Columnist Robert McCartney Embraces Car Free Day

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By Robert McCartney
Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tuesday was World Car Free Day, so I left the Camry at home. I decided to see how it was to cover the event and go about my other business using only public transit and my legs. I concluded the following:

-- Hardly anybody else knew it was World Car Free Day.

-- Nobody really thinks it's possible to go entirely car-free.

-- Most of us should try instead to go "car lite."

-- Going car-free was a hassle but saved me a few bucks and helped my fitness.

This is the third year that Car Free Day has been celebrated in the Washington region. With our traffic -- not to mention global warming -- you'd think it'd be a bigger deal. Instead, it mostly provides an opportunity for earnest, well-meaning representatives of local government transportation departments and bicycle groups to set up booths and tables in various spots to hand out bus schedules, bike trail maps, buttons and other paraphernalia promoting reduced automobile use.

Waiting at the bus stop on Massachusetts Avenue in Bethesda just before 8:30 a.m., I glimpsed the scale of the challenge. One of the organizers' top goals is to cut the number of single-driver cars, or cars trips in which just one person is transported. It wasn't working. On the inbound commute in the seven minutes that I waited, I counted only 22 cars with more than one person aboard, compared with 171 that had just a driver.

That's pretty typical. About 70 percent of the Washington area's 2.6 million daily commuters drive alone to work, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, whose Commuter Connections office helped organize Car Free Day. It would help a lot if people reduced their single-driver commutes by just once or twice a week through carpooling, bicycling, using mass transit or working from home.


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