The Municipality of Colombo announced that the first day without a car would take place on Sunday, July 14, 2019. The municipality has partnered with the Netherlands Embassy in Sri Lanka to organize this pilot plan. Although many applaud this initiative that favors the environment, others debate on social networks.
For example, many women said the cars provide them with necessary protection against sexual harassment. Driving allows them to avoid walking on the streets or taking public transportation.
Street harassment is a daily reality for most women in Sri Lanka. A study conducted in 2015 by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) found that 90% of women surveyed had suffered street harassment while taking public transportation. Of these incidents, 74% were physical in nature and included unwanted touches.
According to this, journalist Marianne David tweeted:
No, I will not support car-free Colombo. I can barely walk 100 meters without some sick pervert or inbred idiot saying something perverted or stupid to me or making some strangled sound – today's was a meow, of all bloody sounds, a MEOW. So no, no car-free Colombo for me, thanks.
– Marianne David (@ MarianneDavid24) July 10, 2019
No, I will not support the day without a car in Colombo. I can barely walk a hundred meters without a sick pervert or an idiot by nature telling me something perverted or stupid or making some strange sound. Today was a meow, of all sounds, a MIAU. So no, nothing from Colombo without a car for me, thanks.
Then he added:
Tomorrow is #CarFreeCMB day & I wish the event the best. It's a good start which I hope brings about positive change. I am not anti-car free, I am anti-street harassment, which is a lot more important to me, & I hope our voices will help birth a street harassment free Sri Lanka.
– Marianne David (@ MarianneDavid24) July 13, 2019
Tomorrow is the day without a car in Colombo and I wish the best to the plan. It is a good start that I hope will bring positive changes. I am not against the day without a car, I am against street harassment that is much more important to me, and I hope that our voices will start a Sri Lanka free of street harassment.
Traffic in the capital of Sri Lanka has worsened lately due to the increase in motor vehicles (including three-wheelers) on its roads. According to official figures, the total number of vehicles increased by 67% to 7.2 million in 2017, from 4.8 million in 2012. In 2017, with a population of 21 million, Sri Lanka had a vehicle to person ratio of 1.3.
Some netizens applauded the movement:
Car-free Sunday, initiated by Embassy of Netherlands in Sri Lanka with CMC, aims to reduce our dependence on motor vehicles & to help realize how vehicle emissions is the largest contributor to air pollution & climate change.
Let's try walking & cycling!@Joan_ned #CarFreeCMB pic.twitter.com/BJrc2KVps9
– Coco Veranda (@cocoveranda) July 6, 2019
Car-free Sunday, initiated by the Netherlands Embassy in Sri Lanka with the Municipality of Colombo, aims to reduce our dependence on motor vehicles and help understand that their emissions are the biggest contributing factor to air pollution and change climate. Let's try to walk and ride bicycles!
The Dutch ambassador was also seen walking (or at least riding a bicycle) when she was returning from the press conference on her bicycle. According to the organizers of the charka, people can show their support for the day without a car walking, riding a bicycle, rollerblades and other non-motorized means:
Dutch Ambassador Joanne Doornewaard is seen cycling back to the Embassy after a joint news conference with Colombo Mayor Rosy Senanayake today where they announced the CarfreeCMB program to be held on July 14, 2019. pic.twitter.com/vE505vu4qQ
– Sunil Jayasiri (@sjayasiri) July 5, 2019
The Dutch ambassador Joanne Doornewaard is seen returning to the embassy after a press conference in the company of the mayor of Colombo, Rosy Senanayake, where they announced the program of the day without a car in Colombo, to be held on July 14, 2019.
Re-imagine how we could use our streets if they were car-free for a morning. On 14th July from 6.00am-12.00pm, selected streets will be open exclusively to pedestrians and cyclists. Join in on foot, skateboard, bicycle or rollerblades to stay fit and eat clean. #CarFreeCMB pic.twitter.com/Qtcw0iaJgp
– Car Free CMB (@CarFreeCMB) July 8, 2019
Imagine again how we could use our streets if they were free of cars for one morning. On July 14 from 6.00 a.m. until 12.00pm, the selected streets will be open exclusively for pedestrians and cyclists. Join on foot, on skates or bicycles to keep fit and eat healthy.
