November/December 1995, p.2

Provocateur: Car-Oriented development is popping up like skunk cabbage

By Cora Roelofs

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I spent this past summer in London and was shocked at the extent to which cars have completely taken over the city in recent years. Public transit in London is both unreliable and expensive. Car-oriented development is popping up like skunk cabbage (you can't even get to the Mass Transit Museum except by car). The mostly narrow streets are totally clogged, and the air makes you retch, yet the Tory government can only manage to "advise motorists to leave their cars at home."

Enter Reclaim the Streets, a "group" with no leaders, members, or manifesto. One July Sunday, I decided to check out a protest I mentioned in a newspaper article. I arrived at a huge, hollow warehouse, and who did I run into but fellow Auto-Free New York supporter Peter Freund! Then somebody got up and said we would be leaving soon and make sure you had a legal support leaflet in case you got arrested. What? I was going to be deported for blocking a street?

The moment we stepped out of the Angel tube station in north London, we were transported to a whole different reality. Ordinarily, five major busy streets intersect there. This beautiful Sunday, the street was ours.

2,500 people danced, strolled, played, and just hung out. A banner reading "Kill the Car - Free the City" hung between two huge scaffolding tripods and blocked one road. Protesters sported signs declaring, "Pollution is the Halitosis of the State." The folks in charge of kid care spread out bags of sand and toys. Others protected the party/protest with a six-lane banner proclaiming "Street Open Now."

There were a few arrests, but the street remained liberated for the afternoon and I didn't get deported. Instead I got to join in an angry, happy, righteous auto-free rave that happens to be the most popular cause in the United Kingdom.

Just a couple of days later, The Guardian's lead story read "Majority back ban on cars in city centres." The story cited a poll's findings that even a majority of car owners now favor car-free zones. Now that's an effective protest!