World Car Free Day


When I was heading up to do my school crossing guard duties on soul crushing, crazy busy Highway 93 on September 22nd, I was thinking it would be so cool if it was a lighter day for traffic on the highway. After all September 22nd was designated as World Car Free Day. It would be really amazing if there was actually one day out of the three hundred and sixty-five days a year where we were free from the trappings of the automobile. Where small children could break free from the firm grip of their parents and be carefree as they run to school. One quick glance at the highway reminded me today was not the day.

A short bike commute on my vintage early 1990’s Rocky Mountain Fusion to the school crosswalk on Provincial Highway 93. It was “business as usual” on this business highway between Barrie and Midand/Penetanguishene. Even on World Car Free Day.

Wards Intelligence estimated that in 2016 there were 1.32 billion cars and trucks on our planet’s roads. This is a best estimate given from all the different bodies responsible for counting them. They also estimate that by 2036 there will be 2.8 billion vehicles on the planet. This is from using past models of a staggering doubling in vehicles every 20 years and no projected foreseeable change in the future. Kalle Lasn writes in the book “Culture Jam” that “the personal automobile is arguably the most destructive product we humans have ever produced”.

I have lived in the same village for 31 years. Traffic volume has gotten so much busier. Add cell phones into the mix, and it is frightening. I try to do everything possible to get the attention of the drivers and to calm traffic at the school crosswalk on Highway 93. This includes setting up several bright orange traffic cones. They regularly get hammered by speeding and/or inattentive drivers. The impact from one last week was so violent it broke off a fog light cover. The driver fled the scene. Traffic cones can be replaced. Children cannot be replaced.
My main focus is the Provincial highway. Though there are also times this side street really keeps me on my toes. Drivers very seldom stop behind the white line behind the sidewalk to check for pedestrians coming. Such as this driver, which drove through the crosswalk and way past it before stopping. Totally oblivious to pedestrians coming.
Depending on the day, in a course of an hour there will be between 700-1000 drivers pass through my crosswalk. Some will have flags mounted or decals displayed boldly proclaiming messages of who they are and/or what they stand for. Vile messages like this really give me the chills. Image Source.

In my area of Canada, population growth has become exponential. Urban sprawl is running rampart with mega-sized single use housing developments popping up all over the countryside. All requiring car dependency. There are no other options. No public transportation services. No safe cycling and active transportation infrastructure. I do have a 2008 Toyota Prius hybrid, which I drive approximately 2,000 kilometers a year. I would give it up in a heartbeat if there were public transportation services and a safe cycling infrastructure available in my area of Hillsdale. With more vehicles added on the roads daily, it equates to more carnage. An article I wrote titled One Second mentions there are 1.3 million humans dying each year from car drivers. One every 24 seconds. Nearly half of these deaths comprise of vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists. Not to mention the millions who are maimed each year by car drivers. Forbes magazine lists the automobile as the worldwide leading cause of death for children and young adults.

Taken in 2020, this was such a beautiful meadow for bees, birds and butterflies. Very same meadow next photo
The meadow being sold off as estate lots.
You would never recognize this as the same beautiful meadow. Soon to become luxury homes on the edge of my village. On cul-dee-sacs, which is such a waste of paving over valuable land. With no public transportation available or active transportation infrastructure, these homes will all be geared around car dependency adding more cars and drivers on the road.
This was one of my dad’s favorite farms. He would roll over in his grave if he knew what was happening to it. All this heavy machinery lined up had me thinking of an army mobilizing and about to attack and destroy. Those articulated haulers and motorized earth scrapers are massive. This prime farmland, soon to be a mega housing development is 15 kilometers from where I live. This will create even more urban sprawl and more car dependency.
After generations of being continuously farmed, the farm directly behind me has sold to a developer. This will just be another example of urban sprawl with single use, car dependent housing. The tree in the field has always been a village landmark for generations and will be cut down by the developers. For a monthly image of the beautiful maple tree, taken on the 21st of each month at 4:45pm, here is my Twitter thread.