However, on Twitter, user Sanduni Hettigoda felt that the plan only scratched the surface of the problem:
There is no point having a car-free Colombo unless the state addresses the root causes of traffic and pollution. For example, they can introduce more electric charging points, reduce the prices of electric cars, give easy access to solar power.
– Sanduni Hettigoda (@SandHettigoda) July 10, 2019
It makes no sense to have a day without cars in Colombo, unless the State addresses the main causes of traffic and pollution. For example, they can add more points of electric charge, reduce the prices of electric cars and facilitate access to solar energy.
Others questioned the effectiveness of the initiative, since the day without a car applies only to a small portion of the city and affects only private vehicles:
1) why bill it as a ‘debate’ 2) #carfreecmb isn’t going to apply to public transport only to personal use cars AFAIK 3) honestly shocked how the element of class privilege / socio-economic capacity isn’t being handled properly or even acknowledged here https://t.co/2lhrqd4rdG
– S M W (@ smwij88) July 13, 2019
Day without a car in Sri Lanka generates debate for women's safety.
Although it may be good for the environment, not having the safety of cars and public transport has raised fears.
1) Why is it presented as a “debate”? 2) The day without a car will only be applied in private vehicles, not to public transport. 3) I am honestly surprised how the element of privileged class / socioeconomic capacity is not handled or recognized properly.
@Rosy_Senanayake Proposed s proposed “car-free day” is not a car free day, but a day of road closures. See the map for the stretch that will be closed and how main trunk routes will be blocked forcing motorists to take longer D-tours. pic.twitter.com/kDTRWevRDE
– M A Ratna (@maratnasiri) July 7, 2019
Rosy Senanayake's “car-free day” proposal is not a car-free day, but a road closure. Look at the map to see the section that will be closed and how the main routes will be blocked, which will force drivers to take longer tracks.
Certainly, on Twitter, user Shamika Kulasingham was not convinced that the day without a car would affect the long-term change:
Thought it was a great idea till I realized it was for a limited time in a limited space. #CarFreeCMB is more dangerous than sustainable as it will only result in feel good activism. Alternative- improve public transport so that more people will travel in it. https://t.co/oQblHYGYQ7
– Shamika Kulasingham (@ Shamika_25) July 11, 2019
First car-free launch in Colombo.
I thought it was a great idea until I understood that it was limited time and space. The day without a car is more dangerous than sustainable, because it will only result with a good activism. Alternative: improve public transport for more people to use for their transfers.
However, for Radha Withanachchi, the issues of long-term environmental benefits and women's safety were inextricably combined:
I'm all for reducing pollution (it's a necessity!) But #CarFreeCMB will only be a glossy one time event, until public transport & public spaces are safe for women. https://t.co/u2KmvoKYmU
– Radha Withanachchi (@caliginousradha) July 11, 2019
If you don't go by bus in the overwhelming heat with bags that cross your shoulders and old men with erections lean over your shoulders that tell you that they would love to suck you, then, for God's sake, don't tell me how I should move in ecological ways in Colombo.
I am in favor of reducing pollution (it is a necessity!) But the day without a car will be something bright at once, until transport and public space are safe for women.
Anupama Ranawana added:
What you point is the privilege at the heart of #carfreecmb campaign Folk who use buses / tuks / walk hv to navigate myriad challenges incl overcrowding, bad service, unhygienic conditions, sex harassment. If campaign really wanted to go care free it would try for transformation.
– Anupama Ranawana (@ ARanawana25) July 13, 2019
Frankly I am worried about the rage to the point of feeling genuine confusion. Does anyone outrage that there is sexual harassment in the streets and on public transport? Do the car owners and women who drive from Colombo really say they will not leave their cars for a day? Am i missing something?
What you highlight is the privilege at the center of the campaign. People who use buses, tuktuk or walk must go through countless challenges such as overcrowding, poor service, unhygienic conditions and sexual harassment. If the campaign were concerned, it would try the transformation.
Now, the only “transformation” in sight is in the Colombo Light Rail Transit System, which will begin operating in 2021 and is expected to improve much of the current traffic problems in the capital of Sri Lanka:
– Kaveen Rodrigo (@enigmamaker) July 8, 2019
I really hope that Colombo's light rail will reduce the 7.5 km journey that takes me an hour and a half! And to contribute massively to the day without a car in Colombo.
Changing the culture of sexual harassment is not so simple.