The car-free day has come a long way since its beginnings in 1956, when Dutch and Belgians abandoned their cars every Sunday to curb the effects of the Suez Crisis.
On the 22nd of September, skyrocketing oil prices weren’t the reason why 2,500 cities worldwide participated in the “car-free day” initiative – it was the alarmingly high levels of NO2 and CO2 in the atmosphere.
More than 2 million Londoners – including 400,000 children – live in areas with illegal amounts of NO2 in the air. And urban pollution is responsible for reducing life expectancy globally. According to the World Health Organization, ambient air pollution alone caused some 4.2 million deaths in 2016. In Europe, urban pollution shaves an average of 1.6 years off a person’s life in France, 1.9 years in Italy and an alarming 2.4 years in Germany.
Local authorities are attempting to address these troubling death rates by encouraging people to leave their cars at home. Vehicles are a significant source of pollution, and transport is the fastest-growing source of fossil-fuel CO2 emissions, the largest contributor to climate change. The results of going car free for one day are clear: the first “journée sans voiture” (day without a car), which took place in Paris in 2015, reduced exhaust emissions by 40%. Last year in London, diverting traffic away from the marathon route caused local air pollution levels to drop by as much as 89%.
What is the World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact summit?
It’s an annual meeting featuring top examples of public-private cooperation and Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies being used to develop the sustainable development agenda.
It runs alongside the United Nations General Assembly, which this year features a one-day climate summit. This is timely given rising public fears – and citizen action – over weather conditions, pollution, ocean health and dwindling wildlife. It also reflects the understanding of the growing business case for action.
The UN’s Strategic Development Goals and the Paris Agreement provide the architecture for resolving many of these challenges. But to achieve this, we need to change the patterns of production, operation and consumption.
The World Economic Forum’s work is key, with the summit offering the opportunity to debate, discuss and engage on these issues at a global policy level.
What about the other 364 days of the year?
Although car-free days raise awareness about car pollution, cities and their citizens need to consider emissions from general transportation services the remaining 364 days of the year. The good news is there are several solutions to mitigate the impact of car emissions on climate change.
The most obvious solution is improving traffic flow to reduce congestion. Based on real-time data from cars’ sensors, transport departments around the world can measure and forecast the effects of changing weather, construction work plans and infrastructure health on road conditions in order to improve mobility and safety.
Increasing the number of electric cars on the roads will also help lower pollution levels. Cities need to ensure the proper infrastructure is in place to make EV charging stations accessible and strategically located. For example, at HERE Technologies, we map where EV charging stations should be positioned based on the concentration of electric vehicles already on the roads.
Public transport systems can be run more efficiently to provide a viable, reliable alternative to the car in urban areas. By combining and analyzing mobility data, including traffic, public transit, taxis, ride-sharing and micro-mobility offerings, cities can plan and coordinate different modes of transportation on a given route to reduce waiting times for passengers. Transportation planning managers can also create simulations of the impact of future roadworks and recommend the best alternative routes for drivers to maintain a smooth traffic flow.
Cities can also revive their centers by making more efficient use of parking spaces. In major cities – New York, Paris, Vienna, Boston and Hong Kong – parking spaces take up anywhere from 15 to 30% of urban areas. In Los Angeles, that number is even higher: parking spaces and roadways account for 50% of urban land use. Prudent analysis of traffic data can help predict where and when parking spots will be available, reducing the driving time associated with searching for parking and the pollution associated with it.
With these solutions and technologies in mind, vehicles can play an integral part in a clean, efficient mobility ecosystem every day of the year.