I’m 64. and in my lifetime, I have really noticed the erosion of the sense of community in our neighborhoods. I grew up when our communities were so vibrant. We knew and cared for one another. All the shopping could be done on weekdays and Saturday at the local General Store. The General Store was our community hub and gathering place for meeting one another. Sunday was the day where families in communities went to connect in church together. If someone in the community got married there was even a community shower at the community hall. Everyone knew everyone else in the community. My mom was often one who collected money for the new bride or groom for a few presents. The community hall was always a packed house for that shower. Many of them were dances with a live band or a disc jockey. Sometimes even a square dance. They were so much fun. Nowadays local General Stores have all disappeared. Not much of anything happens at community halls these days for community events. And churches, which at one time were such a central part of the community are closing. Such as the one I poured heart and soul into, to try to keep it going for the past 11+ years. There was just no interest from the community anymore. Churches are an example of a place of connection in what Nathan Alleback describes as a “third place”. A third place is somewhere people hangout that isn’t home and isn’t work. He further elaborates in this two minute twenty second video on Twitter.

Established 171 years ago in 1851, the Presbyterian church had its final service May 29, 2022. The small congregation remaining was dissolved, and the building went up for sale. Having been lay pastor the final 11+ years, the closure was an enormous weight on my shoulders. Communities are changing. And not for the better. Sixty years ago, this local church which seats 170 would have been packed on a Sunday.

I’ve been in this community of Hillsdale for 31 years. There are people in my community in whom I have never met. The only time I see them over the years are when they are strapped within the glass and steel cages of their vehicles. With their automatic garage door openers, on arrival at home they drive right into the garage and then out of sight. I have seen them coming and going for years. I may know who they are. I may know where they live. But I don’t know them. The automobile has made society extremely impersonal and antisocial. Which makes me very sad. It is not unusual for people in my village to commute 100 kilometers each way for work. Or that same distance for entertainment or recreation. Once back home they tend to keep completely to themselves.

I googled “car driving into garage”. All examples that came up were like this. But it still works. Image Source.💥

Global corporate automakers multi-billion-dollar marketing budgets have been running television and magazine ads my entire lifetime. Completely unchallenged. Their mass-produced cars are marketed as creating individuality and freedom. The ads are effective because many people really have intense, sometimes obsessive relationships with their cars. Manufacturers deliberately change design drastically every few years and drivers become convinced that trading in the old bomb for a brand-new model is the smart thing to do. Which explains why so many car owners dutifully walk into a car showroom every few years for a rejuvenating boost. In reality they have become enslaved to their vehicles in the form of car payments, insurance, parking costs and maintenance. Not to mention the amount of time drivers are stuck in traffic. That’s not freedom. The Balance Money website adds up the cost of depreciation, insurance, maintenance & repairs, and gas and you are looking at spending $10,800-$12,000 per car each year for one average car. SUV’s and pickups are pricier. We have created a society in Canada built around car dependency. Most households in my area have at least 2 vehicles per household.

If car advertising wasn’t cost effective, manufacturers wouldn’t be spending billions of dollars a year doing it. Car advertising has been around my entire life and beyond. I was born in 1958. The enticement is always something new, exciting and revolutionary. So much so, that you just have to have it. Constantly changing body styles keep car owners returning to the showrooms for the latest design. Image Source.
Vancouver urban planner & global advisor on cities Brent Toderian shared this photo and tweet on Twitter, “Car dependency is the opposite of freedom. It takes away our choices & leaves us trapped — & I don’t just mean trapped in traffic. Plus, it’s massively expensive, time & space consuming, mentally & physically unhealthy, anti-social, & future-ruining. Put THAT in a car commercial”.

But this is not the true costs of car ownership. The sticker price of a car does not tell the ecological truth. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency is that “Driving a private car is probably a typical citizen’s most ‘polluting’ daily activity.” Oil companies and car manufacturers get off “scot-free”. And sadly, the environmental costs of driving are passed on to future generations to the tune of multiple billions of dollars a year. Not only is there driving emissions, but there is also production emissions and end of life emissions. Researcher and author Stephen Rees breaks it down as follows for a medium-sized car with a three-way catalytic converter, driven 130,000 km (about 80,000 miles) over ten years, and averaging 100 kilometers per 10 liters of unleaded fuel (approximately 23.5 miles per gallon). “Extracting raw materials: 26.5 metric tons of waste, 922 million cubic meters of polluted air. Transporting raw materials: 12 liters of crude oil in ocean, 425 million cubic meters of polluted air. Producing the car: 1.5 metric tons of solid waste, 74 million cubic meters of polluted air. Driving the car: 18.4 kg of abrasive waste (tire and brake wear), 1,016 million cubic meters of polluted air. Disposing of the car: 102 million cubic meters of polluted air.”

