Car-Free Avenue after dusk, Source:

Tartu’s Car-Free Avenue focuses on environmental protection

Tartu’s Car-Free Avenue focuses on environmental protection

The event has proved popular, but the location might be wrong, with diverted traffic leading to more pollution

Car-Free Avenue in Tartu, Estonia’s second largest city, opened on 9 July for the second consecutive year and can be visited until 8 August. The event, organized by Tartu City Government, Tiigi Society House, Tartu 2024 Foundation and other partners, takes place on a closed-for-traffic section of the four-lane Vabaduse Boulevard which runs alongside the Emajõgi river.

This year’s event places greater emphasis on environmental protection, with nature-friendly activities and an exhibition on the theme sponsored by the British Embassy.

Reusable dishes and waste measurement

Vendors on Car-Free Avenue are only offering food and drinks in reusable dishes, and visitors who bring their own tableware can wash it at a dishwashing station. No bottled water is sold and people can use a free drinking water point instead. Surplus food is being distributed through a food distribution cabinet to reduce waste.

Waste sorting is being done on-site by type, and the volume of generated garbage is being mapped. Other environmental impact indicators are also measured, such as vehicle kilometres and the cost of fuel required for the construction of the site, visitor and cyclist numbers, water and energy consumption, and more. Assessing the impact of Car-Free Avenue on the environment will help the city government in setting subsequent green goals.

Self-driving bus

Workshops and events will be devoted to promoting environmentally friendly modes of transport. The most eye-catching attraction in this regard is the self-driving bus running along Car-Free Avenue. For those who prefer using their own bike, additional bicycle parking space is provided.

There will be a Cycling Day and Elva in Tartu County, which is the European City of Sport for 2021, is calling on visitors to collect running and walking kilometres in the Elva Million. Seniors and other visitors of Car-Free avenue can measure, until August 1, their bone density in Tartu Town Hall pharmacy free of charge. 

Many of the familiar attractions, including cafes, food trucks, a pool, playground, and climbing frame, were re-used from last year, and all on-site facilities use electricity supplied from renewable energy sources.

Project’s pros and cons

Tartu city architect Tõnis Arjus describes Car-Free Avenue is an experimental project for the future, as the normal four-lane asphalt road by the river is definitely not a modern public space. Some residents, including a Tartu City Council member, however, are not happy with the project’s location, ETV reports. They lament the impeded access to the city centre, especially for people with reduced mobility and argue that the diverted car traffic leads to jams and consequently to more air pollution.

Estonian Green Movement experts meanwhile have proposed removing the asphalt and turning the area into a park. For the more than 150 000 people who visited Car-Free Avenue last year, this could be a welcome ultimate solution.

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