OCT 06, 2016 1:16 PM PDT

Car free 'round the world

Many cities such as Jakarta, Bogota, and Penang have car-free days throughout the year, but two weeks ago on Thursday, September 22, even more joined in with 1,500 cities in 40 countries getting involved in the car-free movement in an effort to reduce traffic, noise, and pollution, and give locals a chance to enjoy a more peaceful walk through their city's streets.

Around half of Paris was off limits to cars during a seven-hour period for the capital’s second “Day without cars” (Journée sans voitures), with exceptions made for public buses, taxis and emergency vehicles. This year’s event was even more ambitious than in 2015, covering 650 km of the city. Some areas around the capital were limited exclusively to pedestrians from 11 AM onward, with many free recreational and educational events organised for city residents as part of the much-publicised event. Paris and the metropolitan area has for years struggled with air pollution. Smog rose to such alarming levels in March 2015 that officials temporarily banned half the city's cars and made the metro system and buses free. City Hall said the objective of the event was to change resident’s car habits, and demonstrate how “air pollution is linked to road traffic”. Other cities have followed Paris’s example, with New York and the Moroccan cities of Casablanca and Marrakech doing the same for one day.

Last year’s Car Free Day directly affected even the sky in Paris for those few hours. The Guardian quoted Elisabeth Pagnac, a civil servant in her 50s: “I live high in a tower block in the east of the city and looking out of my window today I saw the difference straight away: the sky has never been this blue, it really is different without a hazy layer of pollution hanging in the air,” she said.

While some dismiss car-free days as a gimmick, others say they can act as a catalyst, allowing residents to see how their city could look without private traffic. Many other cities around the world are taking the opportunity to ban cars from large parts of the centre. Last weekend saw Brussels hold its 15th annual car-free day, while Copenhagen held its first car-free day since the 1970s.

In San José, Costa Rica, Día sin carro Costa Rica' is the country's own version of World Car Free Day, and the capital city joined others around the world in going car-free. Mexico City closes 35 miles of city centre streets to cars every Sunday, while Bogotá – a pioneer of regular traffic bans with its weekly Sunday Ciclovía event running since 1974 – held one of three annual Días Sin Carro. Private cars and motorbikes were prohibited in the centre from 5am to 7.30pm, the largest working-day car ban in the world.

New York closed a swathe of the centre to cars to mark Earth Day in April, and continued its popular Summer Street programme, where Park Avenue is pedestrianised on three Saturdays in August. Manhattan held a Shared Streets event this summer, which restricted cars to 5mph over 60 blocks of Financial District. Other American cities holding car-free events included Philadelphia and Detroit, while even car-oriented Los Angeles now regularly runs the biggest car-free events in the country. The Washington DC metropolitan area encouraged its residents to go car-free or "car-lite" by offering the chance of a prize for those who agree to take up the challenge.

Montreal is just one of the cities in the Canadian province of Quebec which participated in 'Défi sans auto solo' on September 21. Rather than being a completely car-free day, instead the event encourages employees and students to get to their place of work or education using a sustainable mode of transport, including public transport, carpooling, walking, cycling, or even rollerblading. Designed as a friendly competition for some extra motivation to leave the car at home, the event has prizes up for grabs for those who take part.

Other cities are taking longer-term measures to cut motor traffic. Oslo has revealed plans to ban all private vehicles from the centre by 2019, Hamburg is developing a green network for people on foot and bikes that will span 40% of the metropolis, and Madrid intends to pedestrianise the urban core and expel cars by 2020.

Sources: The Guardian, Yahoo, Clean Technica, France 24

About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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