What the heck is Car Free Day?


It’s all about balance on V.I.A. lately. Between our regular blog posts from the cycling non-profit HUB, our weekly Bike Brake feature and our recent partnership with Vancouver Cycle Chic lie Vancouver Autos and our On the Road To features. A celebration of cycling culture is being interspersed with a celebration of car culture. This is entirely by design, as we’re a community of walkers, cyclists, car drivers and transit travellers. Exploring our city and that which surrounds it is something that we all have in common, no matter how we choose to get there. I, for one, enjoy driving, I often travel to locations that aren’t accessible by transit, and I can’t see myself without a vehicle any time soon… but that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying Car Free Day on Main Street. I’ve always been curious as to what’s behind it and what they aim to achieve, so I asked them to write a piece on it for us. Have a read below, and I’ll see you on June 16th! – Bob K

WORDS: Joey Moore, Board Member, Car Free Vancouver Society

For me, nothing explains what Car Free Day is, better than that awkward, disorientating moment at the very beginning of the day when the barricades go up and the stream of cars and trucks is gone from the streets. While most adults still are glued to margins on the sidewalk, unsure of what to do, some less tamed child or youth will get on their skateboard, or simply run, right down the yellow-line. This simple, joyful act breaks the spell and the rest of us more disciplined folk spill onto the street.

At the core, this is what Car Free is about – rethinking what streets are and what they might be and allowing us to experience the truth of the Car Free slogan: Less Cars = More Community = Less Cars.

Almost 10 years ago now, Car Free Day in Vancouver began as a spontaneous street hockey game in the middle of Commercial Drive. Residents concerned about the neighbourhood and global effects of the Gateway/Highway 1 expansion project traded the more common protest signs and well worn-chants (“hey-ho, hey-ho global warming has got to go”) for a joyous afternoon of the best game I could name.

Today Car Free Vancouver Society helps neighbourhoods throughout Vancouver put on their own street parties. On Father’s Day each year, streets across the city are transformed from wide expanses of asphalt, into places filled with music, art, bubbles, chickens and people! Each Festival has its own look and feel, reflecting the talents, values and desires of its neighbourhood. Main Street has something of a dual personality highlighting the abundance of musicians and artists that call the neighbourhood home as well as the community building environmental action of Village Vancouver. Denman Street celebrates what is perhaps Vancouver’s most diverse neighbourhoods where multiple languages, ethnicities, and sexualities meet at the pet parade. Commercial Drive flies its freak flag high while amused children stake out their new territory (hint: there will be street hockey). Kitsilano goes their own way and, over both Saturday and Sunday, neighbourhood block parties spring up across the neighbourhood.

We do all this while remaining true to our heritage. We are completely volunteer run. We provide fun for free (our costs are covered by donations from visitors, a small city grant and by non-profits and local businesses who purchase table space). Most of all we bring our neighbourhoods together in a shared project of community building. We provide some space, and the good folks of our neighbourhoods fill it with their own creations.

Sometimes this all looks like just a street party – and it is. But something else is going on, something that we need to continue building if we are to confront the social and ecological issues we face as a city and species. On Car-Free Day neighbours, strangers and friends alike, come together to reimagine, reawaken and repurpose their streets. Cars are set aside for feet (walking, running and dancing) and bikes. We step out of our metal ca(r)coons and into a neighbourhood built by and for you and me.

Let the revolution begin, one party at a time.