Thursday, 22 September 2011

Needed: Real Car Free Days, Not Just Public Relation Events

Today is Car Free Day in Montreal, an annual event when the center of the city is "shut down" to vehicular traffic from about 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. It was begun a few years agao as gimmick to bring attention to the need to cut down on car traffic in the city, and as such seemed not very effective.

But since then there have been major changes in traffic in Montreal. One of the most notable is the fact that roadwork has snarled traffic throughout the city, which has made public transport, biking and walking a lot more attractive. Transit ridership rates have gone up by about 15 per cent in the last five years, while the biking has gained greatly in popularity. Between 2008 and 2010, bike ridership grew by 35 per cent, while just this week the city was named the best bicycling city in North America, and 8th in the world.

All to the good, I'd say. But we're not going make the necessary savings in petroleum use and the concomittant decrease in green house gases, if we don't attack urban sprawl. As several commuters were said on Radio Can this morning, they live so far away that they must use a car to get to the city with tools etc. The news this morning was also full of traffic snarls coming on to the island of Montreal--a car fire stopped movement on one of the bridges for 40 minutes, for example--while yesterday's had stories about a developer threatening to use land he owns next to a provincial park in the middle of the St. Lawrence for new condos. It's not until we deal with these problems, that Car Free Days become part of the ordinary urban landscape.

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