Breaking the ice: Bogotá’s Beautiful Car Free Day

City and EcoPlan cooperate to create new model for sustainable transport in Third World cities

In brief:  [1]

This city of 7 million went about its business as usual on Thursday, 24 February 2000 – with exception that between 06:30 and 19:30 an esti­mated 850,000 private cars stayed at home.

Bogotá is normally one of the most polluted cities in the world, standing fifth in the Latin American league after Mexico City; Santiago, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

People got around on the 24th by a combination of walking, skating, running, cycle, other two-wheel transport, and public transport, including 55,000 taxis and around 25,000 small buses (colectivos).

  • More than 250 km. of special paths were reserved for bicycle use on the day.
  • Fines for illegal car use in target area totaled 406 over the day (This compares with aver­age of 930 on the usual ‘alternative odd/even days – ‘Pico y placa’ )
  • Traffic Accidents: 27 reported accidents (on an average day this number is around 100)
  • Traffic deaths: 0 (On average day 2-3. First time in four years that no one died in traffic)
  • Traffic injuries: 24. 8 of which slight accidents involving cyclists (Average day – 70-80)
  • Hospital emergency services: Reported 20-30% decrease in usual admissions
  • Environment agency reported 8% reduction in nitrous oxides
  • 22% reduction of carbon monoxide levels
  • 21% reduction in particulates
  • School absences: Average day reported by each of 20 administrative centers for the re­gion (a poll of El Tiempo reported normal attendance levels in schools and universities across the city)

There were indications of dissatisfaction by some local businesses, though no unusual problems of employee attendance were reported. (Surely an area where more consultation and fine tuning needed.)


Planning and preparations

One month of planning, consultation, preparations and media campaigns carried out to prepare Car Free Day, under direction of Office of Mayor, with co­operation of all concerned local, regional and national organizations. (Some fine tuning required during the day to adjust for specific problems as they occurred.)

More than one hundred international experts and political figures were brought together by EcoPlan and the New Mobility Agenda in support of all aspects of the Day over month of preparatory work and consultation. The International Guest Book was signed by more than 70 leading figures in the transport and environmental fields, including Ministers, Sec­retaries of State, European Commissioners, Members of Parliaments, professors, con­sultants, and others (see the Bogotá Guest Book at

The preparation for the event and the Day itself were covered by radio and television, more than 100 articles appeared in the national and international press, and two WWW sites were set up to support the planning and implementation process (go to for both).

Poll showed a high degree of citizen satisfaction. 87% of those polled indicated that they agreed with the idea of a Car Free Day. 88% also indicated that they thought that such days should be organized more regularly, half of whom suggested once a month.


“Let us together imagine a New City”

On Thursday 24 February 2000 the City of Bogotá celebrated the first-ever car free day to be planned and carried out in a Third World mega-city, “Sin mi carro en Bogota? Imaginemos una Nueva Ciudad”.  The painstakingly prepared local event involved creating a ban on car traffic during 13 hours and for the entire (and very large) urban area which served to keep some 850,000 vehicles off the city streets. Thanks to careful planning and alternative transport arrangements, life in the city did not come to a halt and the economy was not ruined.  For the first time in eight years no one was killed in traffic during that day, traffic accidents were reduced by two-thirds, hospital admissions were down by a quarter, and air pollution and noise levels reduced by 8% to 30% depending on place and pollutant being measured.

In and of itself, this is already a notable accomplishment in the context of a world that is literally starving for models of sustainable transport, not least in Third World cities.  But, as you will see, it is only a small part of a much larger story and lesson for a world that has not been able to make any substantial progress in its environmental goals –despite more than a decade of warnings, conferences, negotiations and treaties that have tried to achieve reduction in emissions in the hope of avoiding the worst consequences of the on-going process of global warming and climate modification.

A joint effort with a new kind of international support

Bogotá’s car free day success was not the result of an isolated effort.  It was achieved as the deliberate product of a first-ever process of international collaboration with EcoPlan international and the New Mobility Agenda, a Paris-based NGO which hand in hand with the city created and led an international expert consortium to guide and support the pioneering February event.  More than one hundred leading figures in the sustainability and transportation movements world-wide signed on to add their support to the city’s initiative, and in cooperation with EcoPlan offered technical and communications counsel to ensure the success of Bogotá difficult challenge.

