If we know our audience, chances are your urban ideal features far fewer cars than seen today. In pursuit of building a more perfect city, this past Thursday Delhi, India boldly declared a no-car zone. Although car-free day didn’t go exactly as planned, in pushing cars off its streets to combat its oppressive pollution, the city took a strong stance in favor of a more sustainable and less road-enraged future.
The World Health Organization demonstrated that Delhi possesses the world’s highest annual average concentration of small airborne particles, known as PM2.5, in an urban area. Though certainly an act of leadership on a polluted planet, enacting a car-free day is also an act of self preservation for the city of 16.3 million.
“People should leave their vehicles and use public transport. Since pollution is increasing in Delhi, there is a need to run, cycle which is also good for health,” says Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of Delhi who, along with colleagues and citizens, took a bike ride along one of Delhi’s busiest streets on the car-free day.
A city without cars seems like a dream. And like a dream, it is a bit removed from reality. During Delhi’s car-free day, cars were still driving on the city’s roads despite discouragement from volunteers. “It is more of a symbolic gesture at the moment, more of an awareness-raising activity,” says Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director of the Centre for Science and Environment think tank in Delhi. “What we need to curb the city’s pollution is simultaneous hard decisions on restraining car usage through parking policies, taxation and scaling up of public transport.”
As Delhi works towards making these difficult decisions, it will continue to hold monthly car-free days to demonstrate its commitment towards the health of its citizens while demonstrating leadership in a world grappling with an accelerating climate crisis.