World Car Free Days: Origins & Timeline, 1961-2012

  • Introduction
  • Internationalization
  • Some Major Benchmarks
  • Anything missing?



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  • Introduction

    Think this business of hauling all or most of the cars off the streets for a day of public reflection and dialogue is brand new stuff? Think again. In the world we live in the building of knowledge and the creation of a new consensus for change on matters of technology and society is a deliberate and almost always very indirect process. Rarely are there single persons or groups who all by themselves make the difference. Rather there is this slow, often irritatingly slow, cumulative process of assimilation of ideas, attempted actions, not all of which crowned by immediate success, and changing perceptions which occasionally combine, here and there, to change first attitudes and then, with any luck at all, some of the salient and important choices that we all make together which shape our daily lives, and those of our cities.

    The Car Free Day "movement" has over the years been faithful to this formula as the following "timeline" suggests. Beginning in the fifties and mainly in the States back then as the first ill-clad doughty local groups began to assemble here and there in order to protest the intrusions of cars in their cities and neighborhoods, here are some of the main benchmarks which we have culled from our own observations and experience over this period. (Anything missing, wrong, or poorly explained here. If so, let us know and we can try to rectify.)

    Our own involvement with the idea of hauling all the cars off the street from time to time and in the process inviting citizens to think and talk about it as a step in the process of rethinking the transportation arrangements in their city, traces back to a public challenge issued back in October 1994 in an international conference that we had a role in organizing with the Spanish government in Toledo Spain under the title Ciudades Accesibles.. The challenge took the form of a paper distributed to the meeting, under the title of "Thursday - A Breakthrough Strategy for Reducing Car Dependence in Cities", the full text of which is available here.

    Subsequent to the Toledo meeting, this site was set up under The Commons as one of the first to go onto the Web, which was then followed up in late 1997 by the Car Free Cafe which serves us all to this day. Within a bit more than a year the first car free day projects were planned and implemented by teams in Reykjavik, Bath and La Rochelle, all of whom were present at the Toledo meeting. Then in October 1997 we debriefed a team at the French Ministry of the Environment on the Thursday approach, subsequent to which they launched their national "En ville sans ma voiture" project. Etc. Etc.

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    Internationalization of the Car Free Day experiment

    While the first formally government mandated national Car Free Day program was without a doubt France's "En ville sans ma voiture" ("In town without my car") program which got underway in 1998, and which continues in various forms to this day, it is only fair to tip our hat to the British Environmental Transport Association (ETA) who opened the way by coordinating three annual National Car Free Days in Britain since 1997. Equally it is useful to recall that their Green Transport Week program also provided a model for the European Commission's later extension of this approach to Europe as a whole.

    Likewise, it merits mention that the Germans got the jump on the French as well with their Germany-wide Car Free Mobility Day - Mobil Ohne Auto, that first took place on June 21 1998, and which also continues to this day. Shortly thereafter the Italians, Belgians and other jumped in with their own national programs. (A good idea has many fathers and mothers.)

    A major and very powerful bump in the road came in February 2000 when the City of Bogata organized in cooperation with the World Car Free Day Consortium its first Car Free Day, Sin mi carro en Bogotá, the world's first large scale "Thursday" CFD project which resulted no less in keeping some 850,000 private cars in their garages for thirteen hours of alternative transportation and thinking about it. The join project was later awarded the prestigious Stockholm Challenge Prize for Environment in June 2000. The success of the Bogotá project spilled over to contacts with officials of the city of Chengdu of Sichuan Province, People's Republic of China, who organized China's first Car Free Day on 14 October 2000. Clearly the virus was spreading.

    Stretching beyond national frontiers, the first international Car Free Day program was launched by the European Commission in September 2000, followed two months later by the first "Earth Car Free Day, a joint project of the Earth Day Network under the leadership of World Car Free DaysWorld Car Free Days. The contribution of the Commission to keeping this flame lit, not always sunder the easiest of circumstances, has been a very important one. Probably the single person most responsible for this has been Margot Wallström, first as Commissioner for Environment and more recently as vice-president of the Commission. This personal long term commitment has meant a lot, as well as the low key, decentralized, open door approach which the Commission has increasingly taken in all this.

    Today, more than a decade later, with the Car Free Day movement having at long last gaining real momentum and international prominence, and in the process a certain respectability before the same administrations and bureaucracies that were certainly not among their best friends and loyal supporters until quite recently, it is important that we retain sight of the actual origins of these impulses for change. If we can remember this, we might all be a bit more open to the next good idea that tries to make its way onto the stage and move us toward a more sustainable way of life, rather than turning our backs and sticking with the good old status quo.

