By rigorously analysing data obtained from designated car-free days, Seoul is able to implement pedestrian-only streets and transit malls which resulted in increased revenue for the shops there.

Seoul’s recent efforts to transform its mobility platform from a car-dominated one to a public transport and pedestrian-focused system have captured the attention of urban planners. Driving this change was a series of pilots backed by rigorous data collection to better informed planning and decision-making.


Deoksugung-gil is a street in downtown Seoul popular with lunchtime crowds from the surrounding office buildings. However, the narrow street meant that pedestrians often spilled onto road spaces and mixed with vehicular traffic, created safety concerns.

In May 2014, the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) conducted a pilot pedestrianisation of the street for two hours during lunchtime where all vehicles were prohibited from entering the car-free zone.

During the two hours, pedestrian volume increased by 5%. When surveyed, over 90% liked the idea of a pedestrian street and more than 50% wished that the street could be car-free every day.

The positive survey results from the pilot helped strengthen the case for a regular pedestrianisation programme at Deoksugung-gil. After gathering opinions from citizens and monitoring the area, various facilities were improved before plans for turning the street closure into a regular operation were put in place. For example, motor-operated bollards were installed at the entrance of Deoksugung-gil and parts of the walkway were expanded. Some of the bollards within Deoksugung-gil were removed or changed to avoid creating obstructions for pedestrians.

The regular lunchtime pedestrianisation of Deoksugung- gil was implemented swiftly by September 2014. To generate more buzz and interest, an event planner was appointed to curate different themes for each day of the week.


Yonsei-ro is a popular 550-metre long commercial street in Seoul’s Sinchon district, where several major universities in Seoul are located. The street was selected as the first transit mall to be implemented in Seoul, as part of Seoul’s plan to create an urban environment that puts people and public transport first.

The aims were multifold—to reduce demand for private car use; to bring about urban rejuvenation; to enhance the public transport experience; and to improve the pedestrian environment.

Before implementation, Yonsei-ro was a congested and accident-prone street with an average travel speed of only 10 km/h—far lower than the average travel speed of 25 km/h on Seoul’s main roads. The street was also crowded with pedestrians who were confined within narrow sidewalks.

Planners saw how a transit mall could potentially cause congestion, as cars would need to detour around the transit mall. A traditional traffic simulation model could only reflect how unfeasible the proposal was, and indicate the risk of congestion spreading to the surrounding area.

To fully analyse the real impact of vehicle restrictions in Yonsei-ro, SMG implemented two car-free days on Yonsei-ro and collected data during these days. Analysis of the collected data indicated that vehicles going north-to-south were re-directed across nearby roads and did not contribute to the congestion in the surrounding areas.

However, most of the vehicles going south-to-north had to pass an alternative three-way intersection in Donggyo-dong and make detours through Yanghwa-ro and Yeonhui-ro, increasing congestion on these two roads.

An alternative detour route for vehicles going towards Susaek was identified as a suitable way to address this congestion. To mitigate this, the city built an intersection in front of the underpass for Sinchon Train Station. The above measures helped to contain the impact of the transit mall on congestion within the area, and showed that traffic impact need not be a deal-breaker for pedestrian-friendly projects. SMG engaged and worked with the stakeholders to develop solutions for the design and management of the transit mall.

The proposed transit mall was successfully completed in January2014. The benefits of the transit mall were immediately clear— traffic accidents fell by 34% just six months after the opening of the transit mall, and the number of visitors using public transport increased by 11.1%.

The transit mall also brought financial benefits. Compared with 2013, the number of visitors who patronised the shops in Sinchon rose by 28.9%; the number of transactions that resulted in revenues went up by 10.6%, and total revenues rose by 4.2%. With the success of Yonsei-ro, SMG is also actively seeking other suitable sites in Seoul to implement more transit malls and further reduce the city’s reliance on private cars.


Many cities are often hesitant to carry out pedestrian-friendly projects due to concerns about potential traffic congestion arising from restrictions on vehicle access. Over-reliance on traffic simulation and modelling often fuel this bias, leading to the expansion of road systems to accommodate an ever-increasing demand for private cars.

Having experienced serious traffic congestion that resulted in social costs totalling about US$6 billion a year in the early 2000s, Seoul recognised the futility of car-based urban development on the one hand, and potential benefits of car-free environments on the other. Seoul’s evidence-based approach— which combined localised pilots and rigorous data collection—not only contributed to better-informed solutions, but also helped generate support among multiple stakeholders for the proposed pedestrian-friendly projects. – Source: Urban Land Institute (Asia Pacific)

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