Every year on September 22, cities across the world celebrate World Carfree Day, which, amidst the hustle-bustle that characterizes modern traffic congestion, serves as a cogent reminder that cities are made for people, not automobiles. This year’s holiday promises to be especially large, as the Chinese government is putting out a big effort to make plans in roughly 100 cities, and supposedly even the government officials there will be riding transit tomorrow. (Ahem, Gavin Newsom, are you reading this?) Definitely go out and celebrate World Carfree Day tomorrow by leaving your car at home, but even better, make it a habit to leave your car at home. Or, better yet, get rid of the car altogether!
If one is used to driving a car, there is no doubt that switching over to a carfree lifestyle could feel like a major change, but I claim that the vast majority of those changes are positive ones. When a driver considers momentarily whether to take transit or to drive to some location, the mental calculation that usually occurs compares transit fare to gasoline costs, and in some cases, the driver is led to believe that having a car is cheaper. The problem with such a calculation is that it ignores the wear and tear that occurs to the vehicle every time it is driven, and the costs of maintenance required to fix that wear and tear. It also ignores the cost of vehicle itself, insurance costs, and parking. When comparing the total costs of owning and operating a vehicle to the total costs of leading a carfree lifestyle by walking/biking/taking transit, the carfree lifestyle emerges as the clear winner.
In addition to saving a vast amount of money, there are obviously clear environmental benefits: going carfree means reducing one’s carbon footprint and taking a stand to help curb our increasingly warm planet Earth. It also leads to a more active lifestyle, as walking and/or biking become necessary. I find also it to be a more social and engaging lifestyle. Walking helps you feel more in tune with your surroundings. Rather than observing everything from behind a shield of metal and glass, everything around you is up-close and personal, immediate, and vivid, as the life of the street becomes a part of your daily experience. Instead of just speeding through your environment, you are an integrated part of it.
Urban planning that is centered on maximizing the ease of automobiles results in maintaining surface parking lots, building monstrous parking garages with driveways that interrupt sidewalks, and obnoxiously wide streets that require at least half a minute to walk across. On the other hand, planning cities around people, rather than cars, creates settings that I think almost of all of us find immediately more inviting: wide sidewalks, narrow streets, interesting shops on the street level to look into, and just a general sense of vitality and life on the street level. Traffic speeds might be slower, but the street will be safer, more attractive, and more inviting.
I’ll let the World Carfree Network website have the last word:
But we do not want just one day of celebration and then a return to “normal” life. When people get out of their cars, they should stay out of their cars. It is up to us, it is up to our cities, and our governments to help create permanent change to benefit pedestrians, cyclists, and other people who do not drive cars.
Let World Carfree Day be a showcase for just how our cities might look like, feel like, and sound like without cars…365 days a year.