The Margin: Car-free Europe? Paris, Brussels, Stockholm try it for a day

Mayor of Paris

Europe’s car-free experimentation moves into high gear over the next week as hundreds of cities and towns plan to shut streets to most traffic as part of European Mobility Week.

While World Car-Free Day falls on Tuesday this year, governments aren’t sticking to that day for their events.

Stockholm is shutting down its Old Town to traffic on Saturday. Almost all of Brussels will be closed to motorized traffic from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. this Sunday, and a “bike circus” is planned at two squares. Paris plans to ban cars from the center of the city from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 27.

Buses, taxis and emergency vehicles will be allowed, as will people on foot, as well as on bicycles, skateboards and roller blades.

Other European cities planning events include Madrid; Budapest; Wuerzburg, Germany; and Nottingham, England. But Europe’s arguably biggest biking nations — the Netherlands and Denmark — aren’t participating, according to a tally by Juan Caballero, project support officer at Eurocities. The countries with the most governmental units that have registered plans for a car-free event with European Mobility Week are Austria (with 167), Hungary (159) and Spain (128).

The list doesn’t make clear what each city is planning. And Oslo, for one, says it will mark car-free day without closing any streets. Instead, it will encourage people not to drive.

“Any activity promoting sustainable urban mobility is more than welcome,” Caballero told MarketWatch via email.

Obviously, it’s not just Europe that is marking car-free day. Gurgaon, a major financial center just southwest of New Delhi, plans to make every Tuesday a car-free day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., beginning this Tuesday.

Others do it their way. New York City shuts down Park Avenue for three Saturday mornings in August. Bogota, the Colombian capital, began closing streets every Sunday in 1974 and calling it a ciclovia. That idea spawned a movement and is now being copied around the world. There were nearly 100 so-called Open Streets initiatives in the U.S. and Canada last year, compared to just nine in 2005, according to the Alliance for Biking and Walking.

A number of German regions shut down a long stretch of road on one Sunday a year; one that goes past castles along the Rhine River on the last Sunday in June, known as Tal Total, attracts an estimated 150,000 people.

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Pedestrians, bicyclists and a man blowing bubbles enjoy New York City’s annual Summer Streets.

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