Taken at a local auto wrecker. There is a high emission cost of disposing a car. Statistica Canada has listed the average age of a car being driven in Canada is 9.66 years old. This is actually an improvement from 7.25 years old in 1990.
There is no such thing as a “zero-emission” car. When you factor in all forms of emissions, electric vehicles are not nearly as “green” as they are currently being made out to be. Plus, because they are heavier due to the extra weight of the battery, they are more deadly to vulnerable people such as pedestrians and cyclists. Image Source.

The cost of car ownership goes even farther. The sticker price of a car does not include the paving over of valuable land for roads and parking lots. Car dependence is a result of the urban sprawl so prevalent in the area in which I live. Farmland is taken out of food production. Canadians for a Sustainable Society mention that “Only 3.2% of Canada’s entire land base is suitable for growing food. Yet this is where most of the urban sprawl is happening. The latest census (released May 2022) by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture is that “Ontario is losing 319 acres of productive farmland every day”. It is a steep climb from the 175 daily average loss that was recorded in the 2016 Census of Agriculture. Much of this is from uncontrolled urban sprawl. Once this farmland is gone, it is gone forever. That is simply not sustainable if we hope to have any kind of food sovereignty or independence in Ontario. All societies are ultimately built on the productivity of the land as neatly summarized in the saying “No soil, no civilization.” On top of those 319 acres of farmland a day, forests are cleared. Wetlands are drained. Paved areas (roads and parking lots) create all kinds of local environmental problems. Oil, grease, leaky antifreeze and heavy metals combine to make a toxic soup that drips from the underside of cars. In heavy rains the excess flows directly into nearby open water (streams, lakes, and oceans), where it harms aquatic life and contaminates our water sources. This is not even getting into the fossil fuel driven climate change. Global heating is supercharging extreme weather at an astonishing speed. An entire topic in itself. This does not factor in the 385,000 premature deaths from vehicle exhausts. Or according to the International Council on Clean Transportation, the $1 trillion annual cost of transportation-attributable health related impacts.

Find this and other highly relevant cartoons on Andy Singers website.

I hate all these things with a passion and yet I still drive my 15-year-old Toyota Prius. There is a convenience of getting somewhere when I need to, such as when called to conduct a funeral. But there are also no viable alternatives. No public transportation available. No safe cycling infrastructure. My relationship with my Prius, the auto and fossil fuel industries and governments who continue to prioritize and subsidize automobile travel has me full of guilt and angst and barely repressed anger. I get very frustrated when nearly all a government transportation budget is focused on subsidizing automobile transportation.

This aerial photo of a congested freeway (not much freedom here) is I-405 in Los Angeles in 2017 during the Thanksgiving long weekend. But it can represent any congested multiple lane highway in North America on a long weekend. Same scenario. Image Source.
I was on Katy Freeway in Houston in 2019. It was a nightmare. And I wasn’t even driving. I was on a Greyhound bus on the way to Mexico to run with the Monarch Ultra. A tornado struck Dallas. Highways were closed. The bus ended up rerouting through Houston. At 27 lanes it is the widest highway in the world. So much valuable land was paved over to mainly accommodate the personal automobile. Image urban designer Ludo Campbell-Reid on Twitter.

