Girish Mahajan (Editor)

Car Free Days

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Car-Free Days

World Car Free Day, which is celebrated on September 22, encourages motorists to give up their cars for a day. Organized events are held in some cities and countries. According to The Washington Post, the event "promotes improvement of mass transit, cycling and walking, and the development of communities where jobs are closer to home and where shopping is within walking distance". Studies showed that for short trips in cities, one can reach more quickly using a bicycle rather than using a car.


The events, which vary by location, give motorists and commuterists an idea of their locality with fewer cars. While projects along these lines had taken place from time to time on an ad hoc basis starting with the 1973 oil crisis, it was only in October 1994 that a structured call for such projects was issued in a keynote speech by Eric Britton at the International Ciudades Accessibles (Accessible Cities) Conference held in Toledo (Spain).

Within two years the first Days were organized in Reykjavík (Iceland), Bath (United Kingdom) and La Rochelle (France), and the informal World Car Free Days Consortium was organized in 1995 to support Car-Free Days worldwide. The first national campaign was inaugurated in Britain by the Environmental Transport Association in 1997, the French followed suit in 1998 as In town, without my car! and was established as a Europe-wide initiative by the European Commission in 2000. In the same year the Commission enlarged the program to a full European Mobility Week which now is the major focus of the Commission, with the Car-Free Day part of a greater new mobility whole. Also in 2000, car free days went global with a World Carfree Day program launched by Carbusters, now World Carfree Network, and in the same year the Earth Car Free Day collaborative program of the Earth Day Network and the World Car Free Days collaborative.

While considerable momentum has been achieved in terms of media coverage, these events turn out to be difficult to organize to achieve real success (perhaps requiring significant reorganization of the host city's transportation arrangement) and even a decade later there is considerable uncertainty about the usefulness of this approach. The sine qua non of success is the achievement of broad public support and commitment to change. By some counts by advocates (disputed), more than a thousand cities worldwide organized “Days” during 2005.

Currently Bogotá holds the world's largest car-free weekday event covering the entire city. The first car-free day was held in February 2000 and became institutionalised through a public referendum.

In September 2007, Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, held its first Car-Free Day that closed the main avenue of the city from cars and invited local pedestrian to exercise and having their activities on the streets that normally full of cars and traffic. Along the road from the Senayan traffic circle on Jalan Sudirman, South Jakarta, to the Selamat Datang Monument at the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle on Jalan Thamrin, all the way north to National Monument Central Jakarta, cars are cleared out for pedestrians. Since May 2012 Car-Free Day in Jakarta is held every Sunday. It is held on the main avenues of the city, Jalan Sudirman and Jalan Thamrin, from Senayan area to Monas (Monumen Nasional), from 6 AM to 11 AM.

While not an officially organized Car-Free Day, every year traffic in Israel stops (except for emergency vehicles) for more than 24 hours in observance of Yom Kippur. This encompasses all motorized vehicles, including cars and public transportation (buses, trains, taxis, airplanes etc.'). Cycling enthusiasts of the Hiloni stream and other religions take advantage of this, and roads (except in religious neighborhoods) become de facto esplanade and cycleways. Air pollution in Israel that day, measured by nitrogen oxides, drop by 99 percent.

How it works

The 1994 Car Free Day Call set out a challenge for a city, neighborhood or group:

  • To spend one carefully prepared day without cars.
  • To study and observe closely what exactly goes on during that day.
  • Then, to 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 exercise considered car users to be "addicts" who need to be "treated" in some way. The organisers considered this to mean that motorists should have no choice but to be without cars, at least for a time. In this particular instance the proposed "treatment" was to find an answer to the following question in three main parts:

  • Is it possible to get drivers out of their cars in one or more cities...
  • In ways that will be tolerable in a pluralistic democracy...
  • For at least long enough to demonstrate what needs to happen to make a car-less (or, more accurately, less-car) urban transport paradigm actually work?
  • International car free days

    In town, without my car! is an EU campaign.

    Carfree days are also held in many U.S. cities, such as Portland, Oregon; and in Japan.

    British Columbia hosts several Car Free Days organized by local communities, including those in Car Free Day Vancouver, Car Free Day North Vancouver, and Car Free Day Victoria.

