The 22nd of September has become a day largely internationally recognised as World Car-Free Day. The first ‘car-free-days’ were held in Reykjavik, in Iceland, Bath in the United Kingdom and La Rochelle in France. However, the first national car free campaign was initiated and inaugurated by Britain in 1997, followed by France in 1998. It became a European-wide initiative by the European Commission in 2000. It has subsequently spread to 1500 cities in 40 countries. The aim of the day, according to the Washington Post, is to “promote [the] improvement of mass transit, cycling and walking, and the development of communities where jobs are closer to home and where shopping is within walking distance”. Though, realistically, in most cities, the day is intended to encourage walking, cycling, carpooling, and public transport usage as much as possible. This is also in order to provide a glimpse into what cities or towns might feel like without the environmental and noise pollution caused by cars, as well as temporarily reducing the demand for gasoline, therefore easing up on finite resource consumption.
South Africa in turn has endorsed October as Transport Month, and has two car free initiatives that have been established in the country’s two major cities: Cape Town and Johannesburg. Cape Town’s ‘Open Streets’ initiative is based on the same initiative of international origin. First started in the U.S., there are now 90 ‘Open Streets’ campaigns between the U.S. and Canada. The movement involves temporarily closing off specific streets in order to provide communities unrestricted access to the streets in order to use them for healthy physical outdoor activities such as biking, dancing, exercising and performing. The 2017 and 2018 initiatives respectively aim at being ‘bigger and better’ by closing more streets in pertinent areas where community engagement is encouraged. The ‘Open Streets’ initiative also takes place in Brussels, Madrid and Kigali.
Cape Town has consequently gained global recognition for its Green Agenda. It has been named as a “Top 5 Global Leader for climate disclosure” as the city has “accurately measured and disclosed its energy and climate action data on an annual basis” (Global Carbon Disclosure Project). In 2015, the City of Johannesburg embarked on an ambitious campaign: Eco-Mobility Month. Its aim was to explore sustainable methods of transport and simultaneously encourage the use of public transport in order to reduce the impact on city infrastructure and the environment, as well as to monitor the loss of production that is associated with traffic congestion. For the month of October in 2015, Sandton – South Africa’s second biggest central business district (CBD) was closed off to ‘private car traffic’. The Eco-Mobility Campaign has been viewed as being generally successful in ameliorating issues of traffic congestion, and temporarily reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Since the first trial run of Sandton’s Eco-Mobility Month, steps have been taken to ensure the sustainability of the core objectives of the initiative, including the introduction of the bus rapid transport system (BRT). Hopefully though, this is just the beginning for South Africa’s transportation eco-evolution.