“Opening our Streets, Connecting our Communities” is the tag line for Portland’s Sunday Parkways, an event modeled after the Cyclovias first developed in Bogata, Columbia, where streets are closed to cars and opened to people. Walking, biking, skating, boarding are all encouraged. Portland will host 5 Sunday Parkways events this summer, each in a different neighborhood. This last weekend the event was in North Portland, where I am staying. Each event is expected to attract between 10 and 20 thousand participants.
The Sunday Parkways closed off 7 miles of residential roads, forming a loop, and included three parks. Food carts, booths, live music, activities for kids and families were set up for the enjoyment of the neighborhood. The absence of traffic made this particularly appealing for families with young children – lots and lots of kids riding at a slower pace, enjoying the day. Among the various activities, a couple was married and took a ride around on a decorated tall bike!
This community event hopes to get people out enjoying their neighborhoods, and provides a safe environment for individuals who rarely use a bicycle to try it out. The event familiarizes people in the neighborhood too with the local bicycle boulevards, which are part of the loop, so that they can see where to ride their bikes for local trips.
I have had conversations with bike advocates in Denver regarding holding such an event in our city, and the price tag of the event (with many police officers directing traffic and assuring safe crossing of streets) seemed high for a one time spend. Now having experienced it, I am having a change of heart. This event seems like an important marketing tool for active transportation. It encourages biking and walking as a fun community event and makes a statement that bikes are an important transportation option. They help build the fun bike culture that is part of Portland’s active transportation success.
My Sunday Parkways ride began by meeting a group of young riders that were hosted by the Community Cycling Center of Portland. The CCC helps to make bikes available in lower economic neighborhoods and is based in North Portland. We spent time adjusting bike seats, fitting helmets, and attaching front and back lights to the children’s bikes. We rode off as a group to the Parkway and headed to the park. This was a great example of the human commitment it can take to help someone who doesn’t ride a bike to become a cyclist, if even for a day. It’s clear it isn’t enough to build a city that makes biking easy, or for organizing events like Sunday Parkways. There remains the people work of one person helping another person to become comfortable with biking safely. There doesn’t seem to be a short cut for this kind of encouragement work.