    First ten years

    The Environmental Transport Association set the initial annual Car-Free Day on the first Tuesday in their Green Transport Week (around 17 June), since 2000 it was agreed to make it a self-standing day held on September 22, originally as a pan-European day organised under the auspices of the European Commission and later with international extensions—during which a large number of cities around the world are invited to close their centers to cars. Pedestrians, bicycles, public transit and other forms of sustainable transportation are encouraged on these days. People can reflect on what their city would look like with a lot fewer cars, and what might be needed to make this happen. Advocates claim that over 100 million people in 1,500 cities celebrate International Car-Free Day, though on days and in ways of their choice. This claim however is not confirmed.

    Over the first decade of the car-free day movement (1994–2005), the world has seen hundreds of cities giving the CFD (Car Free Day) approach a try in very different circumstances, some good, some undeniably bad, some of them on several occasions.

    Activists in this field wondered what were the actual accomplishments. They suggested that it was agreeable to have a pleasant day with fewer cars and probably fewer accidents at least in some parts of the city, but considered that this was not the bottom line. For them the goal of a Car Free Day had from the beginning been to serve as a small step, as a catalyst in a much larger and more ambitious process of city-wide systemic transformation toward a more truly sustainable mobility system. They suggested that with rare exceptions they were not seeing anything like that.

    The persons involved in the movement thought that after ten years it was time to stand back and look hard to see what if any difference this approach has made. They asked themselves if CFDs made here or there had produced any significant permanent impacts on cities and the ways human beings get around in them. They wondered if they could be content with what the great bulk of these projects and programs had achieved and just keep going on as-is, or if it were not time to stand back and look again. They decided to fight complacency with a new international collaborative program starting in 2004.

    Timeline: Some major events

    The following chronology assembles some of the main events of the last decades, which together have gradually built on each other's accomplishments to leave us today with a movement that is only now beginning to get under way. There are a very large number of cities and events that are not covered here.

