Car Free Day gives all of us the opportunity to re-imagine the City and to think again about the possibilities that our streets offer. With around 12 miles of Central London’s roads closed to automotive traffic, we have a chance to learn what life in the capital would be like without cars. Launched over two decades ago, Car Free Day offers a 24-hour glimpse of an alternative to the way we currently run our cities which centres on pedestrians and cyclists rather than motorists.
In many ways, this year’s Car Free Day reminds us of one of the few positives of a difficult 18 months; as the pandemic forced life to a halt we were also made to reconsider the spaces around us. As fewer of us drove into the office and more of us adopted al fresco dining due to restrictions on indoor gathering, we’ve seen what giving over more space to people rather than cars does for our urban environments. With pavements widened to accommodate social distancing, even more of us have been able to see what happens when you re-prioritise urban space.
In London, where space is at a premium, stationary vehicles occupy an extraordinary amount of space. The Centre for London think tank estimates that on-street parking takes up over 14km2 which is equivalent to 10 Hyde Parks completely covered by cars. Admittedly, London is far from alone in this respect; if you added up all the space Manhattan devotes to cars, you’d have an area nearly four times as large as Central Park.
Of course, moving away from cars doesn’t only represent a way to reclaim our cities but also a way to improve health and to reduce our impact on the planet. Road transport represents almost a quarter of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions and in London there’s an air pollution crisis, with 99% of the capital exceeding safe limits.
The Greater London region accommodates over ten million people, with 19.81 million trips undertaken daily. Eight million of those trips could be cycled in under 20 minutes. To improve the capital’s air quality, to tackle climate change, and to reclaim our urban environment, there is an urgent need to ensure that there is a modal shift away from cars to bicycles and onto foot.
While Car Free Day wonderfully illustrates what our capital could look like, we know that closing roads to traffic is far from a long-term solution. Instead what people need is an accessible daily way to get around. Cars continue to dominate our cityscape because they’re convenient. If we want to encourage people out of cars, competing modes of transport need to replicate that ease and convenience.
HumanForest’s shared dockless e-bikes really do reproduce that ease and convenience without any of the cost associated with driving. With the sharing model, there is no initial outlay or ongoing cost of serving and maintenance. Shared e-bikes by their very nature are more sustainable – every single shared e-bike will see miles of use each day. For every mile ridden, riders save the same amount of Co2 that two grown trees would capture in one day.
In truth, we’re looking forward to a day when every day is a Car Free Day for more and more of us. As more of us make the switch, we can re-forest our cities one pedal at a time.