out a multi-phase road map for eliminating parking garages in Boston. Self-driving cars are a key component of the plan, but Somerville is already partnering with Audi to test a garage full of self-parking cars that they believe could reduce traffic in the Assembly Row area.

Meanwhile, several other cities around the world have or are developing plans that encourage more foot traffic and less vehicular traffic.

An advocacy group named WalkBoston tweeted this video of a program in Paris.

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