  • 1956, Low Countries. The first car free Sundays in the Netherlands and Belgium because of the Suez crisis. Every Sunday from November 25 to January 20, 1957 were car free.
  • 1958, New York City. Demonstrations of neighbors of the Washington Square Park area of New York City eventually block a proposed extension of Fifth Avenue, which would have eliminated this popular public park and social oasis.
  • 1961, New York City. One of the ringleaders of the 1958 demonstration, Jane Jacobs, publishes The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Vintage Books, opening up the discussions of car restraint in cities.
  • Autumn, 1968, Groningen, Netherlands. First neighborhood Woonerf. The goal of this at first entirely illegal project led by local residents is to claim back the street from cars and create safe space for people.
  • 1972, Delft, Netherlands. First official Woonerf opens.
  • 1973, Abbaye de Royaumont, France. The OECD Development Center and EcoPlan (The Commons) organize a 4-day international brainstorm on combining car restraint and non-conventional or "in-between" transit (paratransit) in Third World cities.
  • January–February 1974, Switzerland. Four car free Sundays were organized during the "Oil Crisis".
  • 1981, East Germany (DDR). First German Car-free Day took place.
  • October 1988, Paris. "Cities without Cars?" program begins. International, unstructured, non-bureaucratic, topic-driven, long term cooperative program is launched by EcoPlan and the Commons. It later morphed into today's New Mobility Agenda.
  • September 1991, New York City. First International Conference on Auto-Free Cities. Organized by Transportation Alternatives.
  • September 1992, Toronto. Second International Conference on Auto-Free Cities.
  • September 1992, San Francisco. Critical Mass. More or less anarchist, at least self-organizing, group cranked up to take back the streets from cars. Still at it.
  • Fall 1992, Paris, France. First @ccess Forum opened in cooperation with ECTF on Internet. Carfree Day concept discussed and expanded on this international list.
  • Fall 1992, Ottawa, Canada. Auto-Free Ottawa Newsletter started.
  • March 1994, Amsterdam. Car Free Cities Network launched by DG XI and Eurocities.
  • 14 October 1994, Toledo, Spain. Thursday: Carfree Day Proposal, work plan and public call for international collaboration is presented at Spanish "Ciudades Accesibles" Congress. (Representatives of Car Free Cities and later Reykjavík, Bath and La Rochelle CFD projects all present.)
  • 8 May 1996, Copenhagen. Copenhagen Declaration is issued by international meeting of European government groups.
  • June 1996, Reykjavík, Iceland. Carfree Day is organized by local government and held in Iceland's capital city.
  • 11 June 1996, Bath, the first British Carfree Day organised within the Environmental Transport Association's Green Transport Week.
  • 17 June 1997, Weybridge, the world's first national Car-Free Day inaugurated by the Environmental Transport Association in Britain. The ETA co-ordinates the annual CFDs.
  • 9 September 1997, La Rochelle, France. Journée sans voiture. Led by Mayor Michel Crépeau and Jacques Tallut, La Rochelle organize France's first real CFD.
  • 21 October 1997, Paris. Thursday: Carfree Day proposal made to French Ministry of the Environment. Proposal from this Consortium made as part of the Common's "Smogbuster" package for fighting car-related pollution and other problems in French cities. (The Ministry used this foundation to launch its own "En ville, sans ma voiture?" program one year later.)
  • 26 October – 1 November 1997, Lyon, France. Towards Carfree Cities I conference. Organized by European Youth for Action and the Lyon-based Régroupement pour une ville sans voiture. Carbusters Magazine & Resource Centre launched.
  • Winter 1997, Amsterdam. Carfree Times. Carfree Times published Volume 1, Number 1 (with no public support and made freely available).
  • Winter, 1997, Paris. @World Carfree Day Consortium. This open NGO site is established by The Commons as part of their long term New Mobility program on the WWW to support Carfree Day organization and expert follow-up in cities all over the world.
  • 21 June 1998. Mobil Ohne Auto, Germany-wide Car Free Mobility Day.
  • 22 September 1998, "En ville, sans ma voiture?", France. French Ministry of the Environment and 34 French cities organized "En ville, sans ma voiture?" ("A day in the city without my car?).
  • 1 December 1999, Britain. First National ETA Carfree Planning support (UK) sharing information on planning for European Carfree Day in Britain
  • 19 September 1999, Netherlands. First National Carfree Sunday in the Netherlands.
  • 22 September 1999, First European "Pilot Day". On Wednesday, 22 September 1999, 66 French towns participate in "En ville, sans ma voiture ?" (2nd edition), while in parallel 92 Italian towns organize the first Italian National Carfree Day, "In cittá senza la mia auto". The Canton of Geneva also participates in what later was later called the first European "Pilot Day", wherein all the participating cities designated car free areas in their centers.
  • Sunday, 26 September 1999. First Belgian CFD announced.
  • 1 December 1999, Britain. Consortium of interested individuals and groups set up the first independent national support group on Web to promote CFDs in Britain (see menu to left for direct link)
  • Sunday, 6 February 2000, Italy. Environment Minister Edo Ronchi opens first of 4 successive Car Free Sundays in Italy, to take place on first Sunday of month for next four months.
  • 24 February 2000, Bogotá, Colombia. The Bogotá Challenge. The City of Bogotá organizes Sin mi carro en Bogotá in cooperation with the World Carfree Day Consortium, the world's first large scale "Thursday" CFD project, and launches its Bogotá Challenge to the rest of the world.
  • 10–18 June 2000, British Green Transport Week organised by the Environmental Transport Association.
  • 24–27 June 2000, Bremen, Germany. Car Free Cities conference in Bremen.
  • 21 September 2000. World Carfree Day – first global carfree day, launched and promoted by Carbusters (now World Carfree Network) and Adbusters Media Foundation.
