Car-free day is the one day of the year that pedestrians can roam around Ste-Catherine Street without the fear of being run over by reckless drivers. It’s a good initiative, but it isn’t quite enough to raise awareness about the detrimental effects cars are having on our lives.
On Sept. 22, the official day of the eighth edition of In Town Without My Car!, streets between McGill College Avenue, Bleury Street, RenÃ©-LÃ©vesque and de Maisonneuve Boulevards will not be accessible by vehicles between 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Several organizations will put together all kinds of shows for the 50,000 or so Montrealers that come to check out the festivities.
At 3:31 p.m., as though nothing even happened, the cars and the noise return, and we, the car-less, go back to our sidewalks.
According to www.montreal.com, motor vehicles are responsible for 47 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in Montreal. On car-free day, nitric oxide levels decrease by 70 per cent inside the perimeter and perceived noise levels go down 34 per cent.
Nitric oxide emitted by cars directly affects the lungs and brain. It acts as a depressant on the body and can cause symptoms like loss of balance, mental confusion and nausea. When there are a lot of these pollutants, the effects are very detrimental to our body. It’s obvious that less pollution would make Montreal’s citizens healthier. It would then make more sense to permanently close off some areas to traffic, instead of just one day a year.
But Montrealers love their cars and closing off streets means lots of frustrated drivers. If a car-free zone is planned correctly, it can give a positive atmosphere within the city and create a sense of community. Ste-Catherine Street, for example, is busy enough without cars. Pedestrians must cram together to walk down the sidewalk without knocking each other over. Permanently close off Ste-Catherine Street (between Guy and St-Urbain, for instance) to vehicles, but leave the cross streets open for them and pedestrians can share the road in a less stressful environment (kind of like Prince-Arthur Street on the Plateau).
This is already being practiced all over the world in cities like New York, Copenhagen, Toronto, Hong Kong and Los Angeles. Pedestrian streets have become like municipal parks in a way, with fountains, trees and benches. Who doesn’t love a good park?
But in the end, all Car-Free Day really causes is an increase in cars just around the perimeter. Unfortunately, it does not make people want to leave their car at home. People just tend to park it in a different place while they grumble off to work upset they have to walk an extra 10 minutes to get there.
But check out Car-Free Day anyhow, and whether you drive everywhere or you are a frequent public transit user, you’ll see how incredibly different a car-free downtown will make you feel without the constant noise and pollution all around you. It really is a breath of fresh air.