Every year on or around 22 September, cities across the globe celebrate World Car-Free Day, encouraging motorists to give up their cars for a day. The event highlights the numerous benefits of going car-free to citizens—including reduced air pollution and the promotion of walking and cycling in a safer environment.
The World Carfree Network says that the World Car-Free Day can be a showcase for just how our cities might look like, feel like, and sound like without car... 365 days a year.
Meanwhile, every year from 16 to 22 September, European towns showcase their commitment to clean and sustainable urban transport during #MobilityWeek.
Car-free days are an opportunity for cities to highlight how congested roads can be used in different ways. From races for alternative-energy powered vehicles in Budapest, to horse-riding in São Paulo, to street picnics in Vienna, to running in Jakarta, cities and the people who live in them are stressing the alternatives to polluting vehicles on this important day.
UN Environment shines a light on those who are taking the lead in promoting sustainable lifesytles all year round. For instance, there is the story of Diego Osorio, founder of "Mejor en bici" (Better by bike) in Bogotá, Colombia whose goal is to convince the city’s inhabitants of the benefits of biking on health, exercise levels and air pollution.
"Latin American cities have given all the power to cars and we have ended up destroying ourselves; we have no space left for parks or for pedestrians. We have forgotten about human beings—it is time to reconquer the lost space," says Osorio.
Air pollution caused by transport
Car-free days are a massive opportunity for cities to realize how much pollution affects our lives. Vehicle emissions are one of the main sources of outdoor air pollution, particularly in cities. Ambient air pollution alone caused some 4.2 million deaths in 2016, according to the World Health Organization. Transport is also the fastest growing source of fossil-fuel CO2 emissions, the largest contributor to climate change.
Vehicle emissions are the result of poor fuel quality and weak vehicle regulation around the world. The Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles was launched by UN Environment to support countries address urban air pollution through the adoption of cleaner fuels and more efficient vehicle technologies and standards. It is recognized for successfully supporting countries to phase out leaded gasoline.
The results of going car-free are clear to see. For instance, the first “journée sans voiture” (day without a car) in Paris, France was held in September 2015 and was found to reduce exhaust emissions by 40 per cent.
“Most cities have been designed around mobility for cars, and it is high time we change this and start designing cities around human mobility,” says Rob de Jong, Head of UN Environment’s Air Quality and Mobility Unit.
Drivers need to learn to share the road
UN Environment’s Share the Road Programme supports governments and other stakeholders in developing countries to invest in infrastructure for pedestrians and bicycles. The Programme is centered around the concept that everyone begins and ends their journeys as pedestrians, and in cities, some people rely almost exclusively on walking and cycling. Yet, investors and governments continue to prioritize road space for cars.
Breathe Life – a global campaign for clean air
Many of the cities which hold car free days also participate in the #BreatheLife campaign.
The Breathe Life campaign is led by the World Health Organization, UN Environment and the Climate & Clean Air Coalition. It supports cleaner air initiatives, promotes the use of clean energy and helps cities, regions and countries develop policies and programmes to reduce air pollution. The campaign currently reaches over 80 million people worldwide.
Like car-free days, the Breathe Life campaign stresses the measures that people can take as communities or individuals (for example, to stop waste burning, promote green spaces and walking or cycling) to improve air quality.