Local Universities and Businesses Buy Into a Day Without Cars

For some D.C. Metro area residents, taking public transportation is a daily routine. For others, it means a real sacrifice.

Thursday, Sept. 22 is Car Free Day in the Washington, D.C., metro area. Hosted by Commuter Connections, Car Free Day is a part of Try Transit Week, a series of events through Friday to encourage the use of other modes of transportation besides automobiles.

Try Transit Week originated in Richmond, Va., in 2005, and was eventually expanded statewide in 2008 by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

Local universities are creating awareness for Car Free Day by participating in a challenge called the Capital Car Free Campus Competition. American University, George Mason University, Georgetown University, the University of the District of Columbia and the University of Maryland will compete to see which school can get the greatest percentage of their community—faculty, staff, and students—to pledge to spend the day car-tree or “car-lite,” using carpools or vans.

Participants can register online to make a pledge at http://CarFreemetroDC.com.

Also during this week comes the one-year anniversary of Capital Bikeshare, a bike sharing program developed through the District Department of Transportation and Arlington County. The program has about 1,100 bicycles at 110 stations in D.C. and Arlington, Va.

The actual anniversary date was Tuesday, but there will be a  Birthday Bash celebration on Sept. 22 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Yards Park in Southeast D.C.

Activities at the birthday bash include a live ’80s band, The Reflex, various food trucks, craft beer from New Belgium Brewing, moonbounce activities, a hula-hoop garden sponsored by HooperNATURALtm, a Paper Boy race and more.

Capital Bikeshare isn’t the only way to get a bicycle in the D.C. metro area this week, however. Bike & Roll is offering free bicycle rentals on Sept. 22 in honor of Car Free Day. Customers can call to make a reservation requesting the free rental. They can even pick the bike up the night before on Wednesday. The bike would need to be returned by 6 p.m. on Thursday in order for the rental to remain free of charge.

The marketing coordinator, Allsion Kelman, says that they offered the free rentals last year for Car Free Day as well, but  many  did not use the promotion.

“It wasn’t very many at all,” she said. “I would say less than a dozen.” Organizers are hoping for a bigger turnout this year, however. “Most of our customers are tourists, so we didn’t promote as much last year,” Kelman says. “We hope this year that more people will take advantage.”

Bike & Roll has  three locations in the area: Union Station, the Old Post Office Pavilion and in Alexandria, Va. “We have been around for about 15 years and always want to stay a part of the biking community,” Kelman says.

Doing  their part to be car free this week can help not only save the earth from pollution and help improve traffic congestion, but also save  D.C. Metro area residents money.

In April, Gov. Bob McDonnell challenged Virginians to use forms of transportation other than driving once every two weeks. By pledging and accepting the challenge to try an alternative form of transit  during Try Transit Week, Virginia residents will be entered into a drawing for a chance to win one-year free pass to the transit service of their choice as well as two round-trip tickets on Amtrak Virginia.

Even if a person doesn’t win the contest, going Car Free can still save money. The American Public Transportation Association September Transit Savings Report states that “individuals who switch from driving to riding public transportation can save, on average, up to $830 this month, and up to $9,964 annually.”

This does not even include the cost of monthly unreserved parking, which in downtown D.C. is a median of $260, $104.78 more than the national average of $155.22, according to the 2011 Colliers International Parking Rate Survey.

No one can argue the great savings in cost to the commuter, benefits to the environment, and the improvement of traffic conditions by just taking one day to be car free.

For a look at how much money and carbon emissions you personally can save by going Car Free, visit www.publictransportation.org.