Car-Free Day wraps up European Mobility Week

22 September 2023

When did you last walk in your city without worrying about passing cars? When did you last feel that you owned the streets instead of being a vulnerable user? Did you ever associate your town with quiet, and even silence? When was the last time you travelled by metro or bus?    

These questions evoke images of a city tailor-made for humans and nature, the same that comes alive every year during World Car-Free Day, in which polluting vehicles are banned from city streets.  

World Car-Free Day is one of the highlights of the 16-22 September European Mobility Week, the European Commission’s campaign, coordinated by Eurocities, to foster active and sustainable mobility. More than 3,000 municipalities big and small in 43 countries took part in this year’s event. 

A man on a child scooter during European Mobility Week in Brussels. 2023
Car-Free Day in Brussels during the 2023 European Mobility Week. Photo: Daniela Berretta

A dream place

Adults and children alike took the streets of Brussels by storm on World Car-Free Day. It was a time to open windows wide to let in clean air, to skateboard in the middle of the asphalted road, to go on a silent walk and take serious inspiration from this day.  

“We need to have more CarFreeSundays. One is not enough,” reflected Elke Van den Brandt, the Brussels Capital Region’s Minister of Mobility, Public Works and Road Safety. She is at the helm of the ‘Good Move’ plan in Brussels which aims to decrease traffic and pollution, foster sustainable transport uptake and build more green areas.  

“How can we create this (Car Free Sundays) on a more permanent basis?”, added Van den Brandt as she co-led a 17 September Mobility Week event in Brussels, in tandem with the city’s VUB University and the Commission’s transport department, DG MOVE. The workshop’s discussion centred around encouraging behavioural change in mobility for both people and freight.  

Brussels, which engaged in 19 editions of Mobility Week since 2002, is one of the event’s most active participants.

This year, the Belgian capital exceptionally marked World Car Free Day on 17 September while most other cities set it up on 22 September.

 From Sevilla to Addis Ababa, municipalities showcased their Mobility Week initiatives through the@mobilityweek social media account on X (formerly known as Twitter), sharing joyful bike and walking scenes among the empty roads.

During this year’s week-long event, cities let their imagination run free: Warsaw offered a free check-up of their bikes to residents of seven districts. In Prague, cyclists could fix their bikes for free in case of minor issues. Zagreb opened a new pedestrian area in the central Masarykova Street. In Izmir, participants were treated to a canoe tour.

This year’s European Mobility Week theme – ‘Save Energy’ – is dedicated to harnessing the power of sustainable transport to tackle energy-related issues.  

Empty streets on Car-Free Day in Brussels.
Empty streets during the 2023 Car-Free Day in Brussels. Photo: Daniela Berretta

Not without road safety 

The 2023 edition of European Mobility Week coincided with the launch of the ‘Global Road Safety’ awareness raising campaign by the United Nations and the JCDecaux advertising company.

As part of this scheme, messages in 30 languages aimed at preventing road accidents and deaths will be displayed on the billboards of 80 countries and a total of 1,000 cities across the world for two years.  

The campaign, which kicked off in Brussels on 20 September, comes in response to staggering road death numbers: every year, 1.35 million people die in car crashes and 50 million are injured 

Ninety-three per cent of those victims live in developing countries. Meanwhile, traffic crashes are the main cause of death for young people between 5 and 29 years of age, according to the Global Road Safety campaign. 

Vulnerable users such as pedestrians and cyclists also account for a disproportionately high number of those fatalities, said Adina Valean, the EU Transport Commissioner.  

“Sustainability must go hand-in-hand with safety, and sadly vulnerable road users are still over-represented in road fatality statistics: in the EU, pedestrians account for around 18% of fatalities, and cyclists for 9%,” Valean remarked. 

Top photo: Zagreb’s new pedestrian area opened during the 2023 European Mobility Week. Photo: City of Zagreb


Daniela Berretta Eurocities Writer