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The BBC's Duncan Kennedy reports
"Motoring organisations across Europe have condemned the day's actions"
 real 56k

Friday, 22 September, 2000, 14:06 GMT 15:06 UK
Car-free day fails to get support
Trafalgar Square
London: one of the few successful UK demonstrations
Attempts to persuade British motorists to leave their cars at home appear to have failed, with European car-free day having little impact on traffic levels.

Congestion was reported to be as bad as ever, and at some locally-organised publicity events turnout was lower than expected.

The aim of the second annual car-free day was to raise awareness about environmental issues.

People were encouraged to walk, ride bicycles or use public transport to reduce congestion and improve air quality.

Street closures

Across the rest of Europe, many localities signed up to the initiative, with street closures and special events in 800 towns and cities.

Athens
A rare car-free stroll for people of Athens
People familiar with car-clogged roads in places as far apart as Athens, Rome, Paris, Madrid and Hamburg all enjoyed streets far emptier of traffic.

But in Britain, just 10 out of 175 eligible local authorities elected to take part, and, even where events were planned, many failed to have much impact.

Traffic jams

In Stoke-on-Trent, just one road was closed, and there were traffic jams on the A500 ring road as normal.

The local council expected 70 staff to travel into work by alternative means, but only 20 took part.

Kirkless Council, in West Yorkshire, released figures showing that, during last week's fuel blockades, air pollution dropped by 50%.

They encouraged drivers to show their support and "do it again", but BBC reporters in the area reported no discernible difference.

Overall, the AA's Rebecca Rees said that traffic levels in the UK were the same as they would be on any Friday morning.

Street parties

However, some localised events met with success.

Children and teachers in Bristol successfully blocked rush-hour traffic on one of the main routes in Bristol for an hour.

In Bath a street party was promised, and one family took to a rickshaw.

And at Manchester airport, officials said they were delighted after 100 staff took up their offer of free tickets to get to work by public transport.

Trafalgar Square
Cyclists formed a major part of the events
Hundreds of cyclists also converged on London's Trafalgar Square for a high-profile demonstration.

Darren Johnson, leader of the Green Party in the Greater London Authority, arrived by pedal-power and said: "We have shown Londoners what the roads could look like with more bicycles."

He said he would try to get the government on board for next year's event.

But a spokesman for the Association of Local Governments said local authorities were put off taking part by the complex bureaucratic processes needed to close British roads.

He added: "As we have seen over the last week, there is a very vocal motorist lobby and they are not to be taken lightly."

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See also:

22 Sep 00 | Europe
EU's day for car-free cities
22 Sep 00 | Scotland
Green anger as car day stalls
22 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Thai PM gets on his bike
13 Sep 00 | Europe
Bruxellois find their feet
22 Sep 00 | Talking Point
What have the petrol protests achieved?
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