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The question is: Should the city go `car free' more often?

Most people heading to the Esplanade for the Fourth of July fireworks came equipped with blankets, lawn chairs, cold drinks, and maybe a raincoat.

For two local activists on a research mission, though, the gear list was simpler: Two bikes, a video camera, and the question, ``What if, as the Esplanade is on the Fourth, the river roadways, and other parts of the city, were car-free more often?"

``We feel that there are certain business districts, like Newbury Street, that would be well-served to be car-free several days a week," said Larry Slotnick , president of the Livable Streets Alliance, which seeks to unite local bike, pedestrian, and mass-transit advocates. ``And then for more recreational purposes, there are roads that I think everyone would love to be car-free on weekends, just like one stretch of Memorial Drive is car-free on Sundays."

Together with media intern and videographer Elisa Kreisinger , Slotnick rode into the thick of the action on Storrow Drive, where a number of Wiffle ball games were being played as people walked and rode down the ramp from the Massachusetts Avenue bridge.

The first attempt at getting an interview subject didn't go so well, but on the riverbank the team found a kindred spirit in 53-year-old Walter Fey of Arlington.

``I say close the streets down as much as possible," said Fey, who had staked out a choice plot of grass at 6 a.m. As for closing Newbury Street, Fey said he would defer to those most directly affected.

``I would support it if the people who lived over there and worked over there were into it. I think it would be great, personally."

For Mark Breneiser , a computer consultant from Jamaica Plain, bicycling to the Charles was not only fun, but a necessity.

``Traffic-wise, getting home is a lot easier on a bike than in a car or anything else," he said. ``Even mass transit gets too crowded on a night like tonight."

Over on the Cambridge side, Glen Pike , up for the day from Plymouth, said he would enjoy seeing a car-free Newbury Street when he visits the city with his daughter, but that any such measure should be up to those who live and do business there.

He had a question of his own for Slotnick: ``Would [car-free zones] bring more people from within the city out, or would it bring people from outside into the city?"

Slotnick said it would probably attract both groups, and continued to muse on Pike's points as he and Kreisinger rode back to Livable Streets' Sidney Street headquarters and talked over the information they had gathered.

``I think we have a pretty good idea of what the public feels, although we do get some new opinions, which is good," said Kreisinger.

``The more opinions the better, the more footage the better."

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