Cities that breathe free

Lisa Rochon of the Globe & Mail looks forward to Toronto’s first car-free day.

In Copenhagen, 80 per cent of the movement through the city centre is foot
traffic. It took 40 years of systematic removal of vehicular lanes and car
parking to get to this point. During that time, 100,000 square metres once
dominated by traffic have been turned over to 100,000 square metres of
public squares and promenades dedicated to pedestrians.

On Sundays in Tokyo, some of the major shopping districts are closed to
automobile traffic. They’re known as “pedestrian paradises.” Heaps of
bicycles are left unlocked along the sidewalks of major intersections.

These cities are nurturing the mobility culture — people who want to move
with ease through the city. They expect public transportation to be fast,
efficient and elegant. They want to ride their bicycles to work without
fear of amputation by a passing car — they want to walk because it’s part
of a daily pleasure. In 1996, the Copenhagen Declaration was presented at
the Car-Free Cities annual general meeting. Mobility was defined as “an
expression of freedom and an integral part of modern society. Mobility is
part of our culture.”

What kind of city do you belong to — one designed for mobility? Or do you
have a sense of paralysis, like you’ve been spending too many years
sitting in traffic?

Ten million Canadians drive to work alone each workday. But, in this
country, there is a mobility city where people walk and bike to their
downtown destinations about as much as they drive. There are generous bike
lanes and greenways for pedestrians to travel through much of the city.
There are traffic signals that privilege the wish of the pedestrian or the
biker to cross immediately. This is the mobility city called Vancouver.
Since 1994, walking and biking into the downtown — largely because of the
increase of condominiums in the core — has dramatically risen to
represent nearly one-third of all traffic…

There comes a point when the invasion
of cars is so great — on our streets, in our front yards, in parking
lots — that it triggers a collective “Enough already.” Car owners are not
a legally protected class of people. Why should their rights be privileged
over others? Even Americans are starting to reconsider their marriage to
the vehicle.