Rethinking streets: Bogota’s pedestrian approach

Biking and walking have long been touted as a means to decrease environmental degradation and increase health in cities.  While these benefits are well known, it is still a challenge to get people to leave the car in the garage, and hit the pavement on foot or bike.  Many efforts have been made to increase walking and biking with varied success rates, but one effort coming from Bogota Colombia has experienced rampant success.

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An open bike street event in Atlanta. Wikipedia.

This program that originated in Bogota Colombia called Ciclovia, the spanish term for bike streets, has seen large participation rates and has since expanded into many major cities internationally.  These Ciclovia events are a great example of what works when it comes to designing bikable and walkable environments, even if only for a weekend afternoon.

The video below provides a great perspective on Ciclovia events that take place regularly in Bogota, and shows how passionate the citizens are for these events and the area community.

Ciclovia events have many names ranging from from Sunday streets, closed streets to bike streets, but what they all have in common is the closure of main urban and downtown streets to automobiles.  These street closures encourage individuals to walk and bike in their city, often allowing individuals to see a new view of the city that goes beyond the rapid, destination driven automobile experience. These events not only get people active and moving, but are often coupled with events and activities that activate local business and encourages a new sense of community.

Due to the nature of street closures, cities and municipalities are often forced to front the cost of these events, but these city expenditures often have a very high return on investment.  Bogota holds 72 ciclovia events each year and experiences a return of roughly three to four dollars in health and fitness expense savings for every dollar spent by the city on these events. Other Ciclovia events have experienced similar results, decreasing the need for city expenditure on other fitness programs and healthcare costs.

The benefits of Ciclovia are not just limited to health. Local businesses around the street closures often experience large increases in sales throughout the duration of the event.  Many businesses in Bogota were at first hesitant of the closure making the argument that less people would make their way onto their street, but they were happily surprised when they saw the correlation between increased levels of foot traffic and increased sales revenues.

Ciclovia and open streets are not just about encouraging walking and biking, they are a means through which streets and intersections become places of community gathering.  Many Ciclovia events will set up temporary activities such as street side tennis courts, skate parks, or even swimming pools. Retailers on the closed street embrace the new pedestrian traffic with merchandising booths, sales and free food.  Street closures that transform into regular city events become part of the areas culture, and people have a reason to regularly interact with a community that otherwise might be inaccessible to them.

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Informational kiosk at CicLAvia, an open streets event in Los Angeles. Flickr.

These events are relatively inexpensive and can bring in huge community and health benefits.  This type of event seems like something every planner should have in their arsenal of tools when looking to revitalize or transform the feeling of downtown streets, and to raise awareness of the benefits of biking and walking in our urban environments.

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