Car-free cities day cuts air pollution levels

Senior EU figures endorse event involving French, Italian, towns with 24m citizens

French air quality monitors yesterday declared the results of the yesterday's second national "car-free cities" day as "satisfying" after municipalities representing a total of eight million citizens restricted access to city centres to clean-fuel cars and public transport only. Early figures showed that in central Paris levels of carbon monoxide (CO) fell by 30% while those of nitrogen oxides dropped by 15%.

Building on earlier initiatives by a few cities (ENDS Daily 10 September 1997), French environment minister Dominique Voynet launched the idea of a national car-free day last year and promised to push for its expansion across Europe (ENDS Daily 10 September 1998).

Last year, 35 French towns participated, and experienced reductions in CO and noise levels of up to 50%. Yesterday, the centres of 66 towns were closed off to all but public transport vehicles and those running on electricity or alternative fuels such as liquefied petroleum gas.

The event also became more international: 92 Italian towns comprising 14 million people joined the scheme and observers from the UK, Spain and Greece studied details of the operation with a view to taking part next year. Two Spanish car-free experiments carried out earlier this year reported mixed results (ENDS Daily 30 April).

Senior EU political figures also provided unexpected public support for the initiative. Yesterday, European Commission president Romano Prodi cycled into the centre of Brussels along with EU environment commissioner Margot Wallström and Belgium's deputy prime minister Isabelle Durant. The new transport commissioner Loyola de Palacio was not present.

Meanwhile, a French environment ministry opinion poll carried out yesterday showed strong public support but some divergent opinions. Just over four-fifths of respondents said the idea was a good one, but nearly half felt it was "not effective". One-fifth of respondents in participating towns claimed to have renounced their car for their daily commute to work, and 44% felt the car-free day should be a weekly event.

Follow Up:
French environment ministry, tel: +33 1 42 19 20 21.

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