I know I’m not the only one who would bike and take public transit everywhere if there was the infrastructure. Bikes use no fossil fuels, emit zero carbon in use, and deposit very little polluting material on the paved surfaces they travel. Manufacturing bikes uses a lot fewer resources than building cars. Bicycles are the most efficient means of transportation on our planet. In all this there may be a glimmer of hope. Particularly in Europe there is a shifting in attitudes towards the personal automobile. Rachel Aldred, a professor of transport at London Westminster University quotes “The world is reaching a state of “peak cars,” and behavior change is being driven by younger people. She says that the car, long a symbol of freedom, is increasingly coming to be seen as inconvenient, expensive and ecologically indefensible.” In a September 2022, Reasons to be Cheerful article titled “Cars are Vanishing from Paris”, it quotes, “Since 1990, the proportion of journeys by car in Paris has dropped about 45 percent, use of public transit has risen by 30 percent and the share of cyclists has increased tenfold”. This is due in part to the remarkable urban planning leadership of Mayor Anne Hidalgo of implementing the concept of what is known as a 15-minute city. A “15-minute-city” is a city, neighborhood, or community that meets all human needs within a 15-minute walk or bike ride. For our planets livable future, we desperately need leadership that thinks outside the personal metal box.

Paris, France. Image from the article “Cars are Vanishing from Paris”.

So, the 22nd of September every year is World Car Free Day. If you didn’t know before, you do know now. It is one day a year that is set aside to try and avoid using cars. And go cycling, walking or using public transport instead. Car Free Day aims to take the heat off the planet for just one day by encouraging people to be less dependent on their cars and try alternatives.

My grandson Archie lives in New Zealand. Even though I haven’t met him, I sure love him. He loves getting outdoors in the fresh air and exploring nature. Just like his grandpa. My daughter sent this photo with the caption, “Another day. Another adventure”.
Sadly, this is the state of our society and only adds more drivers on the roads. Traffic inducing traffic. That’s why I am so passionate about my job. That these children can walk to school safely without having to be driven. Image Source.

I love being the School Crossing Guard in Hillsdale. I love seeing the children walk and cycle to school each day at my school crosswalk on Highway 93. Getting all that exercise and fresh air. They give me so much joy. The kids really seem to look forward to seeing me as much as I look forward to seeing them. At the start of the school year, I get to meet many new parents at the crosswalk. They may be either new to the village or walking with a child who is just starting kindergarten for the 1st time. It is so wonderful to get to meet and know my neighbors here in Hillsdale this way. Active transportation restores a portion of the vitality of a community that seems to be tragically broken by the private automobile. Kids having so much fun interacting with each other on their way to school. I’ll also see parents of the younger children happy and relaxed while walking, talking and connecting together.

There are a lot of children young and old that cross the highway every day. With this being a public blog, I didn’t want to have their faces shown here. A few of the parents and grandparents were very kind to allow me to take their photo while on their way to meet their younger children at school.
Such a beautiful young family who kindly allowed me to take their photo. It’s a big challenge for Tom and Julie to get 4 children (one is a brand-new baby snuggled under Julie’s coat) dressed in time to walk what I guess would be around a 0.75 kilometer walk to school. Seeing all the young children and families walking to school instead of driving gives me so much joy.

Having a crossing guard on duty to get everyone to school safely is very important for everyone. Not just for Hillsdale. In all honesty, there should be an adult human school crossing guard on any road that poses extreme danger for kids to get to school safely. With so much money spent on roads for the private automobile, this is extremely low hanging fruit for municipalities to provide safe active transportation for extremely vulnerable children to walk to school without being driven. Some parents have mentioned they would never allow their children to walk alone across Highway 93 to school without a crossing guard. With a crossing guard on duty, other parents have made the commitment to walk with their young child each and every single day to and from school. This is huge. It becomes habit and when that child gets older there will never be the expectation to be driven everywhere, including school. Healthier for them. Healthier for the environment. And great for Hillsdale Elementary School which aims to maintain its Platinum certification in the Ecoschool Program. It is a win-win situation. Happy World Car Free Day.

Screenshot of a video that the Simcoe County Board of Education shot in March 2022. It was an honour to be featured in “National School Crossing Guard Appreciation Day”. Here is the link to the 1-minute video on Twitter.
If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know I retweet a lot of material by Tom Flood. Tom just compiled a one-minute video which contains this photo (tweeted April 5th) and several others. The video came out of a note he wrote to Hamilton, Ontario city council after an 11-year-old boy was killed by the driver of a pickup truck in a crosswalk with the light and with a crossing guard while walking home from school. Here is the link.
The Netherlands is famous for having the happiest children in the world. There is a reason why. Jason Slaughter from the YouTube channel “Not Just Bikes” used to live in London Ontario but has moved his family away from suburbia to Amsterdam in the Netherlands. An eye-opening video.
Categories: EnvironmentTags: , , , , , , , , ,

21 comments

  1. 100km commute one way? That’s insane, Carl!
    When will people realize that sitting in their cars for several hours a day diminishes their quality of life?

