World Car-Free Day 2019: what is it and how is London involved?

Cities around the world will ban cars on Sunday to raise awareness of air pollution

London traffic
(Image credit: 2009 Getty Images)

Central London will be devoid of the drone of engines on Sunday as the capital embarks on its biggest car-free day to date.

Some ten miles of public roads will be closed to cars around Tower Bridge, London Bridge and the City of London, with the public instead encouraged to get around by walking or cycling, says the Evening Standard.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan hopes the event will help citizens “reimagine” life without cars and draw attention to the “health emergency” posed by high air pollution levels, the newspaper reports.

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London will be among a host of cities across the globe taking part in World Car-Free Day this weekend, as Forbes notes.

Here’s everything you need to know about the event.

What is World Car-Free Day?

The international event is intended to encourage cities to temporarily close their streets to traffic in a bid to raise awareness about air pollution and the benefits of clean transport.

According to Forbes, cities have been holding their own car-free days since 1995. The event was then established as a Europe-wide event in 2000 by the European Commission, but has since grown to encompass locations across the globe.

World Car-Free Day is held every year on 22 September, though some cities opt to host their own car-free days at other times of the year.

Which cities are taking part?

The Sun claims that the event, promoted globally by environmental organisation, World Carfree Network (WCN), does not have specific guidelines. As a result, the WCN doesn’t have a “list of all the cities which are taking part”.

However, the newspaper claims that Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur - as well as cities in China, Colombia and Indonesia - have taken part in the event in previous years.

When is London’s car-free day?

London’s day gets under way on Sunday, with road closures and bus-free zones being enforced from 10.30am to 5pm, the Evening Standard notes. The closures will mostly affect areas around Tower Bridge, London Bridge and the City of London.

Some 18 London boroughs have confirmed that they will be closing 200 streets to traffic and turning them into “play streets” for “community events”, the paper says. These include official activities, as well as privately-run street events.

What are the aims of a car-free day in London?

Sunday’s car-free day will be London’s first and forms part of the Mayor of London’s push to improve the city’s air quality.

According to The Guardian, air pollution is responsible for the deaths of “thousands of people each year”. The “crisis” has also left two million people, including 400,000 children, living in areas with “illegally dirty air”.

In a statement, the Mayor of London’s office said Sunday’s event will “help encourage the change in behaviour needed to meet the Mayor’s ambitious target of 80% of all journeys to be taken via sustainable modes of transport by 2041, compared to 63% today”.

Fiona Sutherland, deputy director at children’s charity London Play, told the Guardian that the event will not only alert city residents to a cleaner lifestyle, but also highlight how roads - once devoid of cars - can be reclaimed as public space.

“When cars no longer dominate, what we often forget is valuable public space,” she said. “For a few hours, children, whose lives are most negatively affected by traffic, will take priority. We hope that it will be the beginning of long-term change.”

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