Chicago part of global car-less celebration

By Meghan Keyes

Residents of a metropolis like Chicago can see a wide variety of traffic—cars, trucks, bicycles, pedestrians, Segways, horse-drawn carriages and trolleys—all clogging the streets in the everyday stop-and-go. However, a growing movement aims to lessen the congestion and encourage alternative travel.

Chicago took part in World Carfree Day on Sept. 22, a celebration and initiative to leave the car at home and use alternative modes of transportation for one day. The event took place in cities worldwide, with 1,400 cities in Europe alone, according to the World Carfree Network.

“The aim is to celebrate human-powered transportation and livable, vibrant public spaces,” said Elly Blue, the North American spokeswoman for the World Carfree Network. “It’s to bring attention to the social and environmental impacts of our reliance on the automobile and to work for constructive changes.”

The World Carfree Network is an organization for car-free living. It does not sponsor the car-free day, but works to link up other groups and cities around the world to find resources and spread the word. In Europe, the event is called European Mobility Week, celebrated the week of Sept. 22 and organized by the European Union. Places as far away as India, Indonesia, South Africa and Brazil participated this year.

“I think the car-free day is being celebrated more, with more cars off the road in countries like Mexico, Brazil and then Europe,” Blue said. “In the United States, I think [the] day is being celebrated in fewer cities … but there are year-round events that are becoming very popular. The energy is being put into multiple events that happen multiple times

a year.”

The Active Transportation Alliance partnered with the Chicago Transit Authority, Regional Transit Authority, Pace, Metra and local communities for the Chicago event. There were 1,370 people who pledged to go car-free. Participation required signing up on Those registered received special offers and discounts with the event’s sponsors. Last year there were approximately 1,200 people, according tothe alliance.

“Try giving the car a rest,” said Ethan Spotts, director of marketing at the alliance. “Currently, 40 percent of all trips made are under two miles. Those are great trips you can make by biking, walking and [public] transit.”

Sponsors of the event included Argo Tea,, Chicago Water Taxi, I-GO Car Sharing, ING Direct Cafe, Sports Authority and State Street Pizza Company.

For participants, I-GO offered a discount on membership fees. The system works on an hourly rate, and if you become a member, you get a certain amount of hours free.

“What I guess car sharing is all about is reducing car ownership, reducing congestion and improving the environment, so it fits perfectly with our mission,” said Sharon Feigon, CEO of I-GO. “I-GO is transit-oriented car sharing, we’re nonprofit, and we’re focused on that … that’s why we exist.”

Chicagoans may be getting the message. For the month of August, average weekday ridership increased by 17,348 riders, according to the CTA.

“Our name has been out there with car-free day, so I’m sure it’s raised awareness for I-GO,” Feigon said. “One thing we do know is I-GO does reduce car ownership … more than half our members either sell a car or postpone a decision to buy a car as a result of I-GO.”

Feigon said the members are surveyed when they purchase a membership, and every year thereafter, to gather information about their car usage.

Spotts said people shouldn’t just ditch the car one day a year. He also said you should take steps and plan ahead, not start with a five-mile bike commute.

The car-free movement is not about negativity toward cars or people who drive cars, Blue added.

“I really have trouble seeing it as anything but positive,” Blue said. “You don’t have to be against people who drive cars … to imagine being able to walk to work or imagine your kids being able to play in the street in front of your house.”