What is a Car Free Day?

‘Car Free Days,’ in some places called Open Streets Days or Streets For All are regular initiatives or engagements where cities restrict access of motorized traffic on selected streets for a certain period of time.

This was first done in Bogota in 1974 where it is known as Ciclovia. Today, over 120Km of streets are sealed off from vehicles once a week. The movement has extended to over 400 cities worldwide.

During this time, the streets are open for people to engage in other activities like walking, cycling, skating, sporting activities, cultural engagements, promotion of charitable activities and a degree of controlled trade.

Why a Car Free Day?

The car-free movement aims to change government policy and individual habits so that cities evolve to primarily accommodate people, not cars. They are also used to communicate certain critical messages for growing Urban Areas.
These include:

  • Healthy living and Environmental Benefits– Improved air quality with fewer vehicles, healthier lives by encouraging walking and cycling.
  • Public Space and Social Benefit – access to streets as public spaces to people in a safe and welcoming environment.
  • Alternative Mobility – promoting the use of non motorized transport in the city.
  • Financial Benefits – as increased business for shop owners along the street (due to increased footfall) and reduced costs due to alternative transport usage.

Organizers of car free days believe that streets should enable safer and more cohesive communities; provide platforms for creative expression of local cultures and values; be places for recreation and social interaction; contribute to job creation and local economic activity; provide choice in how we move around the city.

Where else have these been done?

In Africa, Car Free Days are organized in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Kampala, Kigali, Addis Ababa. Plans are underway to do the same in Accra, Luanda, Kitwe (Zambia), Durban and Cairo.

Organisers of these recently formed the African Open Streets Network to share ideas and experiences.

Nairobi has in the past organized ‘Placemaking Weeks’ that have been drawn along similar lines of car free days. These have been successfully done along Muindi Mbingu Street (2016), Banda Street (2017) and Luthuli Avenue (2018).

The long term goals of these initiatives aim at increasing and encouraging urban planning that drives for better mobility alternatives with focus on non motorized transit.


Images: Placemaking Week; Data Sources: Open Streets Cape Town, Codatu, thinksmall.org, Streets4All

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