Why is ’Car Free Day’ not more extensive in Budapest?


Figure 1: Areas closed on Car Free Day in Paris, Brussels and Budapest
105 km2 in Paris, 161 km2 in Brussels, and 0.1 km2 in Budapest (the Andrássy Avenue) projected on the map of Budapest.


Although in the past few years the authorities of Brussels and Paris have made much effort to improve the infrastructure of public transport and biking, the two cities still cannot be considered as role models of sustainable urban transport. Both have a population between one and two million (not including the suburbs), and Paris is the most densely populated capital in Europe. Both cities have international relevance, and in the 60’s-70’s both were transformed into sanctuaries of car traffic by the development of road infrastructure. Also, the ratio of households owning a car is much higher in the two cities than in Budapest, and they rank 8th and 9th in terms of time spent in traffic congestion in Europe.

Therefore, it is surprising to see that once a year, on the car free Sunday in September or early October, both cities close their entire territory to car traffic. While Budapest is happy to close only Andrássy Avenue, in Brussels and Paris, driving a car on the car free Sunday has been prohibited in the city’s whole area of respectively 162 and 105 square kilometers. In Brussels, this has happened every year for more than ten years!

The difference is striking – and hence the awareness-raising impact too. On Car Free Day in Brussels and Paris the silence is real: along with the local noise of car traffic, the background noise also disappears. However, it is not the silence of the night which dominates the streets, but the sound of children playing, birds tweeting, bicycle bells, footsteps, the quiet murmur of conversations. The streets fill up with pedestrians, bikers and roller-skaters. On the large, central boulevards the crowd is thick, and the atmosphere is like on a festival; the minor roads and streets are less crowded, and we can easily walk around the city even with a two-year-old toddler on a tricycle.

In fact, a much greater result could be achieved if not only one, but all the Sundays of the year would be car free. However, even one day per year significantly decreases the opposition of public opinion when the two cities are trying to place permanent limitations on car traffic. In Paris, in October 2016 a major road on the right bank of the Seine was permanently closed to vehicles, and since May 2016 the Champs-Elysées has been car free on a Sunday each month (this compares to closing Andrássy Avenue once a month). In Brussels, since the summer of 2015 two multilane boulevards have been classified as pedestrian areas, both of which were largely used for crossing the city center by car. The efforts brought good results, for example, in Paris, since 2001 the number of car rides decreased by 28 percent.

If we compare the main characteristics of the three cities in the table below, and we project the size of the car free zones of Brussels and Paris onto the map of Budapest (see Figure 1), it is clear that in Budapest too, it is the lack of political will that inhibits the implementation of larger scale measures.

For example, closing 184 square-kilometers (see Figure 2) would cover an area almost as large as the city used to be prior to the creation of Greater-Budapest in 1950, when 23 nearby villages were annexed to the city, extending its territory from 194 to 525 square kilometers.


Figure 2: Plan of the continuous, Brussels-size car free Sunday closure projected onto Budapest.
The approximate border of the closure: circular railway line from the Vác railway line to the Jászberényi road, the Lajosmizse railway line, an East-West line from the crossing of the Lajosmizse railway/Szentlőrinci road through Csepel to Gádor street in Budafok, road Nr. 7, Egér Road, the western part of Gazdagrét, the ridge of the Buda hills, Hűvösvölgy Valley, the Óbuda cemetery, and the Esztergom-Budapest railway line until the Vác railway.


Another option would take into account the decentralized structure of Greater-Budapest: besides closing the most central, 38 square-kilometer area, the centers of the outer districts would be also closed on about 70 square kilometers in total (see next figure). The size of the Paris event (105 square kilometers) would be achieved by this scenario too. Its disadvantage would be the lack of spatial continuity, which would ensure the absence of background noise from vehicles.

Figure 3: Plan of a decentralized, Paris-size car free Sunday closure projected onto Budapest.
Borders of the central, 38 km2 closure: Róbert Károly Boulevard – Hungária Boulevard – Könyves Kálmán Boulevard – Ferencváros-Kelenföld railway, Budaörsi Road, Alkotás street, Krisztina Boulevard, Margit Boulevard, Bécsi Road, Vörösvári Road. The closures in the outer districts make up about 70 km2.
Why would we not try one of these options on the next car free day?






2,2 million

1,2 million

1,8 million

Population of suburbs

12 million

1,8 million

3,3 million

Area (without suburbs)

105 km2

161 km2

525 km2

Number of vehicles owned in the suburbs (vehicle/1000 people)




Area of car free Sunday (total area in percentage)

105 km2 (100%)

161 km2 (100%)

0,1 km2 (0,02 %, 2300 meters of Andrássy avenue)

As if traffic was banned in these districts of Budapest:


I., V., VI., VII., VIII., XIV., Paris+ II.,XI., XII., XIII., IX.



Sunday 11.00–18,00

Sunday 9:30 – 19,00

Saturday- Sunday 10:00–18:00

Exceptions (besides public transport, taxi, ambulances, etc)

Local residents can drive home if they show their residence ID

If it is justified, and with a previously issued permit for a given itinerary.

Electric car showroom and test area, and go kart track on Kodály körönd

Maximum speed for motorized vehicles

20 km/h (all Paris)

30 km/h


Translated by Tarr Katalin