D.C. Commuters Go Car Free
Street Celebration attendees try out Segways. Photo by Patricio Chile.

Street Celebration attendees try out Segways. Photo by Patricio Chile.

How did Metro area residents celebrate the first day of fall? By ditching their cars, of course! D.C.’s third annual Car Free Day was held Tuesday with over 6,000 area commuters pledging to abandon their automobiles for alternative transportation.

Car Free Day is an international event held every Sept. 22 in which people are encouraged to get around by walking, pedaling, riding mass transit – virtually anything except driving a car. About 1,000 residents participated in D.C.’s first celebration of the day in 2007, with almost 5,500 pledging to be car free in 2008, according to the event’s website.

The event comes at an interesting time for D.C. transport. TheCityFix reported last month on plans to add bus-only lanes along K Street (see Washington Post article here).  Also, Bikestation, a bicycle parking facility at Union Station, opened for membership earlier this week.

Event organizers and participants at the Car Free Street Celebration on 7th and F Street were positive about such recent improvements in sustainable transport.

Catharine Pear, marketing director for Bike and Roll Washington DC, praised the District as a “bike friendly” city, noting the introduction in 2008 of a DC Council bill requiring motorists to give bike riders 3 feet of space.

Photo by Patricio Chile.

Photo by Patricio Chile.

Other speakers and demonstrators commended the environmental and functional benefits of wind energy, Zipcars, Segways and D.C.’s Circulator Bus.

However, street celebration participants also stressed the need for public outreach and education.

“Sometimes [commuters] don’t know how to get involved,” said Shawn Moriaty, a co-founder of BreaktheJam.org. The Web site, which hosted a tent at the outdoor celebration, offers information on accessing van pools, Metro and other modes of public transportation in areas outside the city.

DDOT Transportation Planner Jim Sebastian said the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments is working to promote public transportation and biking in nearby Maryland and Virginia. Most residents in these areas live within two miles of public transportation, he pointed out.

“That gives you a lot of options,” he said.

Local media including the Washington Post and WJLA have also reported on personal safety concerns for mass transit commuters. TheCityFix previously discussed the “creep factor” involved in carpooling with strangers.

Sebastian noted the Council of Governments’ Commuter Connections, a service that provides a free ride home for registered metro area commuters in the event of an emergency.

Sculptor Howard Connelly (right) demonstrates his "bicycle carousel." Photo by Patricio Chile.

Sculptor Howard Connelly (right) demonstrates his "bicycle carousel." Photo by Patricio Chile.

The program also provides a ridesharing service. Since the database of participants in this service is verified by a government body, some commuters may find it a safer alternative to carpool networking services such as Avego and Zoompool.

Regardless of the details yet to be hammered out, Car Free Day seemed to signal a sense of public enthusiasm for sustainable transportation. Thus, the question may not be “if” further progress will be made but “how soon”.

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  • david

    The real effort will be to get people to make non-commute trips by transit or using their own power. Work trips are habitual, regularly occurring along a known route. Getting people to take other modes for work reduces congestion but does not reduce energy consumption or green house gas emissions.

    Shopping and recreation trips take place at all sort of hours, on weekends and often involve unfamiliar routes. I would like to see more focus — public events — celebrating changes in these trips.