Car-Free Days Bring Quiet to Communities, Advocates Say

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Growing Movement

According to Stout of the World Carfree Network, the U.S. car-free day movement is in the early stages.

Recent years have seen events crop up in cities with environment-friendly reputations such as Portland, Oregon; Berkeley, California; and Madison, Wisconsin.

The events vary from city to city.

At a recent car-free day in Portland, for example, organizers closed a city street for eight blocks and had a party with games and prizes.

In Oakland, California, a 2004 event included a parade to celebrate the permanent closure of a street to cars.

And at last year's event in the Carborro-Chapel Hill region of North Carolina, organizers asked people to pledge a one-day change in their travel behavior. For example, they could pledge to take the bus or bike to work instead of driving.

According to Patrick McDonough, who organizes the North Carolina car-free day, the event introduces residents to the area's bus system and bike-friendly streets.

"Despite the fact that we have a lot of alternative, environmentally friendly mobility infrastructure, people still don't take as great advantage of it as they could," he said.

Peace and Quiet

In Europe car-free days like the one in Rome close entire sections of the city to cars. That is harder to accomplish in the U.S., according to McDonough.

European cities already have car-free streets and town squares, whereas most U.S. cities are built around the automobile, he explained (photo gallery: U.S. car culture).

Closing a street in the U.S. "adds another layer of complexity," he said.

Stout agreed. For the Portland event, she and her team gathered enough signatures to close one of the busiest streets in the city, but traffic engineers vetoed the concept and moved the celebration to a less traveled road.

"It's hard to get governments to react and talk about being without cars," Stout said.

"We can share the road, reduce car use, but I think a road without cars is a little bit politically tricky."

For Barnes, the quiet streets are a huge draw for car-free days, which he hopes will catch on in the U.S.

"We might be surprised about how we feel about cars, as well as other noisy things. I think the right to quietude is like the right to privacy," he said.

"It's almost like the Fourth Amendment [to the U.S. Constitution], the right to be secure in your homes from unwanted invasions."

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