Photo by Shutterstock.

Happy Car-Free Week, America!

What? You hadn’t heard? Well, maybe that’s because Car-Free Week is one of those things that the rest of the world celebrates — but us? Not so much. That is, unless you live in Massachusetts, the only state that challenges its residents to spurn the automobile for seven days each year.

Of course, not everyone in the commonwealth got the memo. Take, for example, all of the people one local TV reporter interviewed at a gas station. (If she was really looking for people who’d drunk the car-free Kool-Aid, she probably could have found a better spot, but who are we to judge?)

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Not to fear. A week of riding buses, bikes, or walking may be too much for the U.S. of A., but cities across the country do recognize Car-Free Day, held every Sept. 22. (And for the faint of heart, may we suggest Car-Free Hour?) Car-Free Day is this Saturday, and festivities abound:

  • In Corvallis, Ore., residents can participate in a bike swap and park their two-wheelers in a free “bike valet” area during the annual Fall Fest this weekend.
  • Columbus, Ohio, celebrates a day early — on Friday, Sept. 21 — by turning parking spots into “car-free spots” (Columbusers — do you know Friday is Park(ing) Day?) and offering a midday bike tour of the town.
  • In the Washington, D.C.-area, there will be free bike rentals and bus rides, and, for folks who take the car-free pledge (5,532 at this writing), free slices of pizza.

OK, we admit, it’s all pretty silly. But isn’t it worth it if it pries us out of our cars even for a single turn of the planet? Who knows, it could be the gateway drug for bike commuting or riding the bus. (Come on, try it. I think you’re going to like it …)

Of course, U.S. cities might get better results if they closed off downtown to cars, like Jakarta, Indonesia, or just banned parking across much of downtown, like Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In Bogota, Colombia, citizens institutionalized Car-Free Day with a public referendum. Last year, the city reported that carbon monoxide dropped 44 percent that day.

Knowing us, we’ll celebrate the way Qingdao, China, did last year — with a horrendous traffic jam. True to form, our sources tell us that Car-Free Week in Massachusetts has been positively car-azy. Gov. Deval Patrick is taking the event seriously, though. Last year, a TV crew busted him catching a ride to work in a gigundous SUV on the first day of Car-Free Week. This year, he walked.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

That’s one point, at least, for the state where a certain former governor pioneered some pretty nifty transit and smart-growth policies. But of course that was then …

Interested in what your city has planned for Car-Free Day on Saturday? Try this.

And there’s nothing stopping you from having your own informal car-free day, or week, or month, either. We dare you, in fact. Come on, America! You can do it! We know you can.

Just don’t tell the nice folks at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who urged people to protest Car-Free Day a few years back — “by taking a drive, just because.” You might end up like these dudes, who got an earful last weekend from a driver who apparently thought they’d look better behind a steering wheel than hunched over a pair of handlebars: