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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

No-Car Day, U.S.A.

Air Date: Week of

Car Free Day focuses on the environmental problems of cars and alternative forms of transportation. Living On Earth’s Anna Solomon-Greenbaum caught up with a coalition of cyclists who organized the event in Boston.


KNOY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy. People all over the world this week left their cars at home in celebration of Car-Free Day. The goal: to call attention to pollution caused by cars, and to push for alternative forms of transportation. In Europe, some 700 cities and towns participated. Here in the United States the effort was a bit less coordinated. Living on Earth's Anna Solomon-Greenbaum caught up with Boston bikers who did take to the streets, and has this report.

(shouting, whistling)

Car-Free Day USA

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: It's Thursday rush hour in Boston. Hundreds of bicyclists are riding back and forth across a hairy intersection where two bike paths do not meet. Cars aren't moving.

KURZ: Get out of your car folks, and breathe oxygen!

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Boston cyclists saw the call for International Car-Free Day on the Internet, posted by a group in Prague. The idea is to take to the streets. To take back what they claim are cities built for, ruled by, and choked with cars. Activists here in Boston say the point isn't to BLOCK traffic, it's to BE traffic.

KURZ: It's essential for America to begin looking at us as a real means of transportation.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Carl Kurz founded Bikes Not Bombs and helped organize the day's action.

KURZ: We're not just recreational people, we're getting to work just like everyone else, we're coming home, we're doing the same errands that everyone else is doing, we just happen to do it on a bicycle.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Kurz is big on bikes, but he'll tell you, this isn't just about rights for those who pedal. It's about pedestrians, and people who want to ride a bus or a train -- anything other than a car.

KURZ: I think Car-Free Day is a nice idea, but we really need to give people the way as well as the will to get out of their cars.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Barbara McCann directs the quality of life campaign at the non-profit Surface Transportation Policy Project. She says most Americans aren't ready to leave our cars at home, and it's not because of our psyches. People would be stranded.

McCANN: We like to talk about the love affair we have with the car, but in many cases it's just an arranged marriage. People have no choice but to be married to their car.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: McCann says change is happening gradually. She points to a study showing that since 1990 federal funding for public transit has almost doubled. Funding for biking and walking facilities has grown by about thirty times. But McCann cautions that's still a drop in the bucket compared to the total transportation budget. Cindy Burbank, at the Federal Highway Administration, says money can only do so much.

BURBANK: Ultimately, it is the decision and the responsibility of the state DOT and the local jurisdictions to decide how they want to spend their money and how they want to deploy their transportation program.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Burbank says the feds encourage state and local policymakers to take car alternatives into account. But activists like Carl Kurz say their attempts to work with city officials haven't brought enough change.

VOICES: Car Free Day! Car Free Day!

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: It turns out Boston was one of only a few cities in the U.S. that recognized Car-Free Day, though grassroots groups committed to transportation alternatives have sprung up all over. Carl Kurz says Car-Free Day itself doesn't really matter.

KURZ: I wouldn't hold Car-Free Day and participation at the city wide level across the U.S. as some kind of litmus test for what's going in the U.S. I think transportation activism is happening, it's here to stay, it's an issue in everyone's mind, whether you're carpooling or worrying about the price of gas, all the way to the person who's said I'm not going to use the car anymore.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: For Living on Earth, I'm Anna Solomon-Greenbaum in Boston.



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