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Several environmental advocates have suggested New York City ban private cars. The mayor proposes converting 25% of automobile lanes into pedestrian plazas, bicycle lanes, and green spaces–by 2025. But, believe it or not, this plan could also include more effective thoroughfares for automobiles.

Is New York banning combustion cars?

The governor of New York State has banned the sale of new internal combustion cars and light-duty trucks with a law going into effect in 2035. You can also say goodbye to heavy-duty internal combustion trucks by 2045.

Bicycles, rickshaws, and cars waiting for a light to change at a busy intersection, a NYPD police officer visible in the foreground.
New York City traffic | Robert Alexander via Getty Images

What does New York mean by internal combustion? Well, obviously, battery electric vehicles are exempt from this ban. So are hydrogen fuel cell/battery-powered vehicles. But this law also makes an exemption for plug-in hybrids, even if they have an internal combustion motor–according to CNBC.

This makes some sense in New York City: most modern plug-in hybrids have enough electric-only range for most any trip around NYC. City residents with a plug-in hybrid would only need its internal combustion motor for longer road trips outside the city.

New York state passed this ban approximately one year after the state of California legislated a very similar law.

Is New York City banning cars?

In addition to the statewide combustion ban, the mayor of New York City has proposed reducing the amount of road space available for cars by 25% by 2025. This 25×25 plan has some folks worried about the future of their right to drive in NYC.

A standstill traffic jam on an expressway, the skyline of New York City visible in the background.
Traffic outside of New York City | Johannes Eisele via Getty Images

For the first time in living memory, the streets of New York City were nearly free of cars for much of the COVID-19 quarantine. Many New Yorkers found the amount of extra space luxurious. Opinion pieces in Curbed NY and the New York Times even went so far as to suggest an outright ban on cars in the city.

Instead of an outright ban, mayor Eric Adams backed a plan called 25×25. This plan aims to increase the number of walkable plazas, bike lanes, bus lanes, and green spaces in New York–according to Electrek. To achieve this, it aims to take 25% of the city’s road space away from automobiles.

But there is also a way that New York City can reduce the number of car lanes while improving driving in the city and protecting the right to drive for future generations. It needs to follow the example of Barcelona’s super blocks.

What is a city super block?

Several cities are trying a new design in which several regular blocks are grouped together into a super block. It is bounded by highspeed thoroughfares, but many of its internal streets are low speed, even one-ways. At its center, multiple streets may be converted into pedestrian plazas.

Traffic, taxis and buses parked bumper-to-bumper in times square at night, billboards visible in the background.
Traffic jam in the Times Square, New York City | Artur Debat via Getty Images

Thanks to a forward-looking 1850s redesign, Barcelona is mostly laid out in a perfect grid. Modern city planners have taken advantage of this fact to group many of its blocks into 9×9 super blocks–called superilles.

If this system can succeed in the 1.6-million person city of Barcelona, could it also work in Manhattan and the rest of New York? Anyone interested in protecting the right to drive in NYC might want to check it out.

Next read how Barcelona’s unique crosswalk placement opens up space for cars and bicycles or learn more about its super blocks in the VOX video below:


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