Can large cities function properly without cars? Last week, Mayor Anne Hidalgo of Paris, France, put into effect a ban on cars in the center of the city for the day. This initiative was to support the idea that “Paris can operate without cars” and to help combat the city’s air pollution problem. The car free day extended from 11am until 6pm and was in effect in the areas between Bastille and Champs Elysées. Bumper-to-bumper traffic was turned into fresh farmer’s markets, street performances, and exercise classes. Other than helping to burn a few extra calories, a car free day helped to raise awareness about the environment and air pollution.
A car free day was highly beneficial in Paris, but it was certainly not the first place to enforce this kind of motor ban. Brussels, Belgium, announced their first car-free Sunday, 15 years ago, followed shortly thereafter by Jakarta, Montreal, and several other world class cities across the globe. As beneficial as it was for the city on that day, I think that it was more of a situation where people wanted to be part of that day’s experience. They were successful on a car free day because people knew it was coming, they wanted to be part of a city wide experience, and it was in the short term. In the long term, my instinct defaults to the idea that humans are creatures of habit. People will continue to drive their cars and motorcycles like they are used to. One great factor on that day was that the government closed off some of the roads, it wasn’t just a collective of personal choices.
Transportation is the largest growing source of carbon emissions in the world. Paris has the highest percentage of diesel fueled engines in Europe, because of this prevalence; pollution is made even worse in the city. Earth Day Network is working through our Green Cities Campaign to help combat pollution and to encourage renewable energy. You can learn more about the importance of renewable energy in your city at www.earthday.org/greencities/learn/
Paula Reser, Intern