- A car-free celebration in Argentina. (Photo: flickr/gobierno de la ciudad de buenos aires)
Cars, bicyclists, buses ... let's face it. The cities' roads may just be too crowded. Perhaps in light of recent news and hot emotions, we should revisit an increasingly popular idea overtaking the world's urban streets in the last two decades: Why not go car-free for a few hours every week? The idea sounds novel enough but is hardly unprecedented, including in our own capital.
Yesterday highlighted the powerful emotions that can be stirred among both motorists and cyclists when I brought up the Washington Area Bicyclist Association's new suggested legislation to make it easier for bikers to bring civil suits against aggressive drivers. Sharing the road — for any number of vehicles, whether bus, pedicab, Segway, walker, driver, or biker — has always been a challenge and as much now as ever. A photographer from our office approached me the other day to mention a biking accident he had suffered on H Street the other day. Those streetcar tracks pose a hazard for bicycling, he suggested, all the more unfortunate since we're not likely to see streetcars any time soon. Yesterday when speaking to WABA executive director Shane Farthing, he told me that while he couldn't speak specifically to the H Street construction and safety, the balance of streetcar tracks and cyclist bikes is a "known problem."
All of this brought my thoughts back to an idea that's been turning around in my head for weeks now, especially since reading a recent and excellent Urbanite magazine cover story on the topic. What of the concept of "Ciclovía" — a term that translates roughly into "bike path," originated in Colombia decades ago and really took off in the mid-'90s, and refers to the temporary closing of certain streets to cars entirely. Have we reached such a crowded, angry point that we should consider the idea more seriously?
Consider this vision of Ciclovía from Bogotá on October 10, 2010. The celebration of cycling has evolved from Colombia to many other places around the world. In the mid-'90s, the city began closing off 70 miles of streets to automobiles for seven hours and kicked off a new tradition of doing so on Sundays. The idea has inspired other events in major cities around the world, from New York to Los Angeles.
Ciclovía has, based on past examples, helped kick off cities' biking cultures in serious ways. D.C. already has much of that nascent passion from recent years. As the Urbanite piece notes, we've got our Capital Bikeshare program and cycletracks. These elements help create a force around which cycling initiatives can move forward, which the writer laments the lack of in Baltimore.
Some have considered a D.C. version of the tradition already. Consider the Twitter account @CicloviaDC devoted to "bringing the idea and reality of Ciclovia to the DC Region" (to be fair, it has 13 followers and has tweeted never). Here, a 2008 blog post muses on what D.C. streets might be closed or made one-way to facilitate holding Ciclovía days here. The District has offered events inspired by the tradition since then, such as the "Feet in the Street" days starting in 2009, which promote a car-free spirit for a few blocks on a given day (though it's also run into a few problems with Homeland Security regulations in 2010). It's all a promising start.
But should D.C. consider expanding these types of celebrations even more dramatically? The tradition seems to have worked for Bogota. In what ways might D.C. add and benefit from more days like this and in what locations? Would you want temporary, car-free areas designated in this way?