The 10th Most Influential Streetfilm of All Time

With the 10-year benefit for Streetsblog and Streetfilms coming up on November 14 (get your tickets here!), we are counting down the 12 most influential Streetfilms of all time, as determined by the impresario himself, Clarence Eckerson Jr. If you’re just tuning in, catch up on #12 (Lakewood, Ohio: The Suburb Where Everyone Can Walk to School) and #11 (Mark Gorton Interviews Enrique Penalosa).

Zurich: Where People Are Welcome and Cars Are Not

Number of Plays: 41,000

Publish Date: October 25, 2014

Why is it here? Variety! This is probably the Streetfilm that best illustrates how several overlapping policies can fit together to deliver exceptional streets and transportation. It captures how parking restrictions, quality transit, and traffic management all complement each other.

And you have to love a city with a “Historic Compromise” that capped the number of parking spaces in the downtown. With this Streetfilm, you can clearly see how deemphasizing the automobile has made the city more welcoming for people.

Fun fact:  Making this piece entailed the longest Streetfilm post-production ever. I shot most of it in August 2013, 14 months before the final cut was posted. To put that in perspective, I assemble most Streetfilms in days or weeks, or at most a few months. I struggled mightily to bring all the parts of this Streetfilm together, then it finally gelled when I interviewed Professor Norman Garrick from UConn about his time studying transportation in Zurich. His personal narrative gave the film a much needed cohesion and perspective.

  • Bernard Finucane

    Zürich isn’t that unusual in Europe. Cities all across the continent have been kicking out cars since the 70s. This movie sort of distorts that.

  • Vooch

    true – it’s simply austonishing how much of City Cores are car free or car restricted in Much of Europe. The pedestrian zones were tiny experiments in the 1970s and imperceptibly expanded.

  • Bernard Finucane

    I think Americans will find the same thing happening in their cities once they start the journey. The reason is that efficient land use sneakily nibbles away at inefficient land use step by step.

  • Vooch

    agreed – we can hope that Times Square plus other NYC spaces can become full fledged pedestrian zones shortly.

  • TheTackular

    Don’t know what is sorta being distorted? Film only seems to talk about Zurich. Nothing about the rest of Europe in it or it being some kind of anomaly.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Isn’t that the difference? Zurich actually didn’t get started until about 25 years ago.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    I love Zurich and have visited there many times, and even lived there for a while. One thing that you should keep in mind is that the city is very wealthy. All of this cost a fortune.

  • Vooch

    pedestrian streets Are less costly than building Motor roads

  • Jeffrey Baker

    You wouldn’t believe the way they build these tram tracks though. They are cast in enough concrete to hold them for a thousand years. Not like here in the US where a tram line is built with wooden ties under the road just in case someone needs to adjust them later.

  • Vooch

    True

  • Michel S

    The story I always tell my friends about my trip to Zuirch was the one time I heard a car use its horn. It is notable because it was the only horn I’d heard since I arrived in the city three days prior, and it wasn’t just me who noticed it; everyone on the street stopped and turned to see who used it, that’s how rare it is. I think this anecdote speaks volumes of their street policies that make private car use in the city rare and dangerous conflict necessitating the use of a horn even rarer.

  • Guest

    I have stories too. One is the time I thought odd that the tram seemed to be a couple of minutes late a few days in a row… until I noticed that it was my watch that was wrong by a couple minutes!

    Also the extreme sparseness of traffic lights in Swiss cities. There are probably more traffic lights in Manhattan’s Financial District than in all of Switzerland! 🙂

  • Norman Garrick

    Bernard Finucane Zurich is relatively unusual even amongst Swiss cities. There are few cities that have taken such a comprehensive approach to favoring transit over car travel and to creating such a people friendly city, not just in the historic core but across much of the city proper. The number of cities that I would put in the same category as Zurich in this regard is probably less than 20 and few of them are as consistently good. In terms of user friendly transit, I can’t think of any that is as good as Zurich in Europe. If you have any that you want to suggest, let me know – I want to go visit.

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