Wednesday

26th Jun 2019

Focus

Europeans mount bikes to mark World Car-free Day

  • The Belgian capital flooded with people using bikes, rollerblades, skateboards or simply walking (Photo: EUobserver)

Tens of thousands of Europeans are expected to take part in the World Car-free Day on Monday (22 September), an event designed to breathe fresh air into European cities and help cool down the warming planet.

Under the scheme, European city-dwellers are supposed to live an entire day without their cars.

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Antwerp, Brussels, London and Paris were among EU cities that had asked drivers to keep their cars parked on Sunday (21 September).

In the capital of Europe, the streets were flooded with people using bikes, rollerblades, skateboards or simply walking.

"Genius" or "super" were the most frequent responses from people out and about, enjoying a car-free Brussels from 09:00 local time until 19:00.

"I think it's a very good initiative," said Jean-Luc who lives in the countryside near the city. "I normally take a train when coming to Brussels because there are too many cars here," he added.

But not everybody was convinced. "These people just muck about on their bikes for one day. Then on Monday, they get into their egotistical little cars and drive to work like always," one taxi-driver said.

The idea of car-free days dates back to the 1973 oil crisis when the Organisation of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries, OAPEC, announced that it would no longer supply allies of Israel during its conflict with Egypt and Syria.

In 2000, the European Commission threw its weight behind the project, making it a peak event of the EU executive's European Mobility Week, an annual project, lasting from 16 to 22 September.

According to the commission's environment spokesperson, Barbara Helfferich, the aim is to draw attention to mobility issues, while trying to change people's travel behaviour by offering them environmentally friendly means of transportation.

This year, some 200 million people from over 1,650 cities in 37 countries have signed up to hold various activities under the theme "clean air for all," she said.

To promote public transportation, the German city of Frankfurt has introduced bike taxis known as the "Velotaxi." In addition, it has adopted a regime under which a ticket is refunded if a bus, tram or metro is delayed by more than 10 minutes.

Bologna in Italy meanwhile promotes environment-friendly transportation such as electric bicycles and car sharing. The city is set to reduce the use of cars by 14 percent and to increase the use of bikes by 31 percent by 2010.

The EU's executive body, for its part, has defended its own record by saying at the launch of the mobility week (16 September) that it has more bikes than cars in its fleet of vehicles for staff, while approximately five percent of the commission staff come to work riding a bicycle.

Climate change versus economic downturn

Transport is the main cause of pollution, with urban traffic accounting for 40 percent of the CO2 emissions generated by road transport.

The 27-nation EU has committed itself to cutting CO2 emissions by 20 percent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels. When it comes to cars, the idea is to reduce the average CO2 emissions of new cars to 130 grams per kilometre from 2012.

But it isn't an easy ride to turn ambitious green goals to concrete legally-binding pieces of law, as new policies would mean a heavy burden for energy-intensive industry and car-makers.

Some EU capitals, for example, are rejecting 2012 as the year when the 130 grams/km cap for car emissions is to become mandatory. Instead, they would prefer to start in 2015, while others are pushing for a gradual implementation from 2012 to 2015.

Opposition to commission plans for combatting global warming seems growing in the face of the current economic downturn, with one senior commission official telling AFP that "As the economic situation becomes more challenging, it's normal that government becomes more defensive on climate change."

Germany and Italy are said to be most reluctant to adopt far-reaching green plans at the expense of industry.

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