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World Car-Free Day: A Missed Opportunity for Manchester City Council

Words by Harrie Larrington-Spencer.

Sunday 22 September was Car-Free Day, a global event closing cities to cars and opening them up to the people. The aim is to help urban residents experience and envisage what their cities could be like with fewer private vehicles on the road.

London, following suit of cities around the world including Paris, Brussels and Jakarta, held their second car-free day. Central London went car-free with 27 kilometres of roads closed and more than 340 play streets organised across the capital. People took to the streets and the city was thriving. As was Twitter, with pictures of yoga on tower bridge, a reenactment of the 1381 peasants’ revolt, and pop-up parks aplenty.

In Manchester, there was fantastic work from individual groups organising play streets in Levenshulme and Chorlton.

However, Manchester City Council’s attempts to contribute to the day, when compared to the efforts in London, cannot even be described as halfhearted. They consisted of a lone tweet the day before, which indicated the possibility for residents to organise road closures. This was too late for Car-Free Day itself.

A lot could be read into the timing of their tweet and the inertia of the council. But what matters right now is what a shame. A shame considering the obvious enjoyment of the day in London and a shame considering this is a(nother) missed opportunity by Manchester City Council to show their commitment to the Climate Emergency they have declared, as well as to provide living examples to the people of Manchester of how their city can be greener, cleaner and people-centric.

What we clearly need – given the scale of carbon reductions required and the illegal air quality levels – is for the council to proactively take the lead on road closures. The emphasis on small-scale, resident-led closures a few times a year is not enough. We want to hear the council’s plan for making the city centre a low carbon transport zone, with permanent and holistic road restrictions to disincentivise car use.

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