Car Free Day 2002

Sunday 1 September 2002, by Rick CZEPITA

As the summer of 2002 draws to a close, it has been another hot record-breaking season that only reinforces current realities about climate change and global warming. Extended periods of hot temperatures have produced weeks on end of smog and air pollution in central and eastern Canada while Alberta experiences drought conditions not seen in that province since the 1930s.

At the sametime, the Canadian government continues to procrastinate and demand changes to the Kyoto Protocol before they will sign on. Purchasing emission credits from crumbling east-bloc and third-world countries and inclusion of carbon sinks into Kyoto, might get Canada to ratify. Without them, Canada - and the world’s biggest polluter the United States - will continue to say no to Kyoto. With combined emissions contributing almost 25% of the world’s greenhouse gases with only 4% of the population, North Americans are indeed the "environmental pigs" of the world.

Not so in Europe

The European Union has recently ratified Kyoto and remains at the forefront of promoting new and sustainable environmental initiatives. One of their most successful is Car Free Day.

Seeing their cities being polluted and grid-locked by the rapid increase of the fossil-fueled vehicle, Car Free Day (CFD) was launched on September 22nd, 1999 with 165 cities in France, Italy and Switzerland taking part. The purpose of the initiative was to "open" the streets of the city to view alternative and more sustainable modes of transportation other than the fossil-fueled car.

Building on that initial day in 1999, the European Union’s (EU) has seen participation in Car Free Day grow to over 33 countries and 1000 cities by 2001. On September 22nd, 2001, Toronto became the first Canadian and North American city to host and stage a Car Free Day. Projections for September 2002 already have numbers eclipsing last years in terms of countries and cities.

Obviously seeing the acceptance of Car Free Day by its citizens, The European Union has expanded the initiative to an entire week called European Mobility Week. Running the third week of September, European Mobility Week will be an opportunity to educate Europeans on alternative and sustainable transportation programs focussing on public transit, cycling and responsible car use.

In Canada in 2002, Car Free Day activities remain more modest. Toronto again will stage Car Free Day activities on September 22nd. Other communities, such as Victoria, Montreal, Hamilton, Ottawa and Halifax have dabbled with various car free day activities. The key now is to increase the number of cities participating in Car Free Day in Canada, to gather political and financial support from all levels of government and implement, and coordinate a "top-down", nation-wide approach to Car Free Day.

With more than 17 million vehicles travelling on Canadian roads, and each one pumping out three times its weight in carbon dioxide every year, automobiles continue to be the largest contributor to smog and air pollution in our urban centres. The Auditor-General’s report of 2000 stated that over 5500 Canadians will die every year from poor air quality in our cities. Do we really expect these numbers to decrease in the short term? Add in the resistance that the provincial governments of Alberta, Ontario and Nova Scotia are making regarding the Kyoto Protocol, and we have a political stalemate that could go on for years.

In Canada, Car Free Day has been able to establish a toehold. While the federal government continues to procrastinate on "large-scale" international initiatives such as Kyoto, increased support of Car Free Day would allow them to proactively deal with the issues at street level and continue to educate Canadians on the environmental and health problems associated with the fossil-fueled car.

Car Free Day - with a possible Car Free Week in the future - is an opportunity to highlight and promote sustainable transportation initiatives that will focus on alternatives to the single-car, single-passenger usage that is polluting and grid-locking our cities.

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