This past weekend, my wife and I took our sons to Budapest's annual "Autómentes Napot" or "Car-Free Day" festival:
The centerpiece of the festival occurred Budapest's grand Andrassy Boulevard, which for the weekend is closed to cars and converted to a pedestrian and bicycle thoroughfare:
The event was a hit, with thousands in attendance:
In the month leading up to the festival, I had the opportunity to volunteer some time and help one of the main organizers, Zsolt Kovács of A-Z Produkció, to help design the arrangement of the exhibits and other facilities for the central area of the event:
Budapest's Car-Free Day coincides with the "Nemzeti Vágta" or "National Gallop" which occurs in the stunning Hero's Square at the termination of Andrassy Boulevard:
The square is closed to traffic and converted for the weekend with into a truly grand horse racing track featuring riders in traditional garb. It is a spectacular example of how flexibly a well-designed public space can be used:
Budapest's Car Free Day was just one event that was part of the much larger annual "European Mobility Week". Over 2,000 cities and towns across Europe participated this year. Hungary was one of the countries with the greatest level of participation, with 214 cities and towns taking part.
As described on the event's website, each European Mobility Week focuses on a particular topic related to sustainable mobility. Local authorities are required to organize activities for their citizens based on this theme. They are also encouraged to launch and promote permanent measures that support the theme.
This year's theme is "Smart and sustainable mobility – an investment for Europe" and focuses on the connection between smart mobility and a strong economy.
Interesting observations by the event's organizers include:
- Strengthening local economies is a universally popular goal, but one that many feel lies outside of our control as individuals or communities. Research shows, however, that by making smarter mobility choices we can notably boost public finances.
- Studies indicate that cities that promote sustainable transport are at a significant economic advantage over those that favor traditionally fueled cars. People who travel by active transport modes, such as walking and cycling, are not only more productive at work, they also take fewer sick days and spend less time on average in the doctor’s office.
- And the benefits go far beyond better health. Property values in cities with good cycling facilities and efficient public transport tend to be higher, while children who walk or cycle to school perform better in class.
- Prioritising sustainable transport also benefits the private sector. Reports reveal an increase in trading of up to 40 percent in areas where walking and cycling become the norm. In Copenhagen (Denmark), customers who travel to cities by bicycle spend €2 billion per year - more than those who travel by private vehicle.
- From a governmental standpoint, investing in infrastructure for active travel, encouraging public transport use to reduce traffic congestion, and supporting bike-to-work schemes can save public money and boost local commerce.