    You mentioned an important aspect, one I never thought about: how cars prohibit social interaction in a community. No small talk in the street or at the local store – everyone is encased in a metal box.
    North American towns and cities are made for cars, not humans. I’m always amused when North Americans visit Europe. Their first reaction is always “you walk so much!” 😉

    I love reading about your crossing-guard duty. Without you, an important part of the community would be lost. Parents like Tom and Julie give me hope that things could change in the future. Maybe more and more people will discover that car dependency is a form of enslavement, not of freedom.

    Let’s hope the next World Car Free Day will get more recognition! Thank you for this post, Carl!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Such a well thought out and articulated comment, Catrina. Thank you.

      It is quite common for a lot of people to commute 100 kilometers one way. The region where I live is known as the “bedroom of Toronto”. Housing (though not cheap) is much cheaper than in Toronto. Jobs in Toronto tend to be higher paying in the professional sector, so people buy up here and commute. My next-door neighbor did a 110-kilometer commute one way for 31 years. He just retired sold his house and moved. Every day on the road at 5:00 am and back home midafternoon. I don’t know how he did it. The longest daily commute I’m aware of is the wife of a man who works in the post office where my wife is postmaster. She lives 35 kilometers north of here (housing even a bit less again) and drives to Mississauga each day. A city on its own, but also part of Toronto (where Toronto International Airport is). Her job is very high paying, but her daily commute is 155 kilometers each way (310 kilometer round trip).

      Something I am very mindful of on my crosswalk. Many of these drivers are so sleep deprived. If late getting out the door they are speeding and sometimes running red lights because they don’t want to stop.

      Lack of social interaction because of cars is huge here in Canada. People in their 20’s this is all they’ve known. So, this is “normal” for them. Going back 55-60 years there was not the dependency with cars like there is now. A 100-kilometer commute was unheard of. And if people were to travel distances, there were still trains running back then. Since then, the tracks have been ripped up to be replaced by highways.

      What it is making it even worse nowadays is more and more vehicles are having dark privacy glass. tinting done. Before, at least I could see a person in their steel cage. Now I can’t even see that. Not only is it making it more impersonal., but it is also making the crosswalk much more dangerous. I cannot see what the driver is doing and react accordingly. What I have been reading it is also becoming a safety issue for police officers.

      Car dependency really is a form of enslavement. I really admire you and Kai for your car free lifestyle. Thank you so much! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, dear, dark glass now too. You can’t even make eye-contact anymore. That’s a big safety issue, especially for crossing guards!
        You have my utmost respect for what you’re doing for those children every day, Carl! 🤗

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Carl! So great to read this post. I concur, the same things are happening in the US and it always makes my heart so sad whenever I see more land eroded and trees cut. 😦 My boys love construction though so it’s an interesting dichotomy to bridge with them. We had a nice discussion about the importance of using non-fossil burning fuel cars etc… we were discussing electric vehicles at length today. 🙂 I hope you’re doing well. Lovely to see your small Archie, getting to be a toddler now. 🙂 All the best, and cheers to walking, running, and going on foot! We walk my oldest to PreK daily now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to read, Rachael Ann. And such a great comment. I love the fact that you are having discussions with your boys on this topic. Kids are smart. Electric vehicles do have advantages. But also, some drawbacks. It was my own adult son who brought to my attention the high emissions created in building an electric vehicle. And the weight of a battery for a Hummer EV weighs more than an entire Honda Civic.
      We will always need vehicles. I think of your sons love of construction. They would need work vehicles for their job.
      Once my Prius dies I don’t if I’ll get another vehicle. And keep advocating for better public transportation and safer active transportation.
      I’m doing very well. Yes, little Archie is growing. Even though I have never met him, his photos give me much joy. They do grow up so fast. So amazing you are walking your oldest to PreK now. Thank you for walking. This makes me very happy. Thank you again for sharing. 😀🚸

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello
    Such a nice post with many sections to learn with!
    Loved seeing your grandson,
    Archie, headed for some fresh air and adventure –

    And I am shocked by all the stats about cars –
    And I recently filled out surveys for our county ad they try to plan more bike paths and sidewalks!

