Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Car Free Day (and World Record Walk, too!)

The modern automobile has become virtually all things to most people, at least some of the time. It can be a home entertainment centre, babysitter, time machine ("Can you drive a little faster, honey?"), mobile restaurant, status symbol, stress reliever (and creator) all rolled into one. It enables us to live, work and play where we want, when we want. It miraculously stretches time so that it is almost possible to be in at least two places at once, (say at your son's soccer game and your daughter's piano lesson, while picking up the groceries and doing the banking.) And if time does run out to do such menial tasks as preparing a meal, there are countless "drive-thrus" that can literally keep you going.

It's not that the car is a bad thing. I for one love my car and I love the freedom that it gives me. The problem is that things overall are seriously out of balance.

As E. C. McDonagh so brilliantly articulated, "The car has become a secular sanctuary for the individual, his shrine to the self, his mobile Walden Pond."

Or to put it a more bluntly, in the words of Clint Eastwood, "You are what you drive."

The price we pay for all of this status, security and convenience is simply staggering. The burning of the fossil fuels that we pump into our gas tanks is a major contributor to global warming. Every year we pave an additional one million hectares, or enough land to feed nine million people, with new roads and highways.

On a personal level, our health is suffering. We are the most overweight generation in history, and our children are dangerously close behind. An estimated 15 percent of Canadian children are considered obese and a staggering 33 to 37 percent of kids aged 2 to 11 are overweight. A key contributor to this obesity is our "drive everywhere" lifestyles. Riding bikes and walking has been replaced by Mom's taxi or Dad's limo service, while fast food increasingly replaces the family meal.

Enough. Thursday, September 20th is International Car Free Day, a once a year celebration to help us break our auto addiction, if only for 24 hours. For those who love a really big party, Car Free Day is celebrated by 100 million people in 1,500 cities around the world and is supported by the European Union, the United Nations and even the Government of Canada.

Car Free Day originated in 2000, and has been growing exponentially ever since. For those who think it isn't possible to park the car for the day, since 2000, Bogota, Columbia has literally closed the entire city of 7 million people to private automobiles. In 2003, Montreal closed its main street - Saint-Catherine - for 10 city blocks. The event led to a 40 percent reduction in auto emissions and 10 percent increase in transit ridership. Rather than find the day an inconvenience, 95 percent of Montrealers surveyed said, "Bring it on next year."

According to the official website, Car Free Day is about focusing on the problems associated with our dependence on the private automobile such as air pollution, global warming, stress, and safety issues. Car Free Day also emphasizes the rights of pedestrians and cyclists, the need for more and better public transit, and helps people rediscover their local community, outside the confines of their vehicle.

Want a better reason to park your car for the day? How about rising gas prices, expanding waistlines, gridlocked streets and trying to find a parking space. Give your car and the planet a break. On September 20th take public transit, car pool with a friend or co-worker or ride your bike. After work, slap on some comfortable shoes and take a stroll in the park with the dog, or a walk through the neighbourhood with your kids.

If you find you actually like this walking stuff, sign up for the upcoming World Record Walk. On Wednesday, October 3rd, at 12:30 EDT join in the province-wide challenge to break the Guinness World Record for the largest number of people walking one kilometer at the same time. Gentlemen, (ladies and children, too) start your sneakers.


To register for the World Record Walk to go www.worldrecordwalk.ca.

The World Record Walk is being organized by Green Communities Canada with support from the Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion

Car Free Day.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Global warming controversy take new picture when a writer say that temperature increase is actually a good thing as in the past sudden cool periods have killed twice as many people as warm spells. He accepted global warming issues is big but he said not our fault.

September 19, 2007 8:41 AM  

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