for National Geographic News
Beep beep. Vroom vroom. Thump thump.
The constant cacophony of honking horns, roaring engines, and booming car stereos has helped fuel a sixfold increase in noise pollution over the past 15 years that is driving people from cities, according to advocates for peace and quiet.
Wouldn't it be nice, they ask, if cars were on the fringe of our daily lives?
To help find an answer, "car-free day" events held in a handful of cities across the U.S. are giving urban dwellers a taste for life with fewerand in some cases nocars.
"One thing it does is give an example to people of what it looks like, smells like, sounds like, and all those different things that happen when you don't have cars there," said Sara Stout, who helps organize the annual event in Portland, Oregon.
Stout is also the North America spokesperson for the World Carfree Network, which helps organize car-free days around the world.
The days, which started in the mid 1990s in Europe, serve as a catalyst to get people thinking about what their cities would be like with fewer cars, according to organizers.
San Francisco, California-based author and entrepreneur Peter Barnes said the movement is a huge success in Europe.
"Rome car-free for dayit's a completely different city," he said in today's broadcast of the radio program Pulse of the Planet.
"People love it. They go walking around talking to one another. There's no noise, there's no trafficit transforms the city."
(This series and Pulse of the Planet are sponsored in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation.)
"Not driving makes a tremendous contribution to reducing the noise level," said Ted Rueter, executive director of Noise Free America, an advocacy group based in Greencastle, Indiana.
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