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Car Free Day ?

Today, 22nd of September, is World Car Free Day. It is supposed to be a day when people wherever they live can experience walking or cycling about without the hassle of negotiating a route shared with private cars.

It was one of the most memorable features of the Covid lockdown in the Spring of 2020 of townscapes without lots of cars moving about.

Kirkwall’s empty streets at the start of the Covid19 lockdown in 2020

People, many who were now working from home, went walking. Families out walking or cycling together on the much quieter roads happened in every part of Scotland. It was really quite remarkable and quieter.

The Covid pandemic is still with us. The virus has not disappeared and our NHS continues to be under pressure from patients requiring hospital care from an exhausted workforce. Governments at every level pledged to do things differently. We are in a Climate Emergency. Let’s see if today that pledge is actioned by supporting car free day in our communities?

In three of Scotland’s cities there is a stab at being car free.

  • Glasgow City Council has introduced ‘Street Play’, where residents can close streets from 22-25 September to host parties, workshops and cycling classes
  • City of Edinburgh Council will close Waverley Bridge to hold events on it
  • Dundee has its first Kidical Mass ride, protecting children cycling in areas with no segregated cycle lanes. This is one of over 200 Kidical Mass rides across Europe this weekend

That’s about it.

Cycling UK is encouraging people not to drive to work but to cycle, particularly if the commute is less than 5 miles.

The Scottish Government has pledged to reduce total car km travelled by 20% by 2030. A final plan will be published on how to achieve this before the end of the year.

Gavin Thomson, transport campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said:

“Transport is Scotland’s biggest source of climate emissions, it’s creating dangerous levels of air pollution and it’s costing people far too much money. It needs to change.

“This Car Free Day, there’ll be street parties and bike rides and community-building activities that aren’t possible if our towns and cities are filled with cars. When we remove cars, like on streets that become pedestrianised, we open up public space for communities and businesses.

“The Scottish Government has committed to reducing car travel by 20%, but we’ve yet to see any detail on how they will deliver this. It’s clear that our cities should be limiting cars, opening up space for communities. A regular car free day in cities would be a great idea.”

Sometimes Broad Street and other streets in Kirkwall are closed to traffic if there is a massive cruise liner in or for special events. Rather than shops being less busy, the street is hotching with people strolling about, being able to take their time. Orkney Islands Council rejected the pedestrianisation of this area. What we have now is a hotch potch of street furniture and people stepping off the paved areas into traffic. Anyone who has walked through this part of Kirkwall in the early evening has experienced drivers roaring through in what is also still a place where people have their homes.

A recent debate in Orkney Islands Council over the speed of traffic through the village of Finstown revealed that Councillors and Officials had to use google maps to discover that there were parts of Finstown where there was no pavement. Editorial: The Need For Speed This issue was identified by candidates in the recent local elections as the number one issue in that community. It is clear from the total lack of knowledge of what it’s like for pedestrians or wheeled users that those making the decisions need to get out of their cars and experience what the reality is in communities they are paid to serve.

New research launched by the Clean Cities Campaign found that 62% of people support the idea of one car-free day a week, to open the streets to walking and cycling and improve air quality. If this was implemented in major European cities, it could save between 541,000- 945,000 barrels of oil per year. Let’s not just do it in the cities.

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