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In many parts of Europe, including the UK, you could be forgiven for failing to notice the European Commission’s much vaunted car-free day on 22 September, as it was widely ignored by local authorities and green non-governmental organisations. However, EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom declared the campaign a success and said that 65 million people in 813 cities across the world heeded the call to walk, ride or use public transport to cities and towns, the BBC reported.

In Britain, only 10 out of 175 eligible local authorities joined in the EC-sponsored initiative, which was part of a campaign to reduce congestion and promote cleaner air. Only a handful of roads were reportedly closed to traffic and a survey conducted by the Automobile Association (AA) among UK motorists showed that more than half of those interviewed “would not change their travel plans to support a car-free day”. The AA also said that traffic levels in the UK were unchanged on the day. One reason put forward for the UK’s failure to embrace the campaign was that local authorities were put off taking part by the complex bureaucratic processes needed to close British roads.

The campaign was reportedly completely ignored in Madrid and Stockholm, where the vice-mayor, Sten Nordin, questioned the value of the campaign. “The environment won’t be improved by one car-free day, but from better public transportation and beltways,” he reportedly said.

However, there were successful campaigns in other cities, such as Brussels, Tel Aviv and Athens, where city centres were closed to cars. Darren Johnson, leader of the Green Party in the Greater London Authority, declared a high-profile demonstration by cyclists in Trafalgar Square a success, and said that he would try to get the UK government involved next year. “We have shown Londoners what the roads could look like with more bicycles,” he said.

The campaign was also taken up in Bangkok, where Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai led the country’s first car-free day by cycling to work. “I’m confident that if many countries co-operate to save energy it could put pressure on Opec,” he reportedly said. Unfortunately the city’s infamous traffic jams built up even more than usual, as police sealed off the routes on which the prime minister rode his bicycle.

New York, San Francisco and Bogota have promised to take part in the campaign in 2001.

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