    I would bike more if I could because it is so good for health and the environment
    – and from this post and the “one second” post I really liked learning about how long it takes to stop!
    –/
    We were coming home from the airport one time and it was 3 am (ugh) and we were on a back road and saw a truck to our left (two lanes each side of the road so not too back road )
    But my husband was like “watch – that truck won’t be able to stop”
    And he was right – the tuck slowly rolled thru a red light
    It was carrying two huge concrete circle things

    It led to a short chat about how trucks can’t stop quickly (nor start rolling quickly)
    And your post explains so much more!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for sharing this, Yvette. Thank you filling out the surveys to plan more bike paths and sidewalks. This is extremely important. For myself, I don’t cycle nearly as much as I want. It is so unsafe. If the infrastructure was there, I would really use it.
      Every week there are more fatalities on the roads in this area. My wife is postmaster and one of her regular customers got killed by a dump truck just the other day. A 27-year-old father of 2, one a brand-new baby. I don’t know the details if the truck couldn’t stop or what.
      I see a lot of dangerous stuff at my crosswalk. It is making me research all this deeply so I can have some backing of statistics while advocating for change.
      I really appreciate you taking the time to read this article and the One Second article. You are the best. 🚸 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • It was my pleasure to check out the articles and they were so well written – and really nicely done!

        that is so sad about the 27-year old. SO SAD!
        and you are right – it is very unsafe for bikers and Hope that this changes in towns around the world. Biking is so good for the heart and body too – all that starting and stopping and we can pace ourselves.
        Last year – we did local biking in the back roads in our neighborhood and it was pretty safe from traffic – but I was biking along the grass and suddenly hit a hidden piece of concrete from a drainage pipe. I flipped over the handle bars and landing on the ground.
        Thank God I dod yoga or I would have been injured more. I was sore for days – oh and I did have on a helmet. And is makes me sad to see folks without helmets on any type of bike.
        On our last trip to FL we saw a pool biker dude riding in the breeze on the highway – but with no helmet. That is a bad choice.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m glad you weren’t hurt any worse from flying over the handlebar, Yvette. That is scary. Cycling really is healthy activity. The biggest thing is to make it safe. Particularly in Europe, where they provide safe cycling infrastructure, people will use it. 🚴😀

        Liked by 1 person

      • thanks and hoping we get more safe places to cycle – 🙂
        have a great week and so nice to connect Carl!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi again
    Thanks for your comment on my interview post with Brian

    I am not sure if you saw the comment reply-
    But I lived your mention of Alex lifeson! Yeah baby
    And then it reminded me of Rik Emmett
    And then I found a video of them together (and the lyrics have a bit of “running” mentioned and that fits right in with “this old man goes running” hahaha)

    Here is the link

    Liked by 1 person

    • This amazing, Yvette. The 1st I have come across this. Yes, two guitar legends Rik Emmett of Triumph and Alex Lifeson of Rush. I have never seen this before. The video really fits in with this blog. Thank you for sharing! 😀 🎸

      Liked by 1 person

      • I was shocked to find it too – and your comment of Rush’s guitar player instantly reminded me of Triumph and then my first search led to this awesome video.
        I have featured a post about Rick Emmett on my blog many years ago – because I saw him twice (85 and 89) – and I guess he is still rocking out!

        and the running theme connects even more to your blog because of the human race theme too –
        your posts are so holistic and al about raising awareness for a better world – so it fit even more than I first realized.

        so nice to connect this week and hope you have a great ending to September 2022-
        🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Exactly why I live in the country, excellent post!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great read Carl, thank you for this. So much good information, and some good reminders of the harm that vehicles are doing. Especially chilling for me was the cartoon pointing out all the other various impacts that cars have (not just the tail pipe emissions!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for taking the time to read and for your thoughtful comment, Sean. Currently is this area there us major highway expansion and lots of new highway construction. Saddened that there is no other option other than car dependency. 🙏

      Like

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