NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 6, 2008

Once again, Seattle officials have jumped on the eco-fads bandwagon, following other cities around the country in temporarily closing off streets to normal traffic, a practice known as Car-Free Days (CFDs).  Some environmental activists believe this represents an effective way to reduce global warming, but did these CFDs yield any significant results, asks Environmental Watch?

When asked if CFDs motivated Seattle residents to drive less, or if the total number of pounds of carbon pollution were reduced, city officials had no answers, because they had not measured the effects of CFDs.  Nor do they have any plans to do so in the future.  More, they have no idea what these days cost taxpayers, says Environmental Watch.

However, there is anecdotal evidence that the cost to the public may be substantial:

  • The largest cost is for labor; to close streets, city workers need hours of advance preparation work days to post signs along the closure routes and distribute notices to area residents.
  • Additional labor is needed the day of the closure, putting up and taking down the temporary signs and installing traffic safety measures.
  • Also, city police devote extra hours to enforce the new rules of the road for that day.
  • A further cost to the public is the result of poor communication. City parking enforcement has issued a number of citations and in some cases vehicles were towed at the owner's expense.
  • In August 2008, 21 people were cited for parking violations, and 13 people had their cars towed away.

The lack of results, or even effort to measure results, indicates that CFDs are more about symbolism than substance.  Like other eco-fads, the idea's primary benefit appears to be making Seattle leaders look like they are green; however, when politicians grab onto trendy ideas, they forget that fads often do more damage than good, says Environmental Watch.

Source: Brandon Houskeeper, "Car-Free Days are Seattle's latest eco-fad, but are there any real benefits?" Environmental Watch, September 2008.


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