Car(bon) Free Daze – Car Free Day Write Up by Henry
I will never forget when I walked over the river Thames in April 2019. The air was crisp, the sun was shining, and the bridge was full of life. There were parents, grandparents, children and their dogs having picnics. People were skateboarding, singing and dancing to music. There were potted trees, flowers, art workshops, and even a park pavilion.
All of this, happening on a bridge over the Thames. It was a sight to behold, and there wasn’t a car in sight. Just space, vitality and clean air.
I wasn’t dreaming of London’s failed garden bridge calamity. If you haven’t guessed already, I was of course walking over Extinction Rebellion’s (XR) garden bridge. Whether you agree with XR’s actions or not, I think most Londoners would agree that it was better than being stuck in traffic on Waterloo bridge, inhaling exhaust fumes and negotiating with busses and taxis.
I was beaming. But a car-free future felt impossible, then. It was just a tease. It would never happen, I thought. Not least for a few decades. But I didn’t work for Pedal Me, then. And I hadn’t experienced Car Free Day.
Car Free Day
We don’t normally work Sundays at Pedal Me, but when I was asked to work on the 22nd of September for London Car Free Day, I was excited. I admit, I was getting paid overtime (always a bonus), but I was also keen to re-enact that garden bridge spirit, and see what the rest of London could be like car–free.
The brief was to offer rides to anyone in need around the site. It was free – who could say no to that?!
People were sceptical at first.
It turned out, really sceptical. Two wheels. Two people. That thing?! But the more passengers we carried, the more obvious it seemed to everybody else. We carried blind people; people with wheelchairs; old people; young people and everything in between.
By 15:00 we were non-stop POB (Pedal Me radio lingo for ‘passenger-on-board’). Our app was completely fried by the number of bookings coming in through it, and we had to revert to being waved down in the street.
We were completely overwhelmed – of course. Riding on a Pedal Me is fun! I always think it gives passengers that feeling they get when they’re on a boat. They wave at people, and people wave back – and of course it’s fast and safe feeling too with our highly trained riders.
But It helped that there were no cars. It very quickly became apparent to everyone that the city was much safer. They were much happier to ride on something they hadn’t seen before without those two-tonne bullets hurtling about.
Navigating the streets was much less stressful and way more enjoyable
I think it’s a familiarity thing. Cars bring a danger and an urgency to the city and we associate that with cycling and walking. In my experience, one can get over that quite quickly. It’s just much more enjoyable to cycle (especially) without cars.
Years ago, I convinced some friends to come on a cycle ride along the car-less Bristol-to-Bath cycle path. At the time, they swore they’d never commute by bike for fear of cars, but now they swear by bikes.
I wonder, of the many people that we gave rides to, how many have thought again about getting a bike and riding it to work or to school. Maybe going car-free for a day could be like the gateway drug to becoming bikeys.
It is just so much less stressful without cars:
For starters, there is so much space. I read that car parks, roads, roundabouts and dual carriageways can take up 30–50% of city space.
Without cars, you are negotiating that plentiful space with other people face-to-face – it just feels more human.
To top it off, you’re not breathing in a load of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide-riddled air, which is proven to increase stress levels – you feel happier and healthier.
Oh, Car Free Day. All that space, vitality and clean air.
Serenading London by bike was amazing. But it could only happen on a carless street.
Car Free Day itself was a delight. The organisers had taken a few leaves from XR’s book with potted trees, flowers, art workshops and park pavilions. And it expanded right across the City, including Tower Bridge. The atmosphere was electric(ly assisted – sorry, I couldn’t help it).
Yet, despite all Car Free Day’s strengths, the best bit for me (by far) was serenading London with music. We cycled a full-blown brass band around the City on our bikes: Trombone, tuba, trumpet, and all. By that point, I definitely wasn’t the only one beaming from ear to ear. Jaws hit the floor and everyone loved it.
We cycle people around every day – it’s great, and they love it. But only Car Free Day would see a performing band zig zag down a street in shifting formation.
By 2050, over two thirds of the world’s population will live in cities. We will need way more space to have any vitality or clean air. Why not take a step towards creating the car free future? Do it now, use Pedal Me instead.
Written by Henry Crabb, Rider extraordinaire.