  • 22 September 2000. First European Carfree Day. The government sponsors report that 760 European towns jointly organized the first pan-European "In town, without my car!" day. Perhaps indicating growing confidence, the question mark has now become an exclamation point.
  • 14 October 2000. Chengdu City of Sichuan Province, People's Republic of China, starts the first ever "Car-Free Day" in that nation.
  • 29 October 2000. Bogotá holds the world's first Car Free Referendum (which passes with flying colors).
  • 1 November 2000. Earth Carfree Day program launched by the Commons and WC/FD Consortium in cooperation with Earth Day Network.
  • 23 November 2000 Shed Your Car Day – Fremantle. First Australian CFD.
  • 1 February 2001. Bogotá launches the first ECFD 2001 project with its second Dia sin Carro.
  • Spring 2001. "Domeniche ecologiche 2001" – The Italian Ministry of the Environment organises the first Ecological Sundays car-free program, running on five weekends.
  • 19 April 2001. First Earth Carfree Day. More than 300 groups and cities around the world participate in this first ECFD organised by The Commons WC/FD program and Earth Day Network.
  • September 2001. Second European CFD and second World Carfree Day.
  • September 22, 2001. Toronto becomes the first North American city to officially host a Carfree Day.
  • November 2001. United Nations contacts The Commons and proposed a joint world level project: the United Nations Carfree Days Programme, to be organized as a run-up to the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development, demonstrating that this approach is one that can make a difference.
  • 6–8 February 2002. First United National Regional Carfree Days Practicum organized for Latin America, in cooperation with and support of the third Carfree Day in Bogotá, Colombia. Practicum brings together a delegation of mayors from across the region to observe and exchange information on the CFD approach for their cities.
  • 8–10 May 2002. Second UN Carfree Day Demonstration and Practicum for Regional Mayors took place in Fremantle, West Australia.
  • 19 April 2002. First European Mobility Week launched by EC in Brussels. Planned as annual event in September around their "In town without my car!" program.
  • 22 September 2002. Third World Carfree Day, promoted by Carbusters (now World Carfree Network) and Adbusters Media Foundation.
  • 2002. Canadian Carfree Day Network established, and is active in a growing number of cities, including Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Winnipeg.
  • April 2003. Towards Car-Free Cities III, Prague, Czech Republic, organised by Carbusters (now World Carfree Network).
  • September 2003. Montreal becomes the first Canadian city to hold a major downtown, weekday street closure.
  • September 2003, Camden, UK. Camden celebrates the first Travelwise Week building on Carfree Days celebrated every year since 2000.
  • 22 September 2003. Fourth World Carfree Day, promoted by World Carfree Network and Adbusters Media Foundation.
  • July 2004. Towards Car-Free Cities IV, Humboldt University, Berlin, organised by World Carfree Network in partnership with Autofrei Wohnen, Autofrei Leben!, BUND (Friends of the Earth Germany), ITDP Europe, and other German organisations.
  • 19 to 24 September 2004. Toronto's first New Mobility Week launched a public enquiry into new less-car packages of policies and measures.
  • 16–23 September 2004. European Mobility Week.
  • 22 September 2004 "In town, without my car!", organized by the European Commission and national partners.
  • 22 September 2004. Fifth World Carfree Day, promoted by World Carfree Network and Adbusters Media Foundation.
  • July 2005. Towards Car-Free Cities V, Budapest, Hungary, organised by World Carfree Network and Clean Air Action Group, in partnership with Hungarian Traffic Club and Hungarian Young Greens.
  • 22 September 2006. Car Free Day on Yonge Street and Yonge Dundas Square. The first downtown weekday street closure in celebration of Toronto Car Free Day.
  • 22 October 2007. Car Free Day in Jakarta, Indonesia, organized by Jakarta municipal government. The Car Free Day closed Jakarta's main avenue such as Jalan Thamrin and Jalan Sudirman from cars, and invited locals to have their sports and activities on the street. Since then, Car Free Day has become a weekly event in Jakarta, held on every Sunday.
  • 22 October 2007. Car Free Day in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, organised by the Kaohsiung City Council. Thousands cycled from the Tower of Light, to Singuang Ferry Wharf (see map). All city public transportation service was made for free for a week from 22 to 28 September 2007. Kaohsiung has started celebrating the International Car Free Day since year 2004. And this year's slogan is 熄火愛地球, 高雄齊步走. A total of 1953 towns and cities participate from 38 countries around the world.
  • 16–20 June 2008. Towards Carfree Cities Conference VIII in Portland, Oregon organized by SHIFT.
  • 21 September 2008. Annual Car Free Day in the Netherlands. At least 22 cities such as Nijmegen, Tilburg, Rotterdam, Arnhem, and Gouda are car free.
  • 28 September 2008. Car Free Day at Wood Green High Road, London, UK.
  • 29 September 2009. World Car Free Day celebrated in Washington, D.C. with free bike repairs, yoga classes and groups that encourage environmentally friendly lives. One such group was involved in petitioning avid car users to go car-free for the first time.
  • 2 June 2012. Carless Sunday at F. Ortigas Jr. Road, Ortigas Center, Barangay San Antonio Pasig City, Philippines.
  • 20 September 2014. First bike-tourism Caracas 2014 in Caracas, Venezuela. A previous initiative to celebrate World Car Free Day.
  • 27 September 2015, 'Paris sans Voiture' with city centre mostly free of cars and lower speed limit in other districts
  • 28 February 2016. First Car Free Sunday in the central business district to be celebrated with mass events in Singapore.
  • References

    Car-Free Days Wikipedia

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