‘In Town Without My Car Day’ is exactly that, a day (22nd September) when motorists leave their cars at home and use sustainable means of transport such as, buses, bicycles, car share or walking. The aim is to get as many people in Birmingham to support this important initiative as possible.

As well as Birmingham, In Town Without My Car Day will take place in cities across the world as it is an initiative that forms a part of International Mobility week and occurs every year on 22nd September to promote sustainable means of transport.

Its importance is increasingly relevant; according to the Environmental Transport Association, the number of cars in urban areas is on the increase, contributing to congestion, air pollution, noise, and higher stress levels for people driving into and around Birmingham. This has a negative effect on the quality of life both for this generation and future generations (www.eta.co.uk accessed 15/07/10).

So what will happen on the day?
As mentioned, the day is organised to encourage use of sustainable means of transport other than private cars. There is also emphasis to educate commuters travelling into and around Birmingham about the long term effects of using non sustainable means of transport.

Birmingham Friends of the Earth (BFOE) is pleased to announce that it is supporting the initiative’s objective to convince Birmingham’s citizens to use sustainable means of transport and will have all its staff and volunteers using sustainable means of transport on the day. It is also hoped that the day leads to sharing examples of best practice, so more people who would usually drive into and around Birmingham City Centre would use sustainable means of transport more often.

Last year BFOE challenged Birmingham’s Power 50 (the fifty most influential people according to the Birmingham Post) to participate. We received support from many of them, including Councillor Salma Yaquoob, who said that she will gradually start to use public transport more often. Professor David Bailey also took part and Jerry Blackett from the Birmingham Chambers of Commerce said he would take a good look at supporting this day in a substantial way.

Who can take part?
Anyone can take part! This year BFOE’s aim is to get more individuals, companies and organisations (both private sector and public) to participate in the event to promote a better future for coming generations and a more environmentally friendly and healthier lifestyle. Efforts have been made to garner the full backing of Birmingham City Council and BFOE still awaits this confirmation. We are also in the process of contacting businesses in and around Birmingham from small business to large organisations that may have Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategies that include reducing their carbon footprint and contributing positively to their local communities. We are also in the process of talking with public transport providers to ask for their support for the day.

There are numerous ways to get involved and some companies have already set a good example by holding their own ‘car-free day’ and encouraging employees to take part by holding prize draws for people who use sustainable means of transport for work purposes, an example being Aston Villa Football Club. It would be good to see this level of support from many other business in Birmingham.
BFOE is also encouraging everyone to show support by joining ‘In Town Without Your Car Day’ groups on twitter, facebook and linkedin. We also appeal for people who work in CSR functions and who are interested in taking part to get in touch with BFOE. To register your interest or for more information contact Joe, the Campaigns Support Worker, or Panna, the lead campaigner for this event via email joe@birminghamfoe.org.uk or panna@birminghamfoe.org.uk.

Some of you will be asking why take part on this day and what is in it for me?

The aim is to promote better usage of our overcrowded roads and to make journeys more pleasant. If people  use public transport more often, it could instigate a faster and more efficient public transport system for the future.

It is suggested that our streets need to be safe for people to enjoy commuting and not just used as routes for vehicles. This is not to say that we should penalise car drivers, but should promote more use of sustainable means of transport when we can, since the large majority vehicles nowadays are sole occupancy car drivers.

From personal experiences its can be easier to travel in and around Birmingham by public transport or cycling, since you don’t need to worry about traffic problems and the stress of driving in traffic after a long hard day at work.

There are other reasons for involvement too. According to the government’s foresight panel, it is predicted that by 2050 a high proportion of the nation’s population will be obese unless there are significant changes in nutrition and physical activity. Both cycling and walking help increase physical activity and help towards a healthier lifestyle when part of everyday activity rather than people having to find additional time for exercise (www.dft.gov.uk accessed 15/07/10).

Health benefits of an active lifestyle can prevent major illnesses, the U.K Government recommends that adults do at least 30 minutes of exercise a day and younger children do 60 minutes a day. Both walking and cycling is considered as low impact forms of exercise. There is evidence that low impact exercise can reduce the risk of diabetes and high blood pressure, and there are beneficial effects for those with osteoporosis, arthritis, and lower back pain; In addition it reduces the overall risk of cancer, and specifically reduces risk of bowel and breast cancer after menopause.

People can also benefit from improved sleep, reduce the chances of depression, help manage weight issues, and promote healthy growth and development of children (www.hcd2.bupa.co.uk accessed 15/07/10). For employers having a healthy workforce means that they are more productive and can lead to work place efficiency. People who are healthy can benefit for chances of a better quality of life themselves. And to think it can all start by leaving your car at home.

As mentioned previously this campaign is not promoted to penalise car drivers in anyway, it is to raise awareness that Birmingham needs a better transport system if more people are going to use it more often and to promote the health benefits of walking and cycling more often. BFOE is still continuing to push the council to improve public transport facilities for walking and cycling and is currently campaigning for a 20’s plenty scheme. It would be great to show your support by taking part with “In Town Without My Car Day.” to see what difference we can make to the city in one day that will show the way forward.