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Two Opportunities to Ditch the Car This Week

Walker Evans Walker Evans
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It’s no secret that Columbus is an auto-centric city. Many commuters drive their cars to every destination they visit every single day. Several local organizations are challenging citizens to see if they can try rethinking their commute. On Friday, September 18th, Columbus will take part once again in the national PARK(ing) Day event, that transforms parking spaces for other uses for a day. Also, Tuesday, September 22nd marks the world-wide Car Free Day, which encourages everyone to utilize alternative modes of transportation.

We sat down with Laura Koprowski, the Director of Public & Government Affairs at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) to learn more about these two events.

Walker Evans: Columbus just took part in PARK(ing) Day for the first time last year, but Car Free Day was started nearly a decade ago. What was the original impetus for these types of transit awareness events, and do you think the concept behind it has changed at all since then?

Laura Koprowski: Car Free Day started in 2001 with MORPC, city of Columbus, Sierra Club and COTA. The event from the very beginning has been a collaborative effort among organizations that care about healthier travel and helping more Columbus residents realize the different transportation choices available in our city. Our tagline was “Seize this opportunity to explore the benefits of being car free – clearer air, cleaner water, less noise, and a boost to physical activity!” Car Free Day went on hiatus after 2004 but we’re excited to be bringing it back this year.

The event itself stemmed from staff at MORPC wanting to promote healthier modes of travel. We also had a fantastic advocate and leader for Car Free Day with Maryellen O’Shaughnessy. Her leadership was critical and her support of alternative modes of transportation: walking, biking & transit.

I think there is more urgency today with the scarcity of fossil fuels, rising cost of gasoline and global warming/climate change. And there is more acceptance that you just can’t have a single focus on the car – more people seem to recognize that we need to diversify our transportation modes – more options.

WE: How many people are you expecting to sign up and participate, and what forms of transit are most people committing to as their alternatives?

LK: Since we are bringing Car Free Day in Columbus, we are excited to see what the turnout will be. So far, the majority of people are pledging to ride their bike on September 22.

WE: How much long term impact do you think Car Free Day has on participants in Columbus?

LK: There’s this perception that the only mode of transportation is the car but in fact Columbus does offer many other viable options to get around the city. Car Free Day helps you stop and give it a try – sometimes you just need that extra nudge to try something you wouldn’t. It gets you to stop and think that maybe riding the bus or biking to work is a possibility – if not everyday at least some days.

I remember the first Car Free Days had a tradition of meeting at Goodale Park and walking & biking to the Statehouse. It was a fun, festive atmosphere. We had people on bikes playing piano and singing. We carried a banner with us. It really had a grassroots feel to it.

At the last Car Free Day event, Jeff Stephens (now leading Consider Biking) participated as then an employee of American Lung Association. He would bike 12 miles from his Worthington home to his Hilliard office two days a week.

WE: PARK(ing) Day was launched in San Francisco in 2005, and made its Columbus debut last year. What has changed about it this year?

LK: The main difference to this year’s event is that we have broader community support and involvement.  The grassroots aspect is the heart and soul of PARK(ing) Day, but having support from the City of Columbus, Columbus Public Health, MORPC, Consider Biking and others helps elevate the initiative.

The goal this year is to convert any type of parking space (metered or not metered) into something creative, demonstrating the wide variety of uses these spaces could have if a vehicle was not parked there.

We are hoping to use the Facebook event page as a means to publicize the PARK(ing) Day spots. Participants are encouraged to post photos of their transformation so that the public can weigh in and comment on their designs.

WE: Are there any currently announced locations for PARK(ing) day spaces where people can check them all out?

LK: The City of Columbus will transform a parking spot in their City Hall lot at 90 West Broad Street into an educational campaign about their new parking code revisions.

A bicycle-powered food demonstration in Columbus Public Health’s public parking at 240 Parsons Avenue will combine physical activity with fresh, local food. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., the bike will be in full motion demonstrating active living.

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) will create an outdoor office in one of their parking spots at 111 Liberty Street. Thanks to Executive Director Chester Jourdan’s bus commute on Friday, MORPC is able to utilize an empty space where staff can work throughout the day.

Consider Biking will see how many bicycles can fill a parking space in front of Paradise Garage on High Street in the Short North. “This demonstration will show our support and need for bike parking in the City’s update to the parking code,” states Jeff Stephens, Executive Director.

A group of landscape architects are planning to transform a metered parking spot on High Street within the Ohio State University’s South Campus Gateway.

WE: The original event in San Francisco had a mission of creating more public greenspaces in their densely packed urban environment. How does this mission translate to Columbus, which is much less dense, and has a growing number of public greenspaces in the works?

LK: While Columbus does have a desirable amount of public green space currently and slated for the future, our version of PARK(ing) Day demonstrates the need for more multi-modal travel among central Ohioans.  Our hope is that this initiative will remind people to give an alternative transportation option a try on September 22 for Car Free Day.

More information about PARK(ing) Day can be found at parkingday.org, and more information about Car Free Day can be found at carfreedaycolumbus.org.

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