June 01, 2002


As a result of a popular support from a 2000 referendum, the Bogotá‘s Car Free Day is now an annual fixture for the city’s 7-million inhabitants. During this day, privately-owned vehicles are restricted, leaving the streets to transit-users, cyclists, and pedestrians. The 850,000 private automobiles in Bogotá are the transport means for just 14 percent of the city’s population, but such vehicles contribute to a disproportionate amount of the city’s air quality and congestion problems.

The Car Free Day, thus, also brings with it a greater sense of equity in a city where the vast majority of residents utilise public transit or non-motorised options. This year’s event reduced the day’s average particulate matter levels by 46 percent and carbon monoxide by 40 percent below average values.

Residents of Bogotá already enjoy bicycle Sundays, a festive weekly event in which 120 kilometers of arterial routes are closed to cars and nearly 2 million residents take to the streets on bicycles. The Car Free Day in February, though, is a mid-week event designed to demonstrate the alternatives to car dependency and its many associated costs.

The experiment may even be extended further. A city-wide survey has indicated that over 80 percent of the citizens want the car-free day to be repeated on additional days this year. The Car Free Day concept also seems to be gaining momentum elsewhere in Colombia. This year, for the first time, Bogotá was joined by three other cities, Cali, Chia and Valledupar. Other Colombian cities are ready to hold their first car free day next September joining the World Car Free Day movement.

The success has also helped the city receive international recognition. In 2000, Bogotá Mayor, Enrique Penalosa and EcoPlan International, a Paris-based policy advisory firm, won the coveted Stockholm Challenge Prize for the Environment for the city’s first Car Free Day. Eric Britton, Managing Director of EcoPlan and senior advisor to the United Nations’ Car Free Days program, notes that, “Bogotá is the first city in the world to fully adopt a Car Free Day on an entire city-wide basis.”

“The fact that this was done in a developing-nation mega-city makes the story all the more remarkable. The success of Bogotá‘s Car-Free Day is due to the quality of the preparation and the conviction of its leaders and citizens.”

In conjunction with this year’s event, the city co-hosted an International Car Free Day Seminar with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), which is working to promote Car Free Days globally. Mayors and city officials from the Latin American region participated in the event in order to learn how to hold Car Free Days in their own cities.

At the conclusion of the event, the participants drafted and signed a Latin American Mayors Declaration that highlights an ambitious sustainable transport agenda. The Declaration will be presented during this year’s World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg as a practical set of objectives for all cities to create livable communities.

The UNDESA Car Free Day program is already building momentum. In May another Car Free Day and practicum will be held in Freemantle, Australia. Ghazal Badiozamani of UNDESA notes: “One aim is to transform Car Free Days from being a single day of festivity to also being a real catalyst for permanent change.” Thus, UNDESA is working with the city of Bilbao, Spain to conduct a “virtual” Car Free Day in which the impacts of dramatic auto reduction will be modeled.

Ms. Badiozamani describes the Bilbao experiment as “A means to bridge the gap between what exists now and what would be needed if a real-life, city-wide Car Free Day was implemented. The virtual Car Free Day process will hopefully lay the necessary groundwork for more Bogotá-type successes around the world.”

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