Call them what you will, open streets/play streets/ciclovias provide valuable opportunities for recreation

Image: Chicago Loop Alliance

Open Streets on State Street in Chicago

As the weather warms up, it’s not unusual to see parks and playgrounds crowded with both the young and the young-at-heart.  But technically, these are not the city’s only public spaces; there are miles upon miles of public streets.  What if these spaces, too, were available for people to enjoy?  Open streets projects aim to make this happen.  Known as ciclovias in Colombia, the country in which the concept originated, open streets, play streets, and Streets Alive are events in which streets are temporarily closed off to cars and transformed into places for recreation.

One example of such a program is New York City’s Summer Streets.  The Summer Streets program is an event that runs for three consecutive Saturdays in August, and it involves much more than just closing the streets to cars.  In addition to encouraging active transportation along the almost seven mile route, Summer Streets are opened up for all kinds of recreation and enjoyment, with free activities for all ages along the way.  The program is run by the city’s Department of Transportation.

Transportation Alternatives,  NYC’s “leading transportation advocacy organization,” works to make open streets a reality throughout the year.  Through their Play Streets program, anyone can apply for a permit to close a street and make it a Play Street.  Also, Transportation Alternatives provides assistance in securing grants so that citizens can make Play Streets happen.  The city’s Police Athletic League also offers educational, recreational, and cultural community programming during their summer play streets.

In the U.S., open streets events are not just confined to NYC; they’re happening around the country.  This year, Jackson, Mississippi hosted Jackson Streets Alive!, a similar endeavor that Bike Walk Mississippi says is part of the larger movement “celebrating human-powered transportation.”  Bike Walk Mississippi was the organization behind the event.  Jackson Streets Alive! closed streets to vehicle traffic and offered live music, activities, and food vendors throughout the day on April 27th.  Though biking was a theme, the event was aimed at getting those who may not be cyclists involved in active transportation.  The event is intended to be repeated annually.

For more info about open streets, check out the information on the Open Streets Project’s website.  For advice on starting a play street, take a look at this tutorial on YouTube.

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