Carpool to the game. Ride Metro to a museum. Bike or walk to the grocery store. Combine errands. These are just a few of the ways that organizers of the Washington area's 2012 Car Free Day -- scheduled for Saturday, September 22 -- say people can reduce or eliminate their use of private automobiles in celebration of the diversity of transportation modes available in the region.
It's the first time since Car Free Day started being observed throughout metropolitan Washington in 2008 that the event falls on a Saturday. Ordinarily, when Car Free Day falls on a weekday, most of those who pledge to go car-free or "car-lite" are faced with finding alternative ways to get to and from work.
This year, however, many Car Free Day participants will be focusing on finding alternatives like transit, bicycling, walking, and carpooling to get to and from all the places other than work that people travel.
Car Free Day got its start in Europe in the mid-1990s and went global in 2000 as an effort to encourage people to give up the use of private automobiles for one day during International Mobility Week, a celebration of sustainable mobility options.
Many of the more than 1,500 cities worldwide that celebrate Car Free Day do so by setting aside an area, often a main road ordinarily used by cars, solely for use by pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transit vehicles.
That idea hasn't yet caught on in the Washington region, but a few small-scale road closures and a number of other local events will accompany the main regional campaign this year. Organizers at Commuter Connections -- a program of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the Transportation Planning Board that promotes transportation alternatives -- are working with jurisdictions throughout the region to start promoting Car Free Day through larger-scale road closures in the future.
The event will also be supported and promoted by numerous sponsors, including local transit agencies and private companies offering alternative transportation services, and by several media partners.
In 2011, more than 11,800 people in the Washington region pledged to park their cars and take transit, bike, walk, or carpool to work and other destinations, exceeding a goal of 10,000 pledges. This year, organizers are hoping to surpass 10,000 pledges once again, and to receive pledges from the elected officials who sit on the TPB.
In a proclamation designating Saturday, September 22, as the 2012 Car Free Day in metropolitan Washington, the TPB cited the benefits to the region of reducing the use of private automobiles, including improved air quality, reduced traffic congestion and parking demands, and the conservation of limited energy resources. Organizers say that Car Free Day raises awareness of the availability of different transportation modes and promotes a region in which traveling by car isn't the only option available for getting around, particularly with the recent escalation in gasoline prices.
Those who wish to pledge to go car-free or "car-lite" during this year's Car Free Day celebration or to learn more about the event can visit www.carfreemetrodc.org or follow "Car Free Day Metro DC" on Facebook or Twitter. To find others who may be interested in sharing the ride to a special event, drivers can visit www.commuterconnections.org to set up a free account and request a special event ridematch. Residents who already use alternative modes of transportation like bicycles, transit, walking, and carpooling are invited to make a pledge to go car free or "car-lite" on September 22.