We Need More Open Streets!

An Open Streets event opens large stretches of major streets to people and allows them to walk, ride their bikes, and enjoy community activities in a safe and open space that is closed off to cars.

What arguably started in the 1960s in some cities in North America but really took hold in Bogota, Colombia in 1976 has become one of the most fun and transformative city events so far in the 21st century. Ciclovias, or as we more commonly refer to them in the US and Canada: Open Streets.

An Open Streets event opens large stretches of major streets to people and allows them to walk, ride their bikes, and enjoy community activities in a safe and open space that is closed off to cars. Typical activities include walking, rollerblading, skateboarding, biking, yoga, aerobics, soccer, other games, and live music. Access to these events is inclusive and barrier-free. By closing the street to cars, the road becomes safe enough for people to try riding a bike again or for the very first time. They are so life-changing that many attendees demand Open Streets be held more regularly. Bogota now opens more than 70 miles (113 kilometers) of its streets to the public every Sunday.

I experienced my first Open Streets event in Portland, OR, in June 2008 at the very first Portland Sunday Parkways. Riding an Ahearne Cycle Truck stocked with a cooler of cold beverages, alongside a friends cycle truck loaded down with a BBQ and stereo, I had the most fun I have ever had in Portland not an easy feat.

That Portland Sunday Parkways event was 6 hours of absolute joy and ear-to-ear grins as we slowly cruised through the northwest, watching thousands of cargo bikes and families ride by, all experiencing the thrill of a lifetime on streets like never before.

The following summer I visited San Francisco, CA, and participated in their Sunday Streets event as they closed the Embarcadero to car traffic and opened miles of the street up to people. To me, this was truly a transformational event. It revealed the positive effect that inviting people back to public spaces can have on local businesses. Prior to the event, business owners were skeptical and opposed to shutting down the streets to car traffic. However, after the first event, these same businesses were begging the city to do it more often as opening the street to people instead of cars proved to be very profitable.

There are now more than 100 Open Streets events in North America. One of the most significant is hosted in Los Angeles, CA, where CicLAvia in April 2014 saw over 180,000 participants!

To me, the key to a successful Open Streets is allowing people to rediscover what public space can really be: Places where people find businesses they may never have seen in a car, where there are lots of free activities for people to participate in, where free bike repairs and free bikes are provided for people to rediscover cycling, and where the street closure is at least several miles long and for a few hours or more so that people can enjoy safe, people-friendly spaces at their leisure.

If your city has yet to host an Open Streets event, it is missing out. The Open Streets Project, a collaboration between the Street Plans Collaborative and the Alliance for Biking & Walking, offers a wealth of resources and best practices for cities or organizations looking to start an event of their own. You can glean some inspiration from the video series, The Rise of Open Streets, released by Streetfilms and the Alliance for Biking & Walking.

The question remains: What Open Streets events are you planning to attend this summer?

Mia Kohout, editor-in-chief  |  mia@momentummag.com  |  @MiaKohout

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