Recent media coverage has been particularly critical of Waterloo’s Car Free Sundays, despite being hailed as a huge success when they were held last year. To counter this negativity, I want to cast a bigger, better vision of what Car Free Sundays could be. Based on my personal experiences from last year, here is what I’d like to see:
- Increased hours. A 4 hour time slot (which includes set-up and tear-down) is far too brief to enjoy the diversity of events offered as part of Car Free Sunday. Last year, my wife and I found ourselves rushed to leave church, eat lunch (more on this later), and then find our way to Uptown by bike and participate in many of the activities before things were packed up and put away. Increasing the hours would allow more people to find time to enjoy these events.
- Greater frequency. My wife and I tried to invite several friends to join us last year, and many had made other plans on these weekends. Kitchener’s single participation was spoiled by sweltering heat. Making Car Free Sunday more frequent and regular, to say, every one or two weeks, would give more opportunities for success. It would foster a greater sense of community to be able to see each other face to face out on the street more often, and hopefully inspire more cultural change. And nobody would be caught off guard or late for church if they could regularly expect King Street to be closed and plan their commutes accordingly.
- Food! You can’t host an event that covers lunch hour and not have something to eat! It was a major oversight last year that there weren’t many food vendors brought in. Where were the chuck wagons that surround Columbia Lake every Canada Day? I would like to enjoy food from all cultures, not just from Uptown’s one hot dog cart. (Arguably a culture all unto itself!) Selling food permits would also be a great way for the cities to recoup some of the costs.
- More participation from community groups and businesses. Clubs, churches, and other organizations often relish opportunities for exposure to their community. Many churches today are coming to grips with the fact that they sometimes need to sacrifice a few of their Sunday morning services to interact with those who’d never pass through the church’s doors on their own. It’s a good opportunity to connect with the community in a visible way.
Businesses in Uptown could take greater advantage of the event with sidewalk sales and sponsorships. Care would need to be taken so that this isn’t overdone – it would harm the ‘do-it-yourself’ spirit of the event if it were to become overly commercialized. We should continue to invite local artisans to set up tables to promote their work.
- Reduced police presence. One of the most expensive aspects of last year’s Car Free Sundays was the presence of a police officer at every intersection. We don’t post an officer on guard every time we close a street for construction. I’m sure motorists can figure out on their own not to drive down a barricaded street.
- Promotion. A lot of friends we talked to had never heard about Car Free Sunday, but might have been inclined to go had they heard about it ahead of time. Perhaps put up road closure signs like they do for days or even weeks in advance of construction. This would also have the added benefit of alerting Sunday drivers to plan an alternate route or choose to bike instead.
- Encouragement for our representatives who are investing in healthy lifestyles, community, and civic pride. Our governments invest hundreds of millions of dollars locally on car-centric infrastructure that isolates us from each other. There should be no stigma for investing a comparably paltry couple thousand on promoting and celebrating a healthier lifestyle and future. As citizens, we should be open about supporting and thanking representatives who have the courage and vision to make these investments, and urge them to complement these events with more permanent active transportation infrastructure.
- Name changes if necessary, but only with good reasons. Arguing that “Car Free” isn’t inclusive is a bizarre twisting of reality. Clearing away the cars makes King Street a level playing field for everyone to enjoy equally. Contrast this with “Cruising on King,” where we exclude everyone from the street except those with pre-emissions standard automobiles. (Ironically, Cruising on King often gets held up as an example of how a successful event is run.) This isn’t to say that we might not want another name that promotes Car Free Sundays better. But we shouldn’t walk on eggshells, pretending that having King Street briefly free of cars is a bad thing.
I think last year’s Car Free Sundays were a fantastic start. But I want to see them be made better and become ingrained into our local social and cultural fabric. I want to be able to continue to enjoy Car Free Sunday for many years in the future, long after the canard of the “war on the car” has been put to rest.