Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sunday Streets, San Francisco-style

Initially founded in Bogota, Columbia over thirty years ago, citywide events that temporarily close streets to automobiles and allow bikers, joggers, and skaters free reign have spread across the globe.  These events encourage healthy, active lifestyles while promoting social and culture activities that build a sense of community.  The first "Ciclovia", literally translated as "bike path" was held in 1976 after Enrique Penalosa, the former mayor of Bogota, declared that "A quality city is not one that has great roads but one where a child can safely go anywhere on a bicycle."  In Bogota, the Ciclovia now covers 70% of the city and entices over 1.5 million of its citizens to walk, bike, and play in the streets every week.  Cities around the world have been so inspired by its resounding success, that they have created similar programs.

Tokyo, Winnipeg, Melbourne, and just about everywhere in between have seen some form of Ciclovia.  In the United States events like these have been held since the early 1980's; Portland has it's Sunday Parkways, Atlanta started Streets Alive, and Walk + Roll Cleveland spurred a national organization to help other cities institute similar plans.  So far, most of these programs have been successful enough to ensure their continuation.

The lure of the Ciclovia is hard to resist.  Where obesity continues to rise to epidemic proportions, for urban neighborhoods that lack open space for children to play, and as we maintain our dependence upon automobiles; the Ciclovia offers a small slice of respite.  It offers community-sponsored recreation, encourages healthy behaviors, and provides a chance to reconnect with our neighbors face to face.  In Bogota, the events are even having an impact on the environment.  Auto emissions are reduced by over 40% on Ciclovia days.

San Francisco is one such city with a successful Ciclovia program, dubbed "Sunday Streets".  The program recently kicked off its third year and is ever expanding with 9 such events planned for 2010.  One aspect of the San Francisco program that has made it so successful is its alternation of locations throughout the city, including inner city districts such as the Bayview, which are not often visited by outsiders.  The original Ciclovias in Bogota were careful to select routes that link existing neighborhoods together.  This strategy, as opposed to closing down sections of major thoroughfares or bridges, is what really connects people and supports surrounding businesses.  During San Francisco's first Sunday Streets of 2010 near the Embarcadero, retailers reported a surge in business from locals who typically avoid the area due to traffic.

Sunday Streets also boasts extensive community events.  Not only are free bicycle rentals provided, but you can find free dance and yoga classes, free bicycle maintenance, a free roller rink complete with ongoing performances of Michael Jackson's Thriller, martial arts demonstrations and classes, kids’ activities, and even games for your pet.

San Francisco seems to be getting little push back from the community for these events.  In general, businesses appreciate the additional foot traffic and citizens haven’t reported major traffic inconveniences.  While the streets are momentarily closed to automobiles, Sunday Streets ensures that its events don't conflict with professional sporting events or concerts and the streets do allow cross traffic to pass through at specific checkpoints.  With over 20,000 people attending events last year, San Francisco expects to see their numbers continue to rise this year.

Does your locale or region sponsor similar programs? How successful have they been? What have been the main “barriers to entry” in getting these programs established and/or maintained? We’d love to get your input.


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