“Car free days” are gaining a lot of momentum worldwide, having been attempted in hundreds of cities with varying degrees of success. Melbourne looked to join them next year, with a group of environmentalists from the Centre for Sustainability Leadership convincing the Melbourne City Council to close many of the major roads in the CBD to traffic on February 15.
A lot can change in a few months, though. Premier John Brumby took considerable offence to the idea, labelling it a short-term populist stunt, and the idea has finally been reborn in a much more muted form. The day has been moved from the 15th (a weekday) to the 17th (a Sunday, when traffic is already at a minimum) and the number of streets being closed has been reduced from eight to three.
The compromise doesn’t seem to have left anyone particularly happy. Members from the Melbourne and Moreland Councils, who have joined forces to combine the car-free day with Moreland’s Cyclovia festival, support a “full-strength” car-free day like those held in Vancouver and London, while the State Government and the RACV maintain opposition to even this modest proposal, calling it a “one day stunt” and insisting that it will cause “traffic chaos”.
It would not be a great leap in logic to say that the Victorian Government doesn’t appear to be taking the triple threat of congestion, climate change and petrol prices seriously. It continues to attack each problem piecemeal, exacerbating the others with each “solution” – building freeways and tollways that might ease congestion but increase pollution, for example – rather than confront a major contributor to all three: cars. Providing commuters with alternatives to single-occupancy vehicles (such as public transport or cycling) reduces congestion, reduces emissions and is cheaper than petrol. Let’s see the government step up and support these sorts of endeavours. One day without cars, with enough publicity, could show people that they can get around the city without their vehicles and emulate the successes they’ve had in other, even more congested cities around the world.
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