"Park it. For a whole day or more."
That's the message that organizers of this year's Car Free Day are sending to Washington area residents leading up to the annual event that encourages less driving and fewer trips by private automobile.
This year the event will span three days -- Friday, September 20, through Sunday, September 22 -- unlike past years, in which the event took place on just one day. The change comes because September 22, the date on which Car Free Day is normally held, falls on a Sunday this year, and organizers want to give area residents the opportunity to participate on a weekday as well as the weekend.
Because of the change, this year's event is being called Car Free Days, and organizers are encouraging participants to park their cars and choose other modes of travel -- or to go "car-lite" by making fewer trips by car -- on one, two, or all three of the days of the event. For many participants, that will mean finding alternative ways to get to and from work and other weekday destinations as well as weekend destinations like museums, parks, and sporting events.
In a July proclamation designating September 20-22 as Car Free Days, the Transportation Planning Board cited numerous benefits of reduced driving and automobile use, including improved air quality, reduced traffic congestion and parking demands, and the conservation of energy resources. Events like Car Free Days raise awareness of the availability of cleaner and more efficient transportation modes, and that traveling by car is by no means the only option for getting around.
Car Free Day has been celebrated in other parts of the world longer than it has been in the Washington region. The event got its start in Europe in the mid-1990s, and went global in 2000 as a way to celebrate sustainable mobility options during International Mobility Week.
In 2008, the event made its debut in the Washington region, led by Commuter Connections, a program of the TPB that promotes alternative transportation modes like ridesharing, transit, bicycling, walking, and teleworking. Commuter Connections also helps organize the annual Bike to Work Day event each spring.
More than 1,500 cities around the world will celebrate Car Free Day this year. To promote other travel modes, many cities will reserve main roads or other areas normally used by cars for use by pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transit vehicles.
That idea hasn't yet caught on in the Washington region, though a few small-scale road closures and a number of other local events will accompany the main regional campaign. Numerous sponsors, including local transit agencies and private companies offering alternative transportation services, as well several local media partners, will also help spread the word about this year's event.
In 2011, more than 11,800 people in the Washington region pledged to participate in Car Free Day. That number was down to 7,000 pledges in 2012, when Car Free Day fell on a Saturday. This year, organizers are hoping to receive at least 10,000 pledges, including ones from local elected officials and other leaders throughout the region. And participation in Car Free Days isn't limited just to people who normally drive. Those who already use alternative modes of transportation on a regular basis can also make the pledge.
Those who wish to participate in this year's Car Free Days celebration or to learn more about the event can visit www.CarFreeMetroDC.org, or follow "Car Free Day Metro DC" on Facebook or Twitter. Those who pledge to go car free will be entered to win one of many prizes, including an Apple iPad, a Capital Bikeshare membership, SmartTrip cards loaded with $20 in Metro fare, and more.