The car-free movement is a broad, informal, emergent network of individuals and organizations, including social activists, urban planners, transportation engineers and others, brought together by a shared belief that large and/or high-speed motorized vehicles (cars, trucks, tractor units, motorcycles, etc.) are too dominant in most modern cities. The goal of the movement is to create places where motorized vehicle use is greatly reduced or eliminated, by converting road and parking space to other public uses and rebuilding compact urban environments where most destinations are within easy reach by other means, including walking, cycling, public transport, personal transporters, and mobility as a service.

Before the twentieth century, cities and towns were normally compact, containing narrow streets busy with human activity. In the early twentieth century, many of these settlements were adapted to accommodate the car with wider roads, more car parking spaces, and lower population densities, with space between urban buildings reserved for automotive use. Lower population densities meant urban sprawl with longer distances between places. The low cost of use brought traffic congestion which made older transport unattractive or impractical, and created the conditions for more traffic and sprawl; the car system was "increasingly able to 'drive' out competitors, such as feet, bikes, buses and trains". This process led to changes in urban form and living patterns that offered little opportunity for people without a car.

Some governments have responded with policies and regulations aimed at reversing auto dependency by increasing urban densities, encouraging mixed use development and infill, reducing space allocated to private cars, increasing walkability, supporting cycling and other alternative vehicles similar in size and speed, and public transport. Globally, urban planning is evolving in an effort to increase public transport and non-motorized transport modal shares and shift away from private transport oriented development. Cities like Hong Kong developed a highly integrated public transportation system which effectively reduced the use of private transport. In contrast with private automotive travel, car sharing, where people can easily rent a car for a few hours rather than own one, is emerging as an increasingly important element for urban transportation.

Proponents of the car-free movement focus on both sustainable and public transport (bus, tram, etc.) options and on urban design, zoning, school placement policies, urban agriculture, telecommuting options, and housing developments that create proximity or access so that long-distance transportation becomes less of a requirement of daily life.

New urbanism is an American urban design movement that arose in the early 1980s. Its goal has been to reform all aspects of real estate development and urban planning, from urban retrofits to suburban infill. New urbanist neighborhoods are designed to contain a diverse range of housing and jobs, and to be walkable. Other, more auto-oriented cities are also making incremental changes to provide transportation alternatives through Complete streets improvements.

World Squares for all is a scheme to remove much of the traffic from major squares in London, including Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square.

Car-free cities are, as the name implies, entire cities (or at least the inner parts thereof) which have been made entirely car-free.

Car-free zones are areas of a city or town where the use of cars is prohibited or greatly restricted.

To make the car-free zones/cities, (movable and/or stationary) traffic bollards and other barriers are often used to deny car access.

Living streets and complete streets prioritize the needs of users of the street as a whole over those of car drivers. They are designed to be shared by pedestrians, playing children, bicyclists, and low-speed motor vehicles.

Distribution centers allow easy restocking of supermarkets, outlet stores, restaurants, and more in city centers. They rely on tractor units to unload their cargo in the suburban distribution center. The products are then placed in a small truck (sometimes electrically powered), freight bicycle, or other vehicle to bridge the last mile to the destination in the city center. Besides offering advantages to the population (increased safety due to truck drivers having less blind spots, reduced noise/traffic, reduced tailpipe emissions, and more), it also offers financial advantage for the companies, as tractor units require a lot of time to bridge this last mile (they lack agility and consume much fuel in congested streets).

The method above however still doesn't reduce car use inside non-car-free city centers (customers often use cars to fetch their groceries or appliances from city stores, since they have so much storage space). This problem is solved by means of online food ordering systems, which allow customers to order online, and then have it delivered to their doorstep by the supermarket or store itself, through bicycle couriers (using freight bicycles), electric delivery robots and delivery vans. Delivery vans allow to take along more cargo and deliver to several customers on a same trip. These food ordering systems could provide for a smooth transition for those cities that wish to become car-free as it can reduce both personal car use and personal car demand in cities.

At the outskirts of towns, between the exits of the rings roads, and the car-free zones in the city center themselves, additional car parking lots can be added, generally in the form of underground car parks (to avoid it taking up surface space). Careful placement of these car-parking lots is needed though, ensuring that they are made far enough from the city centers (and closer to the ring roads) to avoid them attracting more cars to the city center. In some instances, near these car parking lots, Park and ride public transport (i.e. bus) stops are foreseen, or bicycle-sharing systems are present.

Community bicycle programs provide bicycles within an urban environment for short term use. The first successful scheme was in the 1960s in Amsterdam and can now be found in many other cities with 20,000 bicycles introduced to Paris in 2007 in the Vélib' scheme. Dockless bike share systems have recently appeared in the United States and provide more convenience for people wanting to rent a bike for a short time period.