Car Free Sunday. It happened twice in Hamburg this summer, once in June and again in September. It’s not an unusual thing, to close off a large segment of a major street to automobile traffic and open it up for pedestrians, cyclists, skaters and such. The NYC Department of Transportation has Car Free Summer, successive Saturday closings of Park Ave from the Brooklyn Bridge to 72nd Street and then into Central Park via 72nd. One of the things I found interesting about Car Free Sunday in Hamburg was that it was sponsored by the local transit system, the Hamburger Verkehrsverbund (HVV.) With their active participation people weren’t just out on the street for the sake of finally having some open space. There were some examples of the six new hydrogen-fueled buses in the fleet, as well as explanations of how this technology works. The organization even has special programs for kids, where the HVV goes into schools to help educate youngsters about mass transit and what it means for the environment. Alongside the HVV were several bike buses, like you might see in this photo but sans the beer. I saw one of those in Minneapolis once. Speaking of bikes and beer, this Pittsburgh ride is genius. Turns out Pittsburgh has a car free campaign. And car-free celebrations certainly aren’t limited to the U.S. Mexico City boasts Car-Free Sundays, as this L.A. Times article explains. The Colombian capital Santa Fe de Bogota held its first one in 2000 and here’s how and why you should think about getting one in your home town.
Hamburg’s Car Free Sunday also featured an area to test drive a hydrogen fuel-cell automobile, as well as a Segway obstacle course. Three stages set up along the Car Free route provided musical entertainment in many different genres. There was one vendor with a stationary bicycle generator you could ride to see just how little energy it takes to power compact fluorescent light bulbs versus regular incandescent bulbs, with a display set up inside that ran through a bunch of tips for saving energy in your personal life, from transportation choices to household appliances. Sadly the transportation choice they gave was to upgrade the gas-powered automobile to a hydrogen cell car, instead of making the effort to take transit, walk or ride a bike. Further on down there was a gigantic chess board with life-sized pieces set up on the street plus more children’s activities like chalk and some jumbo building blocks.
I liked the emphasis on transportation choices as a theme of Car Free Sundays. More often than not the transportation choices we make effect how active we are in our everyday life. The more often we choose transit, walking or cycling as our means of getting around the more active we are and the less we have to try and fit that half hour at the gym, which many of us can’t financially afford anyway, into our schedule. While I think the free exercise classes at the NYC DOT Car Free Summer are great programming, I think having the presence of the MTA would be a good thing to see. Just an idea for next year, I guess. It would at least give New Yorkers some good face time with MTA officials, which is seriously lacking. It’s kind of similar to the disconnect between a neighborhood and all the police officers who are supposed to serve and protect while sitting in their cars, unless you’re this neighborhood.