Alfonso Gomez, Municipal Councilor (Green Party) of the City of Geneva, Switzerland
With their proposition of one carless Sunday a month around the harbor, Geneva, Switzerland's Green Party (Les Verts) invites the population to re-appropriate the area surrounding the lake and take in some fresh air. In 1973, Switzerland called for three Sundays without cars in order to respond to the petrol crisis. This measure had a powerful and lasting effect on the population, who experienced those Sundays as moments of rediscovered liberty.
In 1974, a federal initiative was launched to create "12 Sundays without cars." Since then, local examples have sprung up one by one in cities like Basel, Zurich, Bern, and even Lausanne, bringing joy to the population.
In France, the City of Bordeaux declared the first Sunday of each month carless, and the population was able to get fresh air within a perimeter of almost 50 hectares! In Geneva, citizens are poisoned by fine particles, nitrogen oxide, and carbon. It is regularly recommended that children and older persons not leave their houses because pollution thresholds have been surpassed. More then 300,000 motorized vehicles drive regularly within the commune, despite the fact that 40% of city inhabitants do not drive.
Citizens also suffer from noise pollution. According to the Federal Office of the Environment, noise pollution affects one out of five people. Eighty-five percent of inhabitants affected by the traffic noise live in cities and agglomerations. The suppression of noise "black spots" has become a health necessity.
If carless Sundays around the harbor are appreciated and voted for by the population, it will be a question of extending this event to other areas of the city. In New York, the pedestrianization of Times Square (as seen above) and Herald Square were tested a year before becoming a permanent way to improve the quality of life for citizens, businesses, and artisans.
Free public transit, pedestrianization of urban centers, carpooling, technological innovations, decreased driving speeds; the measures defended by the Green Party are numerous. Carless Sundays are the opportunity to live out a unique experience around our magnificent harbor, and why not? We can develop a taste for a different kind of mobility that is synonymous not with suffering, but with quality of life. It could also be an opportunity to overcome ideological barriers and bring political representatives together around pedestrianization projects, because, as cities in Switzerland and elsewhere prove, these benefit the population.
Carless Sundays are the first step towards a more convivial, breathable, and livable city!
Nathalie Hardyn, Assistant Director of Geneva, Switzerland's Chamber of Commerce
The Green Party is dusting off the old idea of "Carless Sundays." Rather than giving citizens the desire to renounce their cars and motorcycles around the embankments, the Green Party wants to forbid traffic. In other words, it's a plan for making people happy by restricting their liberty of movement.
Before the former Day Without Cars died a beautiful death due to general disinterest in the early 2000s, the Grand Council debated the subject. The Greens highlighted the pedagogical value of forbidding traffic. "It is necessary that we have days like this in order to teach people, little by little, that the car is a tool meant to serve humans, and not the other way around," declared a socialist deputy. Others denounced the measure as "an attractive product that serves the ambitious purpose of cordoning off the town center and limiting free movement." According to the State Council, "The desired spirit of conviviality cannot exist or contribute to the success of the event if the methods put in place put people against each other. We cannot convey a noble message via an attack on liberty, or via a measure viewed as such."
The embankments are part of the primary transportation network whose function is to assure smooth movement between different sectors of the municipality.
To forbid traffic they would only move cars to inner neighborhoods like Eaux-vives, Pâquis, Lausanne Street up to Coulouvrenière, and even Plainpalais. On the days of events like slowUp, the Geneva Marathon, or any of the festivals of Geneva, it is impossible to say that the circulation of traffic is smooth in these neighborhoods. Don't their inhabitants have an equal right to quiet as those on the Gustave-Ador or Wilson embankments? If the Green Party had wanted to propose a measure to clear the embankments, not only 12 days a year, but 365, they would have supported the Lake Geneva Highway Crossing.
Beyond traffic circulation, this type of proposition is worrisome as, under the guise of being citizens' re-appropriation of public space, it demonstrates the ideology of the economic downturn by which the Green Party is inspired. Under the pretext of caring about citizens' quality of life, they want to construct barriers: driving bans, even tolls for entering the territory. With regards to the positive impact they claim this measure will have on tourism, I doubt that thousands of visitors will converge to eat their sausage and fries around the harbor when they are whipped by wind on autumn, winter, and even spring Sundays!
Are carless Sundays a good idea? Has your community tried something similar? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments area below.
Original article, originally published in French, here.
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.