The real point of the car free day, however, was to mobilize public opinion in Bogotá for a number of far-reaching changes in the city’s transportation system, and behind that in the philosophy that ultimately shapes it. The second half of the day’s title, “Let’s together imagine a new city” was continuously emphasized during the entire public information and planning process and was not just appended as a last minute after-thought.  This process of creating a new vision of the city based on the views of and supported by the citizens living and working there was the main goal and accomplishment of the whole program.

This goal was achieved, with more than 87% of those polled in the wake of the 24 February events indicating that they not only supported the car free day concept, but that they agreed as well with the city’s program long term program to put major restriction on private car traffic, while at the same time undertaking a massive rebuilding program of the city’s transportation system. This rebuilding effort is today, more than a year after the first Car free Day underway with on-going and far-reaching changes in terms of public transport service provision, a new high density Bus system, the TransMilenio, and a crash program of construction of bicycle paths, a pedestrianization program and a parallel program to create safe and agreeable public spaces. (In addition to creating 300 kms of cycle paths during the Peñalosa administration 450 thousand m2 of public space were recuperated for open public use.)


Mayor Enrique Penalosa pedals his stuff.

The Referendum and the Long Term

Such a radical rebuilding effort has to be part of a long term program, which of necessity requires a steady conversion effort spanning a number of years.  With this in view, the outgoing mayor of the city, Enrique Peñalosa, called the first ever public Referendum in order to secure public and legal support what would ensure that the rebuilding program would not become the victim of future political whims and changes.

The Referendum called for a 15 year program of systematic car reduction throughout the entire metropolitan region, and was backed by EcoPlan who once again created an international campaign and a supporting public website at that meshed closely with local and international media to gain public support for the vote. On October 29th more than a million citizens of Bogotá voted and cast three out of five of their votes in favor of the long term program.  With this result entering into the law of the land, the long term future of Bogotá sustainable transportation conversion program is now substantially guaranteed.

On January 1st a new mayor, Antanas Mockus, took office, and among his first official announcements was to manifest his public support of this long term program, including his support of the city’s second car free day which was successfully held on February 1st of this year.  The second Bogotá car free day substantially improved on the achievements of the first, while work on the city’s rebuilding program continues apace.

The international consortium organized by EcoPlan has not been disbanded and the firm intention is to build on this base to create a volunteer International Task Force that will provide continuing counsel and support for the full fifteen years of the transition process.  In turn the city of Bogotá under its new mayor is taking a leading role in supporting the Earth Car Free Day program launched by EcoPlan in cooperation with Earth Day in 2001 and which will celebrate its first event in hundreds of cities around the world on April 19th this year (


This cooperation between a city with an environment and transport system in trouble, daring and far sighted leaders ready to step beyond the usual party lines, millions of citizens ready to participate actively in rebuilding their city, and an informal volunteer network bringing together activists and leaders from the sustainability moment around the world, offer a new model for sustainable development and social justice which, we propose, is worthy of closer study and reflection.

Stockholm Challenge Environment Prize

stockholm-challenge-awardIn recognition of its supporting role in this success, on 5 June 2000 Eric Britton of EcoPlan was awarded the prestigious Stockholm Prize for the Environment (, which was shared with the mayor Enrique Peñalosa and the people of Bogotá in a moving ceremony in the famous Blue Hall of the city (where each year the Nobel Prizes are awarded).

Showing the way

And every year since, city-wide Día Sin Coches  – Car Fee Days – have been organized with great success and massive public support. The Día Sin Coches has inserted itself into the cultural heritage of that great city.

Beyond that, Bogota, its mayor and its people opened the way for thousands of great and small cities around the world not only to add their names to the list of Car Free Days but also to put their learning  experiences to work, to achieve important advances not only on one festive day but to learn that “Every day is a great day to take a few cars off the road, and think about it”.


[1] Summarizing materials reported in supporting site at For further information and ex­planation contact  Sources: City Hall, Police, Secretary of Health, DAMA (Environment Agency), Secretary of Education, El Tiempo, National University, Gimnasio Femenino, Yankelovich Acevedo y Asociados.

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About the author:

Eric Britton
13, rue Pasteur. Courbevoie 92400 France

Bio: Founding editor of World Streets (1988), Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher, occasional consultant, and sustainability activist who has observed, learned, taught and worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. In the autumn of 2019, he committed his remaining life work to the challenges of aggressively countering climate change and specifically greenhouse gas emissions emanating from the mobility sector. He is not worried about running out of work. Further background and updates: @ericbritton | | #fekbritton | | and | Contact: | +336 508 80787 (Also WhatApp) | Skype: newmobility.)

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