Officially started 10 years ago as an international day of alternative transportation methods, World Car Free Day is an annual celebration of one of the many ways of saving energy and reducing air pollution. Participants can go solo simply by choosing to ride a bike, walk or use public transportation for the day, or, in some areas, there are city-wide sponsored events. While Sept. 22 is the official day of action, a lifestyle that incorporates alternative transportation in place of the current car-dominated culture should be practiced regularly for the health of the environment and humans alike.
The World Car Free Network promotes the international observation of World Car Free Day as a part of their car-free lifestyles message. The single day is used as a time when mass events and demonstrations can be staged to encourage cities and countries to adopt policies that encourage alternative transportation.
As concerns mount over climate change, it is important to recognize the role car-dependant lifestyles have on air pollution. Mobile source emissions, including car pollution, are the leading cause of air pollution in many urban areas. Through combustion and fuel evaporation, vehicles contribute to air pollutant levels of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. Also of serious concern are the greenhouse gases — such as carbon dioxide — and air toxics released by cars, which contribute to global climate change and elevated cancer rates.
Changing our principal method of transportation away from cars is also a way to save energy. As reported in Automobiles: Pollution & Energy Use, “Transportation of all types accounts for more than 25 percent of the world's commercial energy use, and motor vehicles account for nearly 80 percent of that.” Especially concerning in the United States is our individualist driving nature — most of the 140 million cars on the road carry just one person at a time. Significant energy savings could be realized just through carpooling alone, and saving energy by bicycling or walking also provides health benefits.
Some communities have acted on their desire to see a car-free world — or at least one no longer dominated by car use — by organizing city-wide World Car Free Day events. The Madison Environmental Group from Madison, Wis., sponsors an annual Car Free Challenge. Citing concerns over air pollution and energy use as reasons to be involved, the challenge culminates in a World Car Free Day celebration, complete with food, music and giveaways. Madison is just one among 1,500 cities across 40 countries worldwide that host events on Sept. 22, not including individuals who bike or walk to work on this day and throughout the year.
Want to Go Car Free?
Start on World Car Free Day by saying goodbye to your car keys and hello to your bike helmet, walking shoes or local bus driver. The World Car Free Network maintains an online database of free resources, including more information on car-free development and how-to guides for various levels of car-free activism. The Madison Environmental Group also provides ways to live with one less car, a great start for the standard multi-car U.S. household. If you have plans for World Car Free Day, we’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.
Jennifer Kongs is the Managing Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she’s not working at the magazine, she’s likely working in her garden, on the local running trails or in her kitchen instead. You can find Jennifer on Twitter or Google+.
Photo from Flickr/Let Ideas Compete