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Carfree Conference About More Than Just Pedal Power

 Tuesday, in Portland a conference is teaching people how to become less reliant on their cars. It's called Toward Carfree Cities, and as April Baer found when she stopped by,  it's about more than just alternative transportation.

Going car-free isn't always about getting rid of your car. It also means having a destination worth biking or walking to.  Which is what led Kasandra Griffin and several dozen other people to set out Monday morning with crowbars and sledgehammers.

Kasandra Griffin: "What we're going to do here is take out 3000 square feet of  ugly, under-utilized asphalt,and we're going to put in a community gathering space and garden, with lots of fruit trees and berries and vines, and some native plants, and managing storm water from one adjacent building, maybe two adjacent buildings."

Griffin's part of a group called depave that teamed up with the  Carfree conference to help people make walkable, bikeable places a reality.

Once the broken-up asphalt is hauled away, and the park takes shape, the lot's owner has agreed to keep the space public for seven years.

Elly Blue is the transportation activist who's organizing the conference. She says people from many walks of life are coming out of the walls to talk about accessibility.

Elly Blue: "When we started planning this conference a year and a half ago, people thought it was a crazy radical fringe thing, but our major publicity push happened to hit at the same time when gas went to four dollars a gallon,a and it's been huge. All of a sudden,  the word carfree isn't a scary word anymore, it's something people really really want, and they want it now."

Blue says reducing car traffic in cities takes a lot of political advocacy — there'll be workshops about that. But imagination's another key ingredient.

Tuesday's agenda has  sessions on going car free with kids, and street modification. This evening, the bicycle dance troop Sprockettes are performing.

Later in the week, the talk turns to building better bikelanes,  carless freight transportation, and other topics.