On September 22, 2015, St. Petersburg joined the World Car Free Day for the first time. In the pedestrian area of Bolshaya Morskaya Street, experts of Friends of the Baltic and the Climate Secretariat of the Russian Social Ecological Union told passers-by how transport affects the environment and the climate, if transport can be "environmentally friendly", and why one should choose local products.
St. Petersburg has held the World Car Free Day - the international event organised annually on 22 September - in the framework of European Mobility Week. Its main goal is to attract public attention to development of sustainable transport and to alternative ways to travel. The Car Free Day aims to reduce the number of cars in streets and roads and to support other forms of transport, especially cycling and public transport.
Olga Senova, the head of Friends of the Baltic NGO, says: "European Mobility Week, within which the Car Free Day is held, focuses on need of people in mobility, but not the in possibility of sitting in a car. In urban areas transport problems and environmental problems caused by transport can only be solved by primary development of public transport."
This year's, the Car Free Day was held in 24 Russian cities, including Moscow, St. Petersburg, Vladivostok, Kaliningrad and Kazan.
Alexander Fedorov, co-chairman of the Russian Social Ecological Union, says: "The negative impact of transport on the environment and human health is not known enough to the public and is therefore underestimated. Air pollution leads annually to three million premature deaths worldwide. In all the cities of the world, including the cities of Russia, in particular, Moscow and St. Petersburg, 90 % of the pollution of the atmosphere comes from emissions of vehicles. Exceptions are cities with major metallurgical and chemical enterprises, where these enterprises make bigger part of air pollution. Emissions from motor vehicles contain more than 200 pollutants that cause various respiratory diseases, diseases of cardiovascular system, and others."
The first Car Free Days were organized in the early 1970s, when the first oil crisis broke out in the world. The movement re-energized in the 1990s. Pan-European Car Free Day was organized in 1999 as a part of the campaign "In town without my car", which continued in the form of European Mobility Week. In 2000, a network of activists and organizations - the World Network for mobility without cars held the first International Car Free Day. Each year these actions attract more than 100 million participants from 40 countries and 1.5 thousand cities in the world.
St. Petersburg officially joined this action for the first time only this year. In Moscow, this event started in 2008. On the car Free Day, the authorities of the Russian capital reduce prices for public transportation, issuing special cards. Unfortunately, most of car owners ignore the action. This year (as also in previous years), Moscow faced on September 22 the most difficult morning rush hour of the whole September.
On September 22, 2015, at the pedestrian section of Bolshaya Morskaya Street in St. Petersburg, Friends of the Baltic NGO and the Climate Secretariat of the Russian Social Ecological Union organised information points for the public. Experts of these organizations told passers-by that transport not only pollutes the air but also significantly harms the climate, as car engines burn 2/3 of the world's oil - and thus release billions of tons of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
According to Alexander Fedorov, the most effective measure to improve transport efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (and, optionally, contaminants) by transport is the so-called "modal shift." With regard to urban transport, this means the priority development of public transport. Indeed, the energy consumption per passenger when traveling by bus or trolleybus is about 5 times less than when using a car (even at full normal load of both). Energy consumption by tram and underground per passenger is more than 10 times more economical than by a car. If the car carries one driver only, rather than 4 people (as is often the case), the energy efficiency of the car is worse than the one of a bus/trolleybus up to 20 times, and of a tram/metro – by 40 times.
Another major problem is the insufficient street area. In St. Petersburg, the street carriageway area makes 10 % of the city area - and cars clearly have not enough space. The already existing vehicles require 5 times the area of the carriageway – 50 % of the total area of St. Petersburg. When/if the number of cars per thousand inhabitants will double to reach the average European level, they will need 100 % of the area of the city for their normal movement. One can imagine the incredible picture - two layers of the city of St. Petersburg, one above (or below) the other, where one of the layers is only the roadway space. The only possible decision is in developing the public transport system.
Organisers of the booth offered residents of St. Petersburg to play an interactive game on selection of goods with the lowest transport carbon footprint, which is proportional to the amount of fuel needed to bring goods to shops. Passers-by were asked to choose one of the two butters. The first one was made in Gatchina, and the second one - in New Zealand. The Gatchina butter travels less than 100 kilometers to a buyer in St.Petersburg, while the one from New Zealand - as much as 17 000 km. One can imagine the tremendous amount of fuel burned to deliver the butter from New Zealand.
Choosing local goods, a buyer not only saves money and supports domestic producers, but also reduces the impact of transport on the environment and makes the air cleaner.
Within the European Mobility Week, on September 17, Olga Senova, the chairperson of Friends of the Baltic NGO, gave a live interview to the St. Petersburg TV channel (http://www.topspb.tv/programs/v15222/). According to Olga Senova, each person can help to solve the environmental problems caused by transport and general transport problems by his or her individual choice by:
We can make the world and our environment better or worse even by most insignificant daily actions, and the choice of transport solutions plays a key role in it.