In recent years, cities across the world have begun celebrating summer by closing down busy streets to cars and turning them over to pedestrians and cyclists. New York’s Summer Streets began in 2008 and is already one of the most successful programs, taking place on Saturdays in August.
This event takes a valuable public space—our City’s streets—and opens them up to people to play, walk, bike, and breathe. Summer Streets provides more space for healthy recreation and is a part of NYC’s greening initiative by encouraging New Yorkers to use more sustainable forms of transportation.
Modeled on other events from around the world including Bogota, Colombia’s Ciclovia, Paris, France’s Paris Plage, and even New York’s own Museum Mile, this event will be part bike tour, part block party, a great time for exercise, people watching, and just enjoying summer mornings.
This year, I had a chance to take part in a group bike ride called Joy Ride, where each participant listens to the same soundtrack on his or her own mp3 player all while cycling together to a picnic in Central Park. It was a pretty interesting experience and offered a unique view of Summer Streets.
We set out from Foley Square in Lower Manhattan at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, the southern beginning point for Summer Streets. Fifty or so riders milled around before the ride started watching a flood of people pour off the Brooklyn Bridge and down Lafayette Street.
With a small music player in hand, each rider seemed a little unsure about what songs would guide us through the city. We would be acoustically isolated but joined as a community.
Fifty Joyriders will be both players and audience in an event that heightens fragments of ordinary city life into a virtually cinematic experience. A shared soundtrack and a common route sets a rhythm and mood for a ride—an experience that is both intimate and communal.
At it’s heart Joyride is about the freedom we feel riding a bike, the deep ways that music affects us and the power of that shared experience.
The group prepared for the ride with a few tips on bike safety and navigating the streets. Summer Streets is, in part, an event to encourage bike riding, and riders of all skill levels fill the streets. It’s a great way to experience both cycling and the city without worrying about sharing the street with motorists. (Also, here’s a nice article on headphone law.)
Once we were on our way, it became immediately apparent on how pleasant a wide street just for cyclists can be. I had just biked from Brooklyn on busy car-laden streets—a trip I take often and treat as a typical riding experience, but now the contrast was distinct.
Because of the great quantity of cyclists on the streets, the pace was inherently leisurely—all the better to enjoy the architecture of the city slowly moving by. The slow river of bikes was only sporadically interrupted by a red light at intersections where cross traffic was allowed to pass. (It seemed like cross streets were only open every third or fourth block.)
You can see in the photos how the ride progressed through Soho and down to a normally chaotic Astor Place and Union Square before a long stretch down Park Avenue to the monumental Grand Central Station. We made it all the way to 73rd Street before veering into the park and a picnic set out on blankets.
The real value of Summer Streets is its ability to get all sorts of people onto bikes. Along the way, I saw every type and age of person having a great time—many who might not otherwise ever venture onto the streets on bike. Free bike repair stations and children’s bike lessons helped out as well.
This model could easily be applied to many other cities including Louisville. I have long imagined a a route in Louisville connecting Waterfront Park with Cherokee Park along Bardstown Road closed for a couple Summer Saturdays, but glancing at a map reveals there are plenty of options.
While on a recent trip in Portland, OR, I randomly stumbled across their car-free Sunday Parkways. The Portland manifestation changes routes through the summer and takes on more of an extended block party feel as neighborhood streets (as opposed to major roads) are shut down across the city. Check out the video below for a peak at Sunday Parkways.
It’s time for some serious consideration of this idea in Louisville. Whether the event stays in one location or moves, occupies a major street like Bardstown Road or neighborhood streets, it’s way past time for Louisville to take this on. What are your thoughts on car-free Summer Streets and what route suggestions do you have?