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September 22 is World Car-Free Day

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June 2007 Critical Mass bike ride in Vancouver. Photo: Tavis Ford/Wikimedia commons

This Saturday September 22 is World Car-Free Day.

That's a day when people in cities around the world opt to walk, cycle or take public transit rather than driving a car.

In 2016, about 1,500 cities in 40 countries took part in the day.

John Vidal writes in The Guardian, "This weekend, as part of World Car-Free Day, London will close 50 major streets to traffic, and Manchester, Leeds, Bristol, Glasgow, Cardiff, Oxford, Cambridge and Liverpool will also ban cars from parts of their city centres."

The City of Ottawa does not appear to be officially marking the day, but Critical Mass cyclists will be self-organizing with this local event.

Cars, trucks and buses fuelled by gasoline are a major contributor to air pollution.

The U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists has noted:

"Passenger vehicles are a major pollution contributor, producing significant amounts of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and other pollution. In 2013, transportation contributed more than half of the carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, and almost a quarter of the hydrocarbons emitted into our air."

In Toronto, air pollution, from all sources, leads to 1,300 premature deaths and 3,550 hospitalizations each year. In Hamilton, it's about 185 premature deaths a year.

A recent study also suggests that air pollution -- high levels of nitrogen oxide in the air -- could mean a 40 per cent greater risk of developing dementia.

Vidal notes, "Brussels closed its city centre to cars last Sunday, and within hours the levels of black carbon and nitrogen dioxide in the city's air decreased by at least 30 per cent."

Cars, trucks and transport vehicles also represent about 23 per cent of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions, according to the federal government.

The David Suzuki Foundation has commented:

"Research done by Transportation Alternatives in the U.S. found that if just five per cent of New Yorkers who currently commute by car or taxi switched to cycling, it would save 150 million pounds of carbon dioxide a year."

It adds that bike lanes "can make an important contribution to climate protection."

And a McGill University study states:

"A reduction of close to 2 per cent in GHG emissions is observed for an increase of seven per cent in the length of the bicycle network. Results show the important benefits of bicycle infrastructure to reduce commuting automobile usage and GHG emissions."

Vidal highlights, "Oslo will permanently ban all cars from its city centre by 2019; Madrid will free up 500 acres of its centre by 2020; and Copenhagen, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Mexico City, Bogotá and Kigali all have ambitious plans for permanent bans."

While much has been made about Canada's Environment Minister Catherine McKenna having cycled to work, that in no way "offsets" her approval (and her government's subsequent purchase) of the 890,000 barrel per day Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline which would produce up to 26 megatonnes of upstream GHG emissions a year and about 60 megatonnes of downstream carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions each year.

You can't greenwash a pipeline decision by cycling to work.

Free public transit, national, provincial and local cycling strategies, a commitment to a 100 per cent clean energy economy by 2050, and other steps are needed to make the necessary and possible transitions prompted by World Car-Free Day.

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.

Photo: Tavis Ford/Wikimedia commons

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