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

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

The Streetsies

|
All in all it was a great year for New York City’s Livable Streets Movement. Here are the winners of our 2007 awards. See you in January… Best Livable Streets Project: The Ninth Avenue bike lane, Chelsea. Best New Public Space: DUMBO’s Pearl Street Pocket Park. Honorable mention: Chelsea’s Meat Market Plaza. Best Pedestrian Project: […]

Shoup to O’Toole: The Market for Parking Is Anything But Free

|
We’re reprinting this reply [PDF] from UCLA professor Donald Shoup, author of the High Cost of Free Parking, to Randal O’Toole, the libertarian Cato Institute senior fellow who refuses to acknowledge the role of massive government intervention in the market for parking, and the effect this has had on America’s car dependence. It’s an excellent […]

Notes on Bicycling in Copenhagen

|
Copenhagen, Denmark is not a natural bicycling city. In the early 1960’s it was very much of a car town. In 1962 the city created its first pedestrian street, the Stroget, and every year since then Copenhagen has allocated more and more of its public space to bicycles, pedestrians and people who just want to sit […]