Vehicles have been banned from many roads around Basel on Sunday in a cross-border event intended to bring together the region's inhabitants.
The so-called SlowUp event – where people can walk, cycle or skate on car-free roads – is being held on a 60km route along the River Rhine. It involves five border crossings and seven river crossings and loops through Switzerland, Germany and France.
"SlowUp Basel-Dreiland" is the 15th such happening in Switzerland this year. Celebrating its tenth anniversary, the slowUp concept has attracted half a million people this year alone. Organisers expect 40,000-60,000 people will attend Sunday's car-free day in Basel.
"SlowUp really is a success story. Nobody could have dreamt when it all started that so many people would join in," Wendel Hilti director of slowUp Basel-Dreiland told swissinfo.ch.
The theme of the Basel event portrays the region's multicultural and multilingual diversity: "gemeinsam en route – ensemble unterwegs" (travelling together).
"For Basel it is an important goal to promote movement and contacts beyond our borders, within the euro district. We want to underline living together in the three neighbouring countries Switzerland, France and Germany," Hilti explained.
"Other aims are to promote regional tourism and to encourage physical exercise. Also it's all about making people happy for the day. They can enter and leave when and where they like. It's a very peaceful event for everyone."
Made possible by various national sponsors, slowUp is free, non-commercial and colourful: from high-wheel bicycle acrobats to flower-clad prams there are few rules, as long as participants use their own muscle power.
Wheelchair users are also welcome. Procap, Switzerland's largest self-help organisation for the disabled, is the national service partner enabling physically challenged people to take part.
Bringing together young and old, families and individuals, fitness freaks and couch potatoes, slowUp is – as the name says – all about slowing down our hectic lifestyle and increasing pleasure.
It is also a lucrative form of income for communities and municipalities along the route. Sunday's slowUp sees 15 recreational stopping points where various stands sell food and beverages.
Many communities in Switzerland have expressed interest in holding the car-free days but they are quite a feat to organise and the criteria are strict. Compared with more rural settings, Basel's slowUp route is complex to control as it passes through built-up areas and urban agglomerations.
Some 500 helpers are working throughout the Basel region to ensure the event runs smoothly.
They are divided into two groups: one, comprising mainly traffic cadets, is responsible for securing the route – traffic has to be stopped and redirected so no cars enter the designated areas. The second mans the stalls and work at the 15 stopping points.
Participants have been encouraged to travel to the route by bicycle, skates or public transport, as it is intended to be environmentally friendly.
The roads are closed from 9am-6pm in order for the event to take place between 10am and 5pm. There are no entrance or exit points, but three loops with everyone travelling in the same direction.
Due to increased interest, the slowUp organisers are adding a new location each year which means that by 2011 there will be 17 events throughout Switzerland, taking place between April and September.
Reducing speed and enjoying a quiet Sunday stroll are not just a thing of the past, as Hilti explains.
"What impresses me most is the amount of space and quiet there is without cars. Being slow is something we have forgotten in today's motorised, speeded-up world."
Claudia Spahr, swissinfo.ch
Founded ten years ago as a project for the Expo 02, the first slowUp took place on the shores of Lake Murten.
63 slowUps have been organised so far, four of them cross-border.
48% of all participants travel to the event by bicycle or skates, 24% take public transport and 28% use a car to get there.
Over two million people have attended a slowUp event since 2000.
Around SFr12 million ($11.65 million) are spent at each event.
The next slowUp will be held on September 27 by Lake Zurich.
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