Life in the slow lane takes-off

Worcester goes green: A historic city takes a calculated risk by urging commuters to leave their cars at home for a day
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The Independent Online
About 1,600 commuters changed the habit of a lifetime yesterday when they swapped cars for bicyles and their own two feet.

Worcester's first "Car Free Day" was devised to prove that the stranglehold cars have on Britain's historic cities can be broken.

While some commuters swapped their motors for public transport, others took to scooters and even penny farthings.

Worcester, bisected by the river Severn, has endured ever- worsening snarl-ups caused by 12,500 vehicles either entering or moving within the city boundaries during each morning rush-hour

Environmental health officers believe the city's medieval street pattern - a mix of narrow roads and tall, tightly packed buildings - makes air pollution difficult to disperse. Yesterday, the Cathedral ferry across the Severn was reopened for the day and many commuters turned to public transport. Although 1,608 cyclists and walkers crossed the city's two river bridges during the morning peak, long tailbacks still built up.

The organisers of the car-free day, Labour-controlled Worcester City Council, said traffic volume had decreased by 10 per cent.

By mid-morning a field used as one of three temporary park-and-ride sites boasted just six cars - and two 50-seater buses were standing idle with no passengers city-bound.

The city's chief engineer, Andy Walford, said: "The scheme was run on a shoestring budget of pounds 2,000 and I think it's been an enormous success.

"The reduction in traffic may sound small but it's had a big effect. Around 2,500 vehicles an hour cross Worcester bridge and at 8.15am the traffic is normally very much stop-start but today it was free-flowing.

"Cars add viability to the city but they are also destroying it because people are not managing use of their cars sensibly.

"Unless action is taken, journey times will become longer, our children will be poisoned by the fumes and we will eventually face paying automatic city road tolls for travelling from one zone to another."

Research has shown that three-quarters of the residents of Worcester travel less than three miles to work, but more than half of them go to work by car.