OP-ED | Open streets, Ciclovias and Bike Parties
Columnist Anthony Cherolis cycles across North America and will send us occasional updates on what he sees in other states and cities in terms of improving transportation infrastructure and policies. You can follow his journey on instagram.
I recently explored Indianapolis, Indiana for two weeks, mostly by bike or on foot. It is a huge city of 368 square miles compared to Hartford’s 17. Unlike Hartford, the city grew and annexed until it absorbed all of Marion County. The governance of the city is joint City-County Council.
Beyond diving into discussions about regionalism and land use, I had the opportunity to volunteer with my sister at the annual meeting Indy Nite Ride, recently restarted after the pandemic. Nearly 500 cyclists gathered downtown for a 23-hour, 20-mile slow ride around town with do-it-yourself lights and music. I was reminded how different the Midwest is from the Northeast by the number of people who shouted thank you while pedaling past my volunteer station.
The following Saturday afternoon, I joined the Indy Bike Party Ride. Hundreds of people, including families and toddlers in bike trailers, rode a leisurely seven-mile loop with a social stop in a city park. There were no police escorts or closed streets. Volunteers led the group, took care of intersections and helped fix a driver’s flat tire. As I embarked on an informal intersection, the organizers of the ride introduced themselves and the thanks were again plentiful.
The concept of ciclovia and open streets began in the 1970s in Bogotá – Colombia and spread all over the world. Cities and towns close the streets to cars but open them to people, dancing, bicycling, skating, jogging and picnicking.
I left the party on my bike halfway, pedaling to a dinner party with a longtime friend. The restaurant was on the same street as the Indy Criterium racetrack. We marveled as super-fast cyclists raced past us. The races have gone from amateurs to almost inhuman professionals. The crossing for the closed circuit to the after-meal show at Indy Fringe Festival was at a breach in the fence guarded by vigilant volunteers, ensuring that those crossing would pass before the runners passed again at 35 mph. The criterium races were part of a cycling weekend organized by Momentum Indy. The weekend included a Saturday morning ride in honor Major Taylor.
Connecticut has its own momentum with locals organizing bike partiesand the next two DominGo Hartford Open Street Events will take place on September 25 and October 23, both Sundays. Open street events, slow street conversions, eating out, and pedestrianized downtowns are more common than I expected on this cross-country bike ride. Parking lots and streets are converted to more productive and enjoyable uses.
Important bonds are forged in these social spaces and during events. Neighborhood, creative and cultural connections are much more likely when people are outside their separate boxes, both literally and figuratively.
Get out of your box! Join a bike party or discover the festive experience of the open streets.