Ottawa’s got one. So does Vancouver. Portland. Baltimore. Washington. Even Winnipeg. I’m talking about a Ciclovía—that is, a dedicated day of the week or day of the month or summer or even year when select streets of an urban area are closed to automobile traffic and wide open to cyclists, pedestrians, roller-bladers, runners—all manner of folks not in motorized vehicles. This phenomenon is also known as “Open Streets.”
The Ciclovía originated in Bogota, Columbia, in the 1980s and the practice there has grown to the point where over two million citizens, in various Columbian cities, take to the car-less streets each Sunday between 7 am and 2 pm. And Ciclovía-type events have spread, springing up in cities around the world. Last May, for instance, when I was in Washington, DC, I spent part of a lovely Sunday riding down the middle of the Rock Creek Parkway, which is a busy car-commuter corridor during the week and a beautiful, tree-lined bicycle-only road on Sundays.
In Canada, the longest running Ciclovía-type event is probably the Sunday Bikedays Program in Ottawa, where, for decades, each Sunday in the summer over 50 km of roads from the heart of the city to Gatineau Park are closed to car traffic. Some cities, such as Winnipeg, make this a once-a-year deal. Sometimes, a one-off event grows into a more regular one, like Portland’s Sunday Parkways.
A Ciclovía is not to be confused with a Critical Mass ride. The latter event, which has had a presence in Edmonton for a few years now, has a political, somewhat confrontational agenda and vibe (as in, bikes vs. cars/trucks). Critical Mass is about a kind of protest or defiance; it’s a symbolic attempt to take something back and promotes a kind of urban revolution. But a Ciclovía is about fun and summer time; it has a kind of holiday-vibe. Ciclovía is both less and more radical than Critical Mass. It doesn’t pit bikes against cars, but it does provide a glimpse of what a city could be like.
So . . . the question is: Could a Ciclovía-type event work in Edmonton? I think so. It fits nicely with our city’s festival identity and growing reputation for sustainable municipal policy. We’re ready for a Ciclovía, even if it’s a relatively modest one, say one Sunday next June as a showpiece event of our Bikeology Festival. And if it works, if people do indeed take to the streets, then who knows? It could become one more event on Edmonton’s summer festival calendar.
Finding the right route is key to making this work—somewhere central and preferably scenic or close to some vibrant, hip street culture and a dense population. In Edmonton, two obvious locations come to mind: 1) Jasper Avenue, perhaps from 124 Street to 104 Street; and 2) Whyte Avenue, maybe even a loop connecting Whyte with Saskatchewan Drive between Gateway Boulevard and 109 Street. The high-level bridge is an intriguing option as well.
The name is important too. Ciclovía may sound a little exotic for folks ‘round these parts. But I’m sure we could come up with a more original tag suitable to our city: Open Rodeo? E-Streets? Open Ed?
I know some people will hate this idea. Some naysayers will, no doubt, predict chaos, disruption, traffic woes, lost business, impeded access to residences, etc. (We heard the same predictions about the 104 Street market.) But plenty of other cities have figured out ways to overcome such minor challenges. The rewards greatly outweigh the hassles. Others may argue that Edmonton already has a perfectly functional recreational bike path in the river valley. But a Ciclovía is something different altogether.
Summer is all too short in Edmonton. Bike riding—not to mention, running, roller-blading, walking—is a great way to enjoy the precious shortest season. Let’s take a day, let’s make a day—open up Edmonton’s streets, and see what happens.