Last week, I returned from a week long trip to Los Angeles. I was awarded by the wonderful Alliance for Biking & Walking, a seat at their National ‘Open Streets’ Conference. If any of you reading this don’t know what Open Streets is its an initiative where you temporarily close streets down to autos and open them up for the people. During this time which is between 4-8hrs of street closure and usually on a Sunday, car traffic is replaced with people traffic. People can bike, walk, skateboard, do yoga, dance, sit, and many other activities. Open Streets is an initiative I’ve been obsessed about for well over three years. The first time I had heard about it and saw pictures, I immediately knew the benefits that a movement like this could produce for cities.
There have been well over 90 documented Open Streets here in the U.S. alone and global cities such Cape Town, Bogota, and Wellington hold ‘Open Streets’ initiatives of their own. In Bogota, its such a way of life that ‘Ciclovia’ happens every Sunday. What’ s so appealing about Open Streets? Well, when we, as adults think of ‘playing’ in the streets, we think of only childhood memories. We’ve become so engrained with streets ‘belonging’ to cars and that’s it. WRONG. Streets are under utilized. They are so much more than parking and traffic.
How is an initiative like Open Streets different than say a festival or block party? I’m glad you asked. The core objectives are fundamentally different. Indeed, Open Streets are typically part of a broader city or organizational effort to encourage sustained physical activity, increase community engagement, and build support for the provision of broader transportation choices.
The National Open Streets Conference I attended brought experts from cities all over the U.S., Africa, and New Zealand to share experiences and best practices about their planning process of Open Streets. Substanial data has been collected that shows how transformational holding an Open Streets in your city can be (feast yourself on delicious data here: www.openstreetsproject.com)
I remember last week, Jeff Miller of the Alliance asked aloud, ‘raise your hand if this will be your first CicLAvia.’ A few of us (including myself) raised our hands. Immediately, you heard the crowd make an ‘oooooooooooh’ remark meaning, you’re mind’s going to be blown. My spunky response was, ‘no shit.’ I knew what I was prepared for. CicLAvia is Los Angeles’ ‘Open Streets.’ The demand for CicLAvia is so high that L.A. now holds CicLAvia three times a year. Their most recent route was six miles of street closure…. on the iconic Wilshire Blvd. Let me repeat myself SIX MILES OF STREET CLOSURE… for six hours.
Los Angeles aka ‘Carmageddon’ / traffic sewer city of the U.S. has one of the most successful Open Streets movements in the world. Over 100,000 people come and enjoy miles upon miles of car-free streets. Being able to experience L.A.s CicLAvia was a dream for me. My pictures didn’t do justice for the sights that I saw. I think my favorite visions were of ALL of the families. So many families out enjoying their city at a slow pace. Nobody got angry. No aggressive horns. No cars intimidating you. Strangers smiling and talking to one another. Businesses along the route bolstering with people hopping off their bikes and supporting. Music on corners, art being painted, and streets being alive.
One of the most powerful acknowledgements happened. My friend Marc said, ‘look around at all these families. It’s not that there’s a deficiency of families not being able to afford bikes, its the fact that they don’t feel like there’s a safe place to ride.’ When he said that aloud, it slapped me in the face. I saw families with four and five kids; all of them had bikes. It was so true. And I wonder, how that relates to here in Columbus. There’s also a huge health undertone to this initiative. Not only are these initiatives reimaging streets where people walk and bike as a form of transportation, but, there’s such an appeal to this ‘urban playground’ where people are out for hours being physically active. I remember I thought I would be at CicLAvia for only 3-4 hours. Nopers. I was there from 830am -4p! You take your time and stop along the route and engage in activities. You talk to people. You stop in the middle of the street and let the sun shine on your face, why? Because you can!
After my conference, I came back here and have been more dedicated than ever before of making Columbus Open Streets a reality in 2014. I have the best momentum that I’ve had in all 2 1/2 years I’ve been trying to put this thing together. I know that once Columbus gets a taste of the first Open Streets, the demand will be created and there WILL be more. The beautiful thing about Open Streets is that it attracts such a wide variety of audiences coming from numerous neighborhoods where just like San Francisco’s ‘Sunday Streets’ this initiative can move from one community to another, showcasing the uniqueness of each neighborood. This movement connects people.
The city of Columbus has approved 1.4 miles of downtown street closure for the first Open Streets. The tentative date; Sunday September 28th from 10a-2p. While it’s not six miles, it’s a great first ‘Open Streets’ route. Again, this first Open Streets will introduce both the people of this city and city staff to how effective and beneficial Open Streets are, and the subsequent ones to follow will be that much easier to organize. I’ll keep y’all updated on Columbus’ progress. Also, if any of you reading this have businessses that would be interested in supporting financially, message me.
Enjoy the pics.
Woman just cruisin’ down Wilshire.
As far as the eye can see…… PEOPLE bringing the streets to life.