For one day in September, cities across Europe are transformed. Boulevards, town squares and side streets – usually packed with heavy car traffic – are suddenly brimming with bikes and pedestrians. These Car-Free Sundays are part of the EU Mobility Week, an initiative which aims to promote environmentally friendly transport in cities for everyone. In many cities, private cars are banned for the day (apart from urgent services, taxis and people with disabilities) and people are instead encouraged to explore on foot, by bike, or by public transport (which is often free for the day). Some people love the experience of Car-Free Sundays so much they would like them to happen more frequently. Should every Sunday be car-free?
More Car-Free Sundays would be good for the environment. Cars emit a lot of Carbon Dioxide (CO2), which is a harmful greenhouse gas responsible for causing climate change. In fact, they are responsible for 12% of all CO2 emissions in the EU. Banning cars from the streets of our cities for one day a week could be an important part in reducing Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions (and helping to save the planet).
Lower air pollution levels are better for public health. The air pollution caused by cars is not only bad for our planet – it’s also damaging for our health. Recent data showed that toxic air pollutants are responsible for 400,000 premature deaths in the EU every year. During 2019’s Car-Free Sunday, Brussels and other cities experienced a drop of up to 80% in toxic air pollutant levels. This is not the only way car-free days might benefit public health: with cars gone, people are encouraged to walk or cycle, which can encourage more physically active societies.
In the absence of cars, people can reclaim their cities. Children can go outside and play in the streets without the fear of being hit by traffic. People could rediscover their neighbourhoods, and restaurants and cafes might also benefit, as roads and sidewalks could be transformed into terraces for extra seating. For one day a week, cities could be centred around people and not cars.
On the other hand, it could be inconvenient and impractical. Walking or cycling to your destination is fine when the sun is shining, but what happens when it’s cold and rainy? Public transport would be overcrowded (not an ideal situation during a pandemic) and people might have to rely on taxis, which are expensive. Also, even though most people don’t work on Sundays, that doesn’t mean they don’t have important things to do requiring a car – like moving houses, for example. For the current Car-Free Sundays, it is possible to request an exemption from municipalities, which makes driving possible, but it does mean extra hassle for the driver. Shops and small businesses have also complained that pedestrianisation would hurt local economies.
Should every Sunday be car-free in European cities? Could regular Car-Free Sundays lower emissions and improve public health? Or would it be too impractical, and hurt shops and small businesses? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!