When Streets Are for People

U.S. urban centers large and small are following Latin American cities in periodically shutting off streets to cars, and they are reaping the benefits.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that "at least 20" American cities are intermittently keeping cars out of public parks, with some planning to make the move to a permanent prohibition. Meanwhile, smaller cities that lack recreational infrastructure are creating "car-free zones" by turning roads over to people.

Beginning this month, El Paso will detour cars from seven roads every Sunday from 7 to 11 a.m. so that cyclists, joggers, and pedestrians can use them instead.

"City leaders were faced with a challenge: to get a poor city of overweight, sedentary people moving when there weren’t any parks or [bicycle] lanes," says Robin Stallings of the Texas Bicycle Coalition. A national magazine declared the city one of the four fattest in the US, he says, "and that really got everyone’s attention."

The Monitor calls Bogota, Colombia the "model city for road closure." The city started closing streets to cars once a week in the early 1980s as part of its ciclovia ("bike path") program.

One-and-a-half million people now turn out each week for ciclovia. Other cities in Latin America followed suit, closing parts of parks or whole urban districts to cars — some intermittently, some permanently. A result: revitalized neighborhoods and an influx of people.

In some ciclovia cities, such as Guadalajara, Mexico, fears that autoless streets would cause economic hardship have dissolved. Some merchants actually had to return to their stores on Sundays because the thousands of visitors wanted everything from food and drink to curios.

Not everyone is on board, naturally, "But studies are showing that traffic problems can be minimized, shops and museums get more visitors, and residents begin to cherish their where-the-action-is location."

Investment in parks is of course a cornerstone of PlaNYC, including the conversion of street space to public plazas across the boroughs.

Photo: Michael McDonough/Flickr

  • Riding Ciclovia in Bogata was one of the best thing I’ve ever done.

    Wrote about it here.

    If you ever get a chance, do it. Or start one in your town!

  • Anne

    at last year’s Green Brooklyn Expo (or whatever it was called), one of the speakers talked about cycling issues in general and mentioned the possibility of attempting a **Brooklyn Ciclovia** in the future.

    who’s in?

  • Xue

    Question: How many biking Bogotanos does it take to offset the pollution of one American’s flight to Colombia to participate?

    Sorry, couldn’t resist. 🙂

  • Fair question. I was attending the World Carfree Conference in Bogota.

    This year is in Istambul.
    I’ll miss it, but sure sounds lovely.

    Luckily next year’s conference will be in Portland, Oregon. So I can take a train. Or ride a bike. It’s only 1,000 miles from the Bay Area.

  • P

    The weekly closing of streets for bicylces and pedestrians was included in last year’s Garvin Report. To my knowledge it didn’t make the cut into PlaNYC though.

    In the Report, Ocean Parkway is called out as a location that could benefit from a ‘Ciclovia’ as quickly as… last summer.

  • Fantastic to hear that. Here in Toronto we celebrate community, culture and ecology in the carfree streets of Kensington Market once a month on Pedestrian Sundays. This year, the new tradition has caught on in two other neighbourhoods. Without physically changing the streets, it forever changes the way you perceive them, something that goes a long way in the struggle to liberate the commons from the tyranny of auto-addiction.

    Italy has also done a lot of similar activity on a grander scale with its Ecological Sundays, celebrated in a hundred cities and towns across the country.

  • Anne

    Car-Free Ocean Parkway on Sundays… fantastic!! or maybe Saturday makes more sense? whatever!! once a month would be amazing to start!!


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