Thursday, September 21, 2000

Hamilton's First Car Free Day!

World Car Free Day asks "Why don't we do it in the Road?"
BY RANDY KAY, VIEW MAGAZINE, September 21, 2000.

Activists lay claim to some asphalt in cities around the world today (September 21) as "World Car Free Day" opens the avenues of creative responses to auto-addiction.

Hamilton environmental actionists will celebrate with a mobile street party in the downtown during afternoon rush hour traffic.

Andrew Curran of Transportation for Liveable Communities (TLC), a new group out of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) at McMaster University, says the street party will be a celebration of alternatives and a glimpse of a more pedestrian friendly future for downtown.
Beginning at the North West corner of King and James and moving west on King will be a diverse group including pedestrians, cyclists, in-line skaters, hoola-hoopers and, of course, musicians to compete with the din of rush hour. Expect some street theatre to blend with the exhaust fumes.

Curran says King Street is a potent symbol of auto-domination with traffic roaring through the heart of the city.

"At one time the streets were social spaces, but the automobile has deteriorated or eliminated that use for people: to reclaim even a little space is to take a step toward bringing life back to the streets" says Curran

A movement to restrict or eliminate the use of private automobiles is spreading, almost as fast as suburban sprawl. The idea for Car Free Day originates in the collective behind Car Busters Magazine, located in Prague, Czech Republic.

Car Buster's Randy Ghent says the idea for a global, activist Car Free Day may have originated with them, but how it is played out depends on the actions of people around the world.

"We're mostly giving people the tools they need to organise things locally, wherever they might be. In Prague we'll be forming a street theatre 'funeral procession' visiting various car dealerships, especially targeting Audi and Volkswagen for their sponsorship of the concurrent World Bank/IMF summit"

Ghent says that while Europe and North America are at different stages of auto-dependence he sees the problems as basically the same.

The main difference is that "Europe is fortunately about 20 years behind in its embrace of motorisation. Europe still has in many places a development pattern (street layout, population density, public transport network) suitable for non-car transport. In other words, urban sprawl isn't nearly as developed or extensive here."

Ghent sees hope for the car free movement in cities like Copenhagen, where public spaces once allocated to the car are being reclaimed for more social purposes.

"This is key" says Ghent, since the amount of road space available to the car will determine the maximum amount of car traffic.

"It may seem counter-intuitive to remove a car lane as a way of reducing traffic, but this is in fact the most effective tool out there. Whereas when you build more roads or expand existing ones, the traffic just grows to fill the available space, usually in a very short period of time."

In Canada, the people at Adbusters magazine are helping create a buzz around Car Free Day. Both the Car Busters and Adbusters web sites ( and have downloadable posters, media releases and useful background information on the impetus to keep car free days grassroots and, perhaps most significantly, on the streets.