Our most recent attempt at a “Car-free Sunday” has generated a lot of conversation. The turnout, even from the point of view of organizers, has been described as disappointing. One of the most common reasons cited for this disappointing turnout is the incredibly hot weather we’ve been baking under of late. There’s no question that this reason has merit. I also happen to think there’s merit in taking a step back and rethinking what we’re trying to do with this event.
I want to be clear that I am completely supportive of the concept of “Car-Free Sundays.” Heck, I’m completely supportive of “Car-Free Everydays” and building communities that encourage active or mass transportation. So don’t mistake any constructive criticism as a condemnation of the concept.
Simply put, I think we rushed into this a little bit. The concept has been proven successful in hundreds of other communities worldwide and I have no doubt that there’s enough spirit in Waterloo Region to make it work here. But why not start smaller? Isn’t the combined cost of $15,000-$20,000 per event a little excessive given the number of people who take part? To me, the very definition of a pilot project is to start small, assess interest, and build from there. In this case, it seems we started from the end and worked back. While the ultimate goal of Car-Free Sundays should be to close King Street from “square to square,” it would have been prudent to start with a smaller area and build on early successes.
Kitchener councillor Dan Glenn-Graham seems to have learned this the hard way. Glenn-Graham was the driving force behind the concept in Kitchener and he told our radio station this morning that he’s having second thoughts. “Should we go all the way up to Waterloo? I’m thinking we’re going to do it a little bit more smart, we’re going to do a bite-sized piece where it’s less costly for taxpayers and it’s more of a playground, an urban kind of street party environment. A ‘care-free Sunday,’ if you will, rather than worrying about having a long stretch for bikes.”
This makes sense to me but I question why we spent more than $13,000 to figure it out. It seems obvious that it makes more sense to begin with the baby steps and build from there. While Waterloo committed to four car-free Sundays from the outset, Kitchener joined the party late and promised to take another look at the concept before committing to future events. I have a funny feeling that Waterloo will be on its own again in August (Kitchener council only meets to discuss the issue on August 2nd, leaving little time to organize another event by August 14th) and Kitchener will take part again in September.
Whether or not this concept survives into a second summer will depend largely on the number of people who participate in the next two events.