By Douglas Moser
---- — It’s Car-Free Week beginning Monday, a week designated to encourage people to leave the car at home at least one day.
But chances are, you haven’t heard.
Car-Free Week, in its fifth year in Massachusetts, coincides with a world wide Car-Free Day on Sept. 22. The idea, supporters say, is to encourage people to begin thinking about alternate methods of transportation to use whenever possible.
“We felt that it was important to recognize that not all commuters can commute green on a daily basis,” said Rebecca Cyr, a spokeswoman with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which has a blog and Facebook page promoting the event. “Massachusetts Car-Free Week encourages them to try a green commute at least one day throughout an entire promotional week. The goal is that they will incorporate sustainable trips into their daily commutes all year long.”
The idea is to walk, bike, take public transportation or carpool to work, or even stay home a day by telecommuting or working a compressed week, saving one trip into the office. Route maps of the local regional transit agencies and the MBTA are available on Google Maps or on the agencies’ webpages.
MassDOT set up a Facebook page and used its webpage, the MBTA’s webpage and electronic billboards on interstates 93 and 90 to promote Car Free Week. But visibility was low last week in the Merrimack Valley. Even people who regularly take alternate transportation to work did not know about it.
“First time I heard about it,” said Dan Concessi, a Wakefield resident who often bikes to work at the North Andover Department of Public Works.
“I do it every day that I can. It’s weather permitting, basically,” he said. “For me there are three main reasons. One is it’s great fun. I love riding a bike. Two, it’s great exercise and three, with the cost of gas its good basic transportation. I have to sacrifice a lot in time, but it’s worth it to me.”
State Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, D-Methuen, said she had not heard of it either, but supported the idea. “I think highlighting increased public transportation opportunities and a general discussion on that is very beneficial,” said Campbell, who drives to Boston.
Ari Herzog, a Newburyport city councilor, came across the global Car Free Day last year and asked the city to designate the day locally. He said they did again this year.
“I think it definitely helps,” he said. “If you look back at the Earth Day movement that started decades ago, the concept is not just for hippies, everyone knows about it. Kids know about it. People are taught about the environmental and ozone issues. It’s all about education and awareness. I think something like World Car Free Day and MassDOT’s Car Free Week further promote that blended education and awareness.”
Newburyport also has a 10-mile bike festival scheduled the same day, and Herzog said he intended to participate in that and had no plans to drive.
George Vakerlis, a friend of Concessi’s who works in Wilmington, has been biking to work as often as he can for 40 years, spurred into the habit by the fuel crises of the 1970s. He also is a cyclist who uses the commute as a way to fit in a couple hours on the bike without interfering with his family schedule.
He has tried to get colleagues to join him on his ride, but found it is an uphill battle. “I have attempted to convince some people who live five to 10 miles from work to ride,” he said. “I try to encourage them just so I might have someone to ride with. But you’re either going to do it or not going to do it.”
Those who do find another way to work can log the green commute on a tracking site called NuRide, www.nuride.com, and be entered to win prizes from MassDOT. A $50 gift card will be awarded each day, and two grand prizes of a $150 gift card will be awarded at the end of the week. People who log their commute on NuRide are automatically entered.
Commuters also can submit videos of their commute on MassRIDES’ website, www.commute.com, for a chance at a $150 gift card.
Follow Douglas Moser on Twitter @EagleEyeMoser. To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to eagletribune.com.