Environmentalists announce 10th car-free day in Czech Republic


If you live in a big city, you will know this sound all too well. With four bridges and many roads closed to car traffic and the metro only partly functioning, Prague now has to cope with a much tougher traffic situation than any time before. Several non-governmental and other organisations got together and for the 10th time in Czech history announced a car-free day, calling on people to leave their car at home on Friday and use public transport instead.

Petr Stepanek from the civic association Oziveni explains that this year's car-free day has a different backdrop than the previous ones.

"Since the subway got knocked out during the floods, the city had to completely change its priorities in public transportation and car use and closed the city centre. And suddenly people saw that the city centre closed to cars is a much more pleasant city centre for people."

After the floods, Prague authorities introduced measures for public transport to move faster around Prague. Special bus lanes were drawn on the streets and traffic police are making sure that buses and trams carrying dozens of people always get priority over private cars - carrying on average only 1.4 persons. Does Petr Stepanek expect the car-free day will help persuade the authorities to keep these provisions in force even after everything returns to normal?

"The situation itself should. The car-free day is more of a symbolic event and it's really sad that Prague townhall does not participate in it although it has an ideal situation now."

Ivana Jakubkova is from the non-profit organisation Carbusters, who also supports the Czech car-free day.

"We actually promote fifteen days of car-free events and it's more grassroots-oriented actions all over the globe. So far we've got actions on four continents, it's the United States, Canada, Philippines, Australia, Spain, etc. We coordinate a network of organisations which decided to do something about this vehicle which is basically a lethal weapon that kills a million people every year on roads all over the globe."

In previous years, car-free days didn't seem to have much success among the Czech public. However, Petr Stepanek is optimistic.

"It's been better and more successful every year with more groups participating and more citizens leaving their car at home. As for Prague, I can see a future in the next few years when the townhall will take an active part in it and we may see Prague with car traffic at a halt for one day."