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The BBC's Katya Adler
"In Rome the situation was chaotic"
 real 56k

Friday, 22 September, 2000, 17:41 GMT 18:41 UK
Europeans leave cars at home
Traffic police directs traffic in Paris, France
Motorists were forced to clear the streets of Paris
Europe gave a lukewarm response to an appeal to drivers to leave their cars at home on Friday and to find a more environmentally friendly way of going to work.

The car-free day initiative was sponsored by the European Commission as part of a campaign to reduce congestion and promote cleaner air.


The environment won't be improved by one car free day, but from better public transportation and beltways

Stockholm's vice-mayor
Motoring organisations across Europe dismissed the event as a gimmick, coming after a massive campaign across the continent to get a reduction in high diesel and petrol prices.

The green lobby used the day to stress that there is a link between cheaper fuel, traffic congestion and pollution.

'Campaign was successful'

In Brussels, EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstroem declared the campaign a success.

EU Commissioner for Environment, Margot Wallstroem
Margot Wallstroem termed the day a success
She said 65 million people in 813 cities across the world heeded the call to walk, ride or use public transport to cities and towns.

"We need better air, we want to have better possibilities for our children to travel safe," Ms Wallstroem said.

The BBC correspondent in Brussels, James Rodgers, said several streets in the Belgian capital were cordoned off to make way for cyclists and pedestrians.

No change

In Britain, only 10 out of 175 eligible local authorities joined in with a handful of roads closed to traffic.

A survey conducted by the Automobile Association among UK motorists showed that more than half of those interviewed "would not change their travel plans to support a car-free day."

Car-free response
UK: 10 out of 175 councils join in
Spain: No change in the capital, Madrid
Sweden: Campaign ignored
Greece: Cars and motorcycles kept off most streets
Israel: Tel Aviv closed to cars
Thailand: PM protests at high oil prices
New York, San Francisco and Colombia's Bogota promise to join campaign next year
In Israel, Tel Aviv city centre was closed to cars as bicycles eased the usual bumper-to-bumper traffic jams.

There was relief in traffic-clogged Greek capital, Athens.

Streets in the downtown shopping and business districts were closed to cars and motorcycles after the morning rush hour.

But the car-free campaign forced some schools to cancel classes.

Traffic jams

In Spain, the call appears to have fallen on deaf ears.

There were reports of the usual honking of horns during the morning rush hour and traffic jams snarling up many main streets in the capital, Madrid.

Sweden's capital shunned the initiative so as not to further upset motorists trying to deal with high fuel prices.

Stockholm's vice-mayor, Sten Nordin, questioned the purpose of the campaign.

"The environment won't be improved by one car-free day, but from better public transportation and beltways," he said.

Oil protest

Thailand Prime Minister, Chuan Leekpai
Thailand's PM wants OPEC to be forced into reducing oil prices
And in Thailand, Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai led the country's first car-free day by peddling to work.

He travelled less than one km from his state-owned city home to Government House and used the day to protest high crude oil prices.

"I'm confident that if many countries co-operate to save energy it could put pressure on Opec," he told reporters as he rode his mountain bike.

But Bangkok traffic jams built up even more than usual, as police sealed off the routes on which the prime minister rode his bicycle.

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See also:

22 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Thai PM gets on his bike
29 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Hong Kong hit by smog
25 Feb 00 | Americas
Bogota's 'beautiful' car-free day
06 Feb 00 | Europe
Car ban in Italy
20 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
Thai surfers dodge traffic jams
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