It’s Car Free Day!


Today is Montreal’s fifth annual edition of Car Free Day, known officially (and awkwardly) as “In town, without my car!” The east end of the downtown core, between McGill College on the west and St. Urbain on the east, de Maisonneuve on the north and René Lévesque on the south, will be closed from 9:30am to 3:30pm. (Ste. Catherine in front of Place des Arts will be closed all day.)

The car-free zone will be divided into three sections: the “Active and Public Transportation District,” featuring a sit-in “to take action in favour of streets for everybody”; a “Health and Transportation District,” with “cardio fun” and line dancing; and an “Environment District” providing information on green roofs and urban gardening. This being Montreal, there will also be a “car-free happy hour” from 5 à 7.

It’s easy to be cynical about the AMT’s official celebration of Car Free Day. Already late to the game in 2003, the car-free perimeter has actually shrunk over the past five years. The fact that it begins at the end of the morning rush hour and ends at the beginning of the afternoon rush hour is a reminder that, whatever politicians say about getting people to use alternative modes of transit, the private automobile still rules.

Meanwhile, Montreal’s year-round commitment to getting people out of their cars has been uneven. While new bike lanes and paths have been inaugurated and a handful of streets have had their sidewalks widened, the most important effort needed has been slow in coming: investment in public transportation.

Still, even if you’re inclined to view Car Free Day as token recognition of the need to reduce private vehicle use, you have to admit that it does have a big impact, even during the few hours that it takes place. In 2003, during its inaugural edition, the levels of nitric oxide and carbon monoxide within the car-free perimeter fell by 40% below normal.

So get out there and enjoy Car Free Day. Don’t forget that, along with the AMT-organized event along Ste. Catherine Street, McGill University’s downtown campus will also be closed to cars. Information booths and other special events will take place around the lower field just off Sherbrooke Street. Have fun.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Thursday September 20 2007at 01:09 am , filed under Canada, Society and Culture, Transportation and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

5 Responses to “It’s Car Free Day!”

  • Patrick Lagacé in La Presse has an interesting take on this: basically he says that a much more effective way to reduce car congnestion in cities is to make people pay.

    Sure, but I don’t think people really cost out how much driving a car costs them in time and money now. For a reason I won’t go into here, I spent part of Wednesday in the Montreal suburb of Beaconsfield, and was struck by just how the original development was anti-public transport. Given Car Free day was coming up I did the exercise of costing out various ways of getting from the Beaconsfield train station to downtown Montreal. Public transit would appear to be cheaper now. Check out my blog today for more details.


  • […] For these people, it’s odd to do something that doesn’t involve a car, to deliberately make the time to walk somewhere. This way of life has to become an oddity, though – the last generation of conspicuous gas consumption. At URBANPHOTO, Christopher de Wolf blogs about car-free day events. […]

  • Mary, I think Patrick does have a point in that altruism will motivate very few people. To get people out of their cars, you have to both give them incentives and make it a hassle for them to drive. But you can’t expect them to stop driving as much because it’s the right thing to do.

    Right now, there are some incentives to using public transport, like the lower cost, but they’re not nearly enough to dissuade people from paying the extra cost of driving a car.

  • I don’t disagree with you and Patrick about the importance of economic incentives (having lived with an economist for decades I’m well aware of their importance.) But we shouldn’t only think about the cost side, particularly when the costs aren’t readily apparent (aa in not factoring in how much it costs per km to drive a car.) The supply side should be considered do, and by that I mean good service and lower fares.


  • Noah says:

    Progress will not be about making the status quo (too many cars) more difficult, eg. downtown driving tariffs like in London, road closures, increased parking rates, road tolls, more expensive gas. Honestly, where does that money go anywhere? Into a dark government hole. And it just makes people frustrated.

    It’s about making the alternatives more convenient and cheaper: better public transportation (more geo coverage, more frequent, cleaner, faster), more and maintained safe bike lanes, drivers’ awareness of cyclists, available showers in office buildings, and CHEAPER BUSES/METRO ($2.75 is outrageous and still more expensive than gas), etc.

    Regardless, today, parking at my office building was just as difficult as ever. But if it gets one person to bike for the first time and realize it’s still quick and easy…