This Friday is World Car Free Day and though we may not observe it in South Africa, it is worth reflecting on how such an initiative can help create the type of consciousness required to improve issues around mobility, transport and public health.
The idea came out of the 1973 oil crisis and has become a feature in many cities around the world. According to Wikipedia, World Car Free Day challenges cities to:
- Spend one carefully prepared day without cars.
- Study and observe closely what exactly goes on during that day.
- Reflect publicly and collectively on the lessons of this experience and on what might be prudently and creatively done next to build on these.
The level of strictness varies greatly. In Bogotá, Colombia, for instance, local government plays a strong role and enforces regulations (through fines) to ensure people are not driving their private cars. It is no surprise they have the largest car-free day in the world. In other cities, it is simply an invitation, often by civil society groups to individuals to take action on that particular day. The World Carfree Network has developed a number of resources for individuals who want to take it upon themselves to organise car-free days in their cities.
World Car Free Day has been “forced” on other cities, such as Cochabamba, Bolivia, where levels of pollution were simply too much to bear. According to a local government official: “Air pollution drops by 60-70% [one the day] because 70% of our air contaminants come from vehicles.”
In a small town in the US, a similar initiative has focused on scholar transport and in celebration of "Car-Free School Day" hundreds of school children "will be walking, riding their bikes to school to raise awareness about emissions."
It will be interesting to see what is done around the world on 22 September. Then, on 1 October, Open Streets Main Road will attempt to show Capetonians what their streets could be without cars.
Image credit: Cape Town Partnership