Public and private groups will push pedal power, public transit and a city with fewer automobiles during Central Ohio Car Free Day on Thursday, Sept. 22.

Public and private groups will push pedal power, public transit and a city with fewer automobiles during Central Ohio Car Free Day on Thursday, Sept. 22.

The event will feature small urban parks conceived inside single parking spots, new video promotions from the Central Ohio Transit Authority and awards for businesses that encourage alternative transportation. It combines two happenings celebrated separately in Columbus in previous years.

“This year, they decided to celebrate Car Free Day and Park(ing) Day on the same day to get some more activity and attention to it all,” said COTA spokeswoman Elizabeth Berkemer. “It’s going to be a lot bigger this year than it has before.”

Likely the event’s most visible component will be the car-free parking spots, which will be Downtown, in the Short North and around OSU. Participants take a space on a street or in a lot and turn it into a place to relax, fix a bike or grab refreshments.

The number of car-free spots will be larger than past Park(ing) Day events, said Ashley Lester, program coordinator for the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission. Retailers, nonprofits and even government groups are participating this year.

Spots near Campus will offer free bike maintenance, free ice cream, coupons and more. In front of the Jury Room, several groups will be offering a bike valet and bath.

Spots will be occupied from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Together, the transit promotions and car-free craftiness aim to encourage alternative transportation in Columbus, which has struggled to loosen its grasp on the steering wheel.

Rates of carpooling, biking and riding public transit to work all declined slightly from 2008 to 2009, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. However, COTA’s average weekday ridership has jumped to 61,805 — a 9.5 percent increase compared with the year prior.

“With Car Free Day, we’re trying to get people out of their personal vehicle — walk, ride a bike, carpool, ride the bus,” Berkemer said. “We’re really out there to get them just to try it for one day. They’ll see how easy it is to make that lifestyle change.”