Car-free smog-free!

As cars keep off the street following a French call for European car-free day, air quality in some cities shows improvement

By Pamela Wentick
Published: Sunday 15 October 2000

september 22 was declared "European car-free day". Over 800 cities decided to take part. The truly pan-European event was aimed at emphasising the importance of improving air quality, highlighting the adverse effects of unlimited car use in city centres and the importance of cycling and other forms of transportation. While reports from some cities said the call was not very effective, some cities registered better air quality on the day.

In Rome, for example, air pollution and noise levels dropped dramatically. While no major difference could be noticed in the traffic congestion, the environment ministry said readings of carbon monoxide came down significantly by 50 per cent and noise levels fell by as much as 12 decibels as compared to the previous two days on four streets and public places where monitoring was conducted. In Naples, the number of cars on the street fell by 60 per cent, said environment minister Edo Ronchi, who took an electric bike to reach his government offices.

In Paris, the streets saw fewer cars, though the added pressure on public transport made it seem not very different from an ordinary day. French environment minister Dominique Voynet arrived at the weekly cabinet meeting on a bicycle. The "car-free day" was her idea, but she said it would remain a mere gimmick if it was not followed up by permanent car-free zones and a change of commuting habits. While France, Italy, Portugal and Spain welcomed the idea, the uk was in the midst of a row for being the only senior member of the European Commission to reject it. The department of transport claimed that people would quickly forget "one event on one day".

The European Commission ( ec ) has decided, for the second year running, to promote this event. A group of 300-odd cyclists organised a rally through Brussels. They were accompanied by some commissioners and ec staff, journalists and members of leading environmental groups. Jan Verschooren, president of the European Cycling Federation, said, " When significant number of people shift from the car to another mode of transport, the space left must be filled. If not, more car drivers will fill it and nothing will out of it." The event was an effort to replace this vacuum in a symbolic way, Verschooren indicated.

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