Open Streets events are spreading like crazy

February 24, 2014

by Zoe Kircos, PeopleForBikes grants manager

Here’s our pop quiz of the week:

  • Where can you take free rumba lessons outside with 50 people you don’t know?
  • Where can you hop on a stationary bike and pedal-power an electric blender to create your very own smoothie?
  • Where can you introduce your dad or your niece or that third cousin on your mother’s side to the idea of bicycling on an actual street?WITHOUT having to stop at lights or stay as close to the gutter as humanly possible?

You’ve got it, my friends. You can have all this and more at an Open Streets day in a town or city near you.

The original open streets event in Bogotá, Colombia.

Open Streets, or ciclovías (say sih-clo-veeeee-a with enthusiasm!) originated in Bogotá, Colombia in the 1970s and really took off in the 1990s. These events started as a way to close city streets to motor traffic and let people on bikes ride safely and easily. They have evolved into community celebrations that include people moving in any way that is non-motorized – walking, jogging, rollerblading, skateboarding, dancing – and usually add in classes, booths, food, and activities for kids and adults of all ages. To get a visual, check out this Streetfilms video just released a few weeks ago.

When riding in the middle of the road is totally okay: Los Angeles’ CicLAvia event

Why am I talking about this?  

Because there’s something exhilarating about riding your bike RIGHT DOWN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET and once you try it, you want to do it again.

Because when we experience our streets without any cars, it shifts our thinking about how those streets could be used. Public seating area? Pedestrian plaza? Roomy bikeway? Dance studio?

Because of all the ciclovías we’ve funded through our grants program (and we’ve funded a bunch), not one organizer has come back to me and said, “Nah, that was a bust.” Everyone wants to figure out how to make them bigger, better, and more frequent.

Because Open Streets events are spreading like crazy and we want them to reach even more people and communities.

Fargo, ND’s StreesAlive event

In Bogotá, they now close 70 miles of streets down every Sunday for their Ciclovía. Atlanta attracted 83,000 people to Streets Alive last fall and in New York, Summer Streets claims 250,000 attendees. Don’t live in a big city? Smaller communities like Missoula, MT, Las Cruces, NM, Fargo, ND, and Edmond, OK hold them, too.

Chicago’s Bike the Drive event

For those of you newly-inspired to bring Open Streets days to your hometown, check out the resources offered by our friends at the Alliance for Biking and Walking on their Open Streets Project website or consider attending their training in Los Angeles this April. You can even join the 100,000 or so people at CicLAvia while you’re in town. Just get there early for pilates class. And make my smoothie without bananas.

Are you a city, planner, or advocate looking to measure the success of your Open Streets event? A new toolkit from Active Living Research provides a framework for measuring communication, reach, activity hubs, participant counts, physical activity type and level, cost-benefit analysis, and local business evaluation. There are also examples of collected data, policy briefs and references to published work. (Thanks to the National Center for Biking and Walking for sharing this resource.)

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