Car Free Days Promote Environmental Conservation

According to Eric Britton, Co-Chair of the World Share/Transport Forum at the Kaohsiung 2010 conference, and Managing Director of EcoPlan International, a sustainable development advocacy organization based in Paris, France and working toward specific forms of environmental conservation, “Every day is a great day to take a few cars off the street and think about it.”

Among his other activities, Britton works hard to get and keep cars off the street, worldwide, and it's likely he spends even more time thinking about it than he does actually doing it.

The benefits of such a strategy are clear: Aside from the obvious savings in fossil fuels, greenhouse cases, and other environmental pollutants, removing cars makes life a good deal less crowded (the accompanying photo clearly shows the extra acreage required for 50 people driving their own cars compared with 50 people traveling together on a bus).

Although there have been popular efforts to promote environmental conservation by reducing the intrusion of automobiles into neighborhoods, towns, and cities almost since the day they were invented, the "Car Free Days" movement actually began in its present form back in 1994, in Toledo Spain at an international conference Britton had a role in organizing with the Spanish government under the title "Ciudades Accesibles."

A paper distributed at the meeting, called: “Thursday – A Breakthrough Strategy for Reducing Car Dependence in Cities”, was seen by many as a challenge to promote environmental conservation by working against the continuing intrusion of cars into daily life.

In response, an early website called "Car Free Cafe," still in existence, was set up to coordinate, organize, and disseminate information and activism aimed at cutting back on the physical dominance automobiles. By 1995, the first "car free day projects" were planned and carried out by teams in Reykjavik, Bath and La Rochelle, all of whom had been present at the Toledo meeting.

In October, 1997, Britton spoke with a team at the French Ministry of the Environment, after which they launched their national “En ville sans ma voiture” (“In town without my car”) project, the world's first (and still functioning) government-mandated national Car Free Day. Beginning at about the same time, the British Environmental Transport Association (ETA) coordinated three annual National Car Free Days in Britain, and also established its Green Transport Week program, which became a model for the European Commission’s own extension of this approach to the rest of Europe.

On June 21, 1998, Germany made a positive statement about environmental conservation by celebrating its first national Car Free Mobility Day ("Mobil Ohne Auto"), an event which also continues to this day. These early efforts led to the rise of similar environmental conservation programs in Italy, Belgium and elsewhere.

By February, 2000, momentum had grown so strong that the City of Bogata was able to organize its first Car Free Day ("Sin mi carro en Bogotá"), and keep some 850,000 private cars in their garages for thirteen hours on an otherwise ordinary Thursday. This project received the prestigious Stockholm Challenge Prize for Environment (June, 2000).

Buoyed by such success, the idea grew to encompass the first international Car Free Day in Europe, during September, 2000, and spread to Chengdu, in Sichuan Province, People’s Republic of China, which hosted China’s first Car Free Day on October 14, 2000. A joint project of the Earth Day Network and World Car Free Days produced the first “Earth Car Free Day" in November, 2000.

Since then hundreds of local groups have participated in both the annual Earth Car Free Days and the countless local efforts to restore the primacy of pedestrians and human-powered transportation to the world's thoroughfares. These efforts now include environmental impact reports, revised policy initatives, and temporary or even permanent closures of significant urban areas to automobile traffic.

For a more complete Car Free Day timeline from 1958 to the present decade, please visit:

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Photo credit: EcoPlan International