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Car Free Day: let's seize the day and call for lasting change

Jess Fitch's picture
Photo: child playing hopscotch

Today is Car Free Day, a chance to celebrate the benefits of having less traffic on our roads and think about how we can make car-free travel easier all year round. With events including a street party in Leeds and the chance to try out an eCargo bike in Richmond, councils and communities are seizing the day to imagine how streets might be different - healthier, quieter, friendlier.

Brussels held its own Car Free Day recently and the difference it made to the city was striking. In one area, the concentration of nitrogen dioxide in the air fell by 86%; in another, background noise was reduced by 68%.

Car Free Day is particularly thought-provoking in 2021, after the pandemic turned our travel habits upside down and caused many of us to see our streets and our neighbourhoods in a new light.

Diane"While walking during lockdown I noticed how much quieter the roads were. The air was cleaner and I hadn't seen the skies so clear since I was a kid!"
- Diane, Coventry
Watch Diane's video

That's what Diane from Coventry told us, and she wasn't alone. Many of us noticed quiet roads, peaceful cycling and the sound of birdsong during lockdown.

But these didn't last long.

Traffic levels soon rose as people began to drive around more, following government advice to avoid public transport. And the habit seemed to stick: this August and September, weekend car trips have been well above pre-Covid levels.

So what needs to change? How can we turn things around so that we - and the planet - can benefit from having fewer cars on the roads every day?

There are some things that we can do ourselves. We can walk or cycle for more journeys (58% of car driver trips are shorter than 5 miles). We can choose public transport: if you haven't travelled by bus or coach, tram or train for a while, why not give it a go? One bus can remove up to 75 cars from the road!

Diane"I believe it’s really important we all take some responsibility to make some small changes to our lives by considering using public transport more."
- Diane, Coventry
Watch Diane's video

But other things are down to the Government.

Price is a key factor in determining which transport mode we use. It makes no sense that bus and rail fares continue to rise while fuel duty for drivers has been frozen for a decade. The Government must act to rebalance pricing, making greener modes more affordable.

Many people simply don't have public transport that takes them where they need to go. The Government must protect and improve lifeline bus services and reconnect communities to the rail network. Across the board it should prioritise infrastructure that supports sustainable transport, such as rail reopenings, new transport interchanges and bus priority schemes.

And it should reform the planning system so that new developments aren't car-dependent. Let's have more 15-minute neighbourhoods, where residents can easily get to jobs, shops and services in quarter of an hour on foot, by cycle or by public transport.

Together let's harness the energy of car-free day and call for sustainable transport for all communities, all year round. Why not start by emailing your MP, or joining the thousands of people who have added their names to our public transport campaign?