Car-free days first gained popularity with Ciclovía in Bogotá, Colombia, in the 1970s. This is when the city’s streets started to close to motorised traffic on Sundays and public holidays. On average, 1.5 million people (over 10% of the city’s population) step outside to enjoy these spaces every week.
Ciclovía created a “new normal” in Bogotá with many benefits. Similarly, we are looking to make Open Streets Days a regular occurrence in parts of Cape Town. Here’s why.
1. Safer streets for everyone
Ciclovía has the primary goal of providing recreation, but it also serves as a form of transport. In fact, on Sundays many people use the network to travel to work. This led to the provision of permanent cycle lanes in the 1990s. If Capetonians experience car-free streets more often, they may in turn come to support more equitable transport infrastructure.
2. Integrated streets
Streets are technically large areas of public space. Reimagining them as places for people to meet, interact and play shows how a city can be more socially integrated. Like Bogotá, Cape Town is a city known for wealth disparity and social exclusion. Like Bogotá, it needs active interventions to bring its people together. Open Streets Days prove to do just that. They challenge our reality by suspending it for a few hours. This gives us an opportunity to imagine a different type of SA city, one where people from all economic and social groups come together in shared space.
3. A healthier environment
Open Streets Days are a microcosm for a more environmentally aware city in that they encourage Capetonians to use public and non-motorised transport. Car use accounts for over 85% of Cape Town’s transport carbon emissions. If car-free days were a more regular occurrence, we could lower our yearly carbon emissions significantly.
4. Healthier people
The heath benefits of a car-free day are clear – people use streets to walk, cycle, skate and so on. They become free outdoor gyms. But any healthcare professional will tell you that regular exercise is key to a healthier body. Regular car-free days could become an integral part of an individual’s personal exercise routine.
5. Job creation and local economic activity
Open Streets Days have proved to bring people from all over the city together, often in places where they wouldn’t have visited otherwise. This can be a boon for businesses in the area where a car-free day is taking place. If such a day were to occur regular in a certain area, it could lead to a long-term boost in its economic activity. This could result in a more self-sufficient community with more job opportunities.
We’ve based the points above on our own experience in Cape Town, but they apply to cities everywhere.