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How to Turn Your Streets into Sidewalks

\nWhat if streets belonged to people and not cars? In Los Angeles County, sidewalks were often constructed before roads. Sidewalks were intended as places for displaying wares, political protest, and (most importantly) for uninterrupted pedestrian traffic flow. Sidewalks were built for people. Roads, on the other hand, were built for cars.
With the rise of car culture over the last half century, our roads have grown bigger and wider, while our sidewalks have grown smaller and more narrow. The global movement “Ciclovia” wants to reverse that trend, at least for a day. For 30 years the car-clogged streets of Bogota have been transformed into people-filled public spaces hosting games, dance classes, and thousands of cyclists.
The idea has caught on and spread throughout South America and up north to places like Ontario, New York, and El Paso. Now Los Angeles is joining the ranks of Ciclovia cities with their own CicLAvia this September. Miles and miles of asphalt normally occupied by automobiles will be turned over to a parade of pedestrians, cyclists, and walkers. Wondering how you can make this happen in your town? We turned to one of the CicLAvia organizers, Joe Linton, for answers.
1. Visit one. The best way to understand how a Ciclavia works is to experience one. “Visit Bogota, San Francisco, NYC, or if you can’t get there, then watch online stuff at Streetfilms,” says Linton.
2. Organize. Find some like-minded people who care about public space, community health, and making your city awesome. From there, outline a plan of action and a timeline. Things to consider early on: fundraising and budget, potential routes, key allies, and an outreach plan. Remember, it’s critical to build a board from different communities with diverse skills.
3. Brand it. The first place to start is with a name, says Linton. Once you’ve settled on a name, create a logo that people can identity with and a basic website so that volunteers and media can contact you.
4. Get chatty. Stakeholder engagement is key to success. “Talk with local restaurants and business groups like the Chamber of Commerce, Business Improvement Districts, Rotary Clubs,” says Linton. “Talk with local bicyclists. Go to bike shops and talk with bike non-profits.” The more business groups and local residents you can get on board, the easier it will be to get local government support, which leads us to our next step.
5. Talk to the man. You’re going to need the backing of City Hall. Come equipped with a letter of support from residents and businesses. “Take a bike shop owner and others business owners with you,” says Linton. Come armed with statistics showing how successful Ciclovias have improved the local economies and public health in cities like Miami, NYC, Guadalajara, and San Francisco.
6. Map it out. Create a preliminary route first and start walking and biking it. Consider the following: Find local landmarks and pre-existing public spaces. Find medium sized, central streets in good condition. Include neighborhoods with different socioeconomic groups and go for areas with highest density. “Come up with a couple of potential routes, and see which one folks are most excited about,” Linton says.
7. Pass the hat. Once you’ve come up with your budget you’ll need to start fundraising immediately. “Work with the city, businesses and foundations. Some cities do it on their own (Bogota)—some partner with local non-profit (San Francisco) partners,” says Linton.
8. Shout about it. You’ll need to promote for the entire lead up to the event, but the last two weeks are especially important. Partner with local community organizations and media outlets to spread the word. Volunteers are also essential so try posting volunteer opportunities on one of the big sites like Volunteer Match.
9. Have fun. Dance classes, outdoor reading rooms, yoga, bike riding, and health screenings are just a few examples of the things you can do at a Ciclovia, so be creative with the programming. The more fun people have, the more likely they are to return.
10. Make it a routine. “Do it over and over!” says Linton. “Bogota has it every Sunday 80 miles rain or shine.”
For more detailed information see Bogota’s instruction manual here.
Photo (cc) by Flickr user TAPorto

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