Rain Cancels Car-Free Day in Seattle

Published November 1, 2008

Imagine a day without automobiles and their carbon dioxide emissions, Seattle environmental activists told the public. Attempting to make that vision a reality, they scheduled a car-free day for Seattle’s Capitol Hill area.

But someone forgot to tell Mother Nature, who on Sunday, August 24 gave citizens a very wet reminder of one reason why bicycles cannot replace automobiles in modern society.

City officials had designated five city blocks off-limits to automobiles on a low-traffic Sunday. Even that limited demonstration quickly lost its popularity when people found themselves soaking wet.

Not only did the rain soak Seattle citizens, but over-aggressive enforcement of that car-free day and two others soaked area residents’ wallets.

Costly, Disruptive Enforcement

Seattle spent $45,000 to promote and enforce three car-free weekends. Towing companies removed 20 cars from city streets designated as car-free, and police officers ticketed 26 vehicles on the first Sunday alone for parking in car-free zones.

Some car owners were able to save their cars from being impounded by rushing out in their pajamas on Sunday morning and beating the tow trucks to their cars. Other people’s lives were disrupted when streets near their home were closed to traffic.

“From fees on grocery bags to snooping through people’s trash to ensure recycling, Seattle’s policies are a parody of environmentalism,” wrote columnist Scott Edwards on his Edwards Report blog.

“After wasting $45,000, Seattle discovered something most observers already knew: People like to drive their vehicles, and will continue to do so no matter what the bureaucrats think,” Edwards continued.

Praying for No Rain

The second car-free Sunday was problem-free from a weather perspective, but it still created hassles for residents. The city called Rainier Avenue South residents in advance, warning them to clear their vehicles off the street.

“It would be funny, if not so sad, that the idea of car-free days ignores the diversity of residents and businesses,” said Pacific Research Institute Senior Fellow Tom Tanton. “People work different times and days, and what is one person’s weekend is another’s workday. So-called ‘smart growth’ and similar attempts to force mass transit, biking, and walking usually fail to achieve their objectives, yet inevitably reduce convenience and liberty.

“How smart is it to have travel modes that depend on dry weather in one of the rainiest areas in the country?” Tanton asked.

Krystle Russin ([email protected]) writes from Texas.