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    Timeline: Some Major Car Free (Days) Benchmarks

    The following chronology assembles some of the main benchmark events of the last decades, which together have gradually built on each other's accomplishments to leave us today with a movement that is, to say the least, only now beginning to get under way. (Please understand that this is intended only as a starting point and there are a very large number of cities and events that are not covered here. Of course. But it does hit a number of the main international highlights, and certainly can serve to give you an idea of the increasing momentum of the C/FD movement in cities around the world.)

    1. 1958, New York. Demonstrations of neighbors of the Washington Square Park area of New York City eventually block proposed extension of Fifth Avenue, which would have eliminated this popular public park and social oasis.
    2. 1961, New York. One of the ring leaders of the 1958 demonstration, Jane Jacobs, publishes The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Vintage Books, opening up the discussions of car restraint in cities
    3. Autumn, 1968, Gronigen, Netherlands. First neighborhood Woonerf
      The goal of this at first entirely illegal project led by local residents was to claim back the street for cars and create safe space for people
    4. 1972, Delft, The Netherlands. First "official" Woonerf opened
    5. 1973, Abbaye de Royaumont, France
      The OECD Development Center and EcoPlan (The Commons) organize 4 day international brainstorm on combining car restraint and non-conventional or "in-between" transit (paratransit) in Third World cities
    6. January-February, 1974, Switzerland
      Four Car Free Sundays organized and greatly enjoyed by all during "Oil Crisis"
    7. December 15th, 1974. Bogota, Colombia.
      There was a 3-hour street closing along 3.9km of major roads which would later be expanded and named "Ciclovía". Organized by "Propicia" and the local transit agency. There were more than 5000 participants.
    8. 1981, East Germany (DDR). First German Car Free Day takes place.
    9. October 1988, Paris. "Cities without Cars?" program begins.
      International, unstructured, non-bureaucratic, topic-driven, long term cooperative program launched by EcoPlan and The Commons. (Later morphs into today's New Mobility Agenda
    10. September 1991, New York. First International Conference on Auto-Free Cities.
      Organized by Transportation Alternatives
    11. September 1992, San Francisco. Critical Mass
      More or less anarchist, at least self-organizing, group cranks up to take back the streets from cars. Still at it.
    12. Fall 1992, Paris, France.
      First @ccess Forum opens in cooperation with ECTF on Internet. Car Free day concept discussed and expanded on this international list.
    13. Fall 1992, Ottawa, Canada.
      Auto-Free Ottawa Newsletter started.
    14. March 1994, Amsterdam. Car Free Cities Network
      Launched by DG XI and Eurocities
    15. 14 October 1994, Toledo, Spain. Thursday: Car Free Day
      Proposal, work plan and public call for international collaboration presented at Spanish "Ciudades Accesibles" Congress. (Representatives of Car Free Cities and future Reykjavik, Bath and La Rochelle CFD projects all present.)
    16. Winter 1994/5: Long term international contact/support CFD program created on the Web under The Commons and the New Mobility Agenda
    17. 8 May 1996, Copenhagen: Copenhagen Declaration
      Issued by international meeting of European government groups.
    18. 5 June 1996, Reykjavik, Iceland. Car Free Day
      Organized by local government and held in Iceland's capital city.
    19. 11th June 1996, Bath, U.K. Bath Car Free Day
      First British Car Free day. (A Green Transport Week street party had already been organised in Bath in June 1995.)
    20. 1997, U.K. National Car Free Days
      The ETA steps forward and co-ordinates first three annual CFD's in Britain.
    21. 9 September 1997, La Rochelle, France. Journée sans voiture
      Lead by Mayor Michel Crépeau and Jacques Tallut, La Rochelle organizes France's first real CFD.
    22. 21 October, 1997, Paris. Thursday: Car Free Day proposal, presentation made to French Ministry of the Environment.
      Proposal from this Consortium made as part of The Common's "Smogbuster" package for fighting car-related pollution and other problems in French cities. (The Ministry later uses this foundation to launch its own "En ville, sans ma voiture?" program one year later.
    23. 26 October - 1 November 1997, Lyons, France. First Towards Car Free Cities Conference
      Organized by International Youth for Action and other. CarBusters program launched.
    24. Winter 1997, Amsterdam. Car Free Times
      Car Free Times publishes Volume 1, Number 1 (with no public support and made freely available).
    25. Winter, 1997, Paris. @World Car Free Day Consortium
      This open NGO site was first established by The Commons as part of their long term New Mobility program on the WWW to support Car Free day organization and expert follow-up in cities all over the world.
    26. June 21 1998, Mobil Ohne Auto, Germany-wide Car Free Mobility Day
    27. September 22, 1998, "En ville, sans ma voiture?", France.
      French Ministry of the Environment and 34 French cities organize "En ville, sans ma voiture?" ("A day in the city without my car?).
    28. December 1, 1999, Britain.
      First National ETA Car Free Planning support (UK) Sharing information on planning for European Car Free Day in Britain
