European Union Jump Starts Car Free Day 2000

BRUSSELS, Belgium, February 4, 2000 (ENS)

At a conference in Brussels today, the European Commission and nine European Union countries launched the European Car Free Day initiative.

European Commissioner for Environment Margot Wallström, ministers and high-level representatives signed the "European Car Free Day" pledge committing themselves to facilitate the organization by local authorities of a car free day event on September 22, 2000.

Dominique Voynet, French Minister for Spatial Planning and the Environment; Edo Ronchi, Italian Minister for the Environment; José Socrates, Portuguese Minister for Environment; and Isabelle Durant, Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport were on hand at the Palais des Congrès to support the initiative.

Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy, one of the great pedestrian spaces of Europe (Photos courtesy Carfree Cities)

Commissioner Wallstrom said, "I believe that Car Free Day is a popular initiative because it addresses some of the key concerns of Europe's citizens. Eurobarometer opinion polls show that when asked about the reasons they have to complain about their living environment, 51 percent mention density of traffic as their greatest concern, and 41 percent mention air pollution."

Wallstrom said some steps have been taken to relieve pressure of living with traffic, but more needs to be done. "During the last five years a comprehensive legislative framework on air quality has been established in the Community. This framework will place increasing pressure on local authorities to respect strict legal limit values so that the quality of ambient air is improved. Following a similar approach later this year I hope to table draft legislation on noise. This will lead local authorities to measure, monitor and, where appropriate, reduce noise in urban areas," the commissioner said.

Other speakers at the launch event were Mayors of small and large European cities, including Leoluca Orlando, who is mayor of Palermo and president of the Car Free Cities network. The Car Free Cities is a network of some 70 European cities which was created in 1994 by Eurocities and the Directorate General for Environment to study, to develop and to exchange good practices in the field of sustainable mobility by local authorities.

Recent surveys indicate European citizens are becoming increasingly concerned about air pollution, noise, danger and stress caused by traffic. At the same time, the number of cars on the road continues to grow in European cities, while a significant majority of all car trips made in Europe cover a distance of less than five kilometers.

The EuroTram in Strasbourg, France, a modern urban rail vehicle

The European Car Free Day initiative aims to raise awareness of the need to change mobility patterns. It enables citizens to see the benefits of a 'car free' environment whilst representing a platform for dialogue on the development of transport and urban planning. It also allows city councils to test new transport concepts in situ - gas buses, pedestrian areas, electric vehicles for goods delivery or a cycle network.

This year's Car Free Day initiative follows the success of the "In town without my car" days held in 1998 in 35 French cities and in 1999, when, with the support of the LIFE programme, 66 French cities were joined by 92 Italian cities.

On September 22, 1999, car-free areas were established in large parts of city centers, enabling citizens to discover their hometown on foot, by bicycle or public transport, and to test new low emission vehicles. Conventional goods vehicles were replaced by electric or zero emission alternatives and public transport fares were discounted for the day.
In 1999 22 million people participated in the campaign, with more than 80 percent wishing to see the operation repeated regularly in the future.

At the 1999 event, Commission President Romano Prodi and Commissioner Margot Wallström took a cycle ride with members of their staff through the streets of Brussels, accompanied by Isabelle Durant, Belgian Transport Minister.