    29. September 19, 1999, The Netherlands.
      First National Car Free Sunday in the Netherlands
    30. 22 September 1999, First European "Pilot Car Free Day".
      On Wednesday 22 September 1999, 66 French towns participated in "En ville, sans ma voiture ?", (2nd edition), while in parallel 92 Italian towns organized the first Italian National Car Free Day, "In città senza la mia auto". The Canton of Geneva also participated in what later was later called the first European "Pilot Day", wherein all the participating cities designated Car Free areas in their canters.
    31. Sunday 26th of September 1999, First Belgian CFD announced
    32. 1 December 1999, UK.
      Consortium of interested individuals and groups sets up first independent national support group on Web to promote CFD's in Britain (see menu to left for direct link)
    33. Sunday, February 6, 2000, Italy
      Environment Minister Edo Ronchi opens first of 4 successive Car Free Sundays in Italy, to take place on first Sunday of month for next four months.
    34. 24 February 2000, Bogotá, Colombia. The Bogotá Challenge
      The City of Bogotá organizes in cooperation with the World Car Free Day Consortium Sin mi carro en Bogotá, the world's first large scale "Thursday" CFD project, and launches its Bogotá Challenge to the rest of the world.
    35. 5 June 2000. The Commons win Stockholm Challenge Environment Prize for outstanding accomplishment in supporting February 2000 Bogota Car Free Day, and invites the Mayor of Bogota to accept the award as a joint prize demonstrating the potential for technology-mediated international collaboration in support of major sustainability projects.
    36. 10-18 June 2000, U.K. Green Transport Week, U.K.
    37. 24-27 June 2000, Bremen, GermanyCar Free Cities conference in Bremen
    38. 21 September 2000. First CarBusters call for a World Car Free Day inviting independent projects to organize on that day, and later announced as a planned annual Open event. (Car Busters asks us to support their project, which we, as always, do.)
    39. 22 September 2000. First European Car Free Day
      The government sponsors reported that 760 European towns jointly organized the first pan-European "In town, without my car!" day.
    40. 14 October 2000. Chengdu City of Sichuan Province, People's Republic of China, started the first ever "Car Free Day" of the nation.
    41. 29 October 2000. Bogotá holds world's first Car Free Referendum (which passes with flying colors)
    42. 1 November 2000. Earth Car Free Day program launched by The Commons and WC/FD Consortium in cooperation with Earth Day Network. Preparations get under way for first ECFD on 19 April 2001.
    43. 1 February 2001. Bogota launches first ECFD 2001 project with its second Dia sin Carro.
    44. Spring 2001. "Domeniche ecologiche 2001" - Italian Ministry of the Environment organises first Ecological Sundays Car Free program, running on five weekends in
    45. 19 April 2001. First Earth Car Free Day
      More than 300 hundred groups and cities around the world participate in this first ECFD organized by The Commons WC/FD program and Earth Day Network(the detailed results of which can be accessed here).
    46. May-December 2001. Numerous independent Days and demonstrations organized and reported and supported by the World Car/Free Day Consortium of The Commons.
    47. September 2001. Second European CFD and second CarBusters World Car Free Day organized.
    48. 19 September 2001 Shed Your Car Day - FremantleFirst Australian CFD
    49. September 22nd, 2001 Toronto became first Canadian and North American city to officially host a Car Free Day.
    50. November 2001. United Nations contacts The Commons and proposes a joint world level project: the United Nations Car Free Days Programme, to be organized as a run-up to the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development, demonstrating that this approach is one that can make a difference.
    51. 6-8 February 2002. First United National Regional Car Free Days Practicum organized for Latin America, in cooperation with and support of the third Car Free Day in Bogota Colombia. Practicum brings together a delegation of mayors from across the region to observe and exchange information on the CFD approach for their cities. (The Commons participation in all stages is "CO2-free", mediated by the Internet and an expanding array of new communications and distance work technologies. )
    52. 8-10 May 2002. Second UN Car Free Day Demonstration and Practicum for Regional Mayors taking place in Fremantle, West Australia.
    53. 19 April 2002. First European Mobility Week launched by EC in BrusselsPlanned as annual event in September around their "In town without my car!" program.
    54. 2002. World Car Free Network founded, building on the work of CarBusters.
    55. 2002. Canadian Car Free Day Network established
    56. Sept. 2003 Montreal became the first Canadian city to hold a major downtown, weekday street closure.
    57. Sept. 2003 Camden (UK)celebrates first Travelwise Week building on Car Free Days celebrated every year since 2000
    58. July 2004. Towards Carfree Cities III, Berlin Organized by World Car Free Network
    59. 19 to 24 September 2004. Toronto's first New Mobility Week launches a public enquiry into new less-car packages of policies and measures
    60. 22 September 2004 "In town, without my car!", organized by the European Commission and national partners
    61. 16 to September 2004 European Mobility Week

    Help us to update. Spot any errors?

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