Atlanta’s local open streets initiative, Streets Alive, hits town this weekend as walkers, bikers and skaters take the place of cars south of downtown.
Streets Alive will take place from 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday on Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard and Georgia Avenue. The roads will be closed to cars and instead will be occupied by what organizer Chantelle Rytter calls “human-powered amusement.”
“Removing automobiles from our streets for four hours creates this incredibly beautiful public space,” said Rytter, who organizes a bike parade that kicks off the event. “Your neighborhood looks completely different when you can stroll down the double yellow line. We see our streets in a way we don’t normally see them.”
Temporarily closing streets to automobile traffic is a worldwide phenomenon that began in Bogota, Colombia, in the 1970s. Known as Ciclovia, it takes place every Sunday in the South American capital city and has been replicated across the globe over the past three decades.
Atlanta’s version, Streets Alive, kicked off in 2010 with an estimated 5,000 participants on Edgewood Avenue. It quickly grew in popularity and now biking can sometimes be difficult even without automobiles because the crowd gets so thick. The event allows skating, jogging, skateboarding and just about any other form of transportation as long as it’s not motorized.
The purpose of the event is multifaceted. Prompting alternative transportation, especially in light of the I-85 bridge collapse, is one aspect. But others include health awareness and bringing the community together.
“It has opened a lot of people’s eyes to the fact that maybe the MARTA station down the street is within walking distance, maybe it won’t be as challenging to get there as they thought,” said Rebecca Serna, executive director of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition. “But it’s about a lot more than transportation. A lot of it is civic pride, and a big part is about health, about providing opportunities to get out and active.”
Serna lived in Bogota for a year while studying public participation and city planning and experienced Ciclovia firsthand. She said the experience is a beloved weekly event in Colombia and part of the city’s civic culture.
“It was really a life-changing experience,” said Serna, who has led the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition since 2007. “Every Sunday, there was this great initiative where people enjoyed the streets outside of their cars.”
Bogota is a much different city than Atlanta, with automobile ownership rates only at around 20 percent when Serna lived there. Still, she eventually considered a version of Ciclovia as a local possibility.
“When I got back to Atlanta, of course the city was facing a lot of transportation challenges,” Serna said. “I was in a meeting and someone brought up open streets. I said, ‘We should try that here. Maybe it will open people’s eyes to new ways of getting around the city.’”
Serna held an initial planning meeting with other organizers, and six months later, the first Streets Alive was held. There was some consternation at first about the idea of closing down streets in car-crazed Atlanta, but participants soon embraced the concept.
According to organizers, the Sunday event will span 4 miles connecting nine Atlanta neighborhoods. The two other Streets Alive events in 2017 will be held June 11 (Marietta Street and Howell Mill Road) and Sept. 24 (Peachtree Street).
One of the most colorful parts of Streets Alive is the Great Bicycle Parade, which kicks off the event right at 2 p.m. Bicycles outfitted with 10-foot-wide phoenix wings symbolizing the city of Atlanta lead the way, and participation is open to everyone.
A brand-new wrinkle this year is Atlanta Streets Alive Radio (ASARadio). As part of Streets Alive’s “Funkadelic Cyclicious” theme, ASARadio can be streamed on mobile devices throughout the event. The (family-friendly) funkadelic stream can be accessed at mixlr.com/asaradio.
“If you want to be in the bike parade, get the weird outfit from the back of your closet and dress funky,” Rytter said. “Charge your phone, and if you have a Bluetooth speaker, bring that. There is free bike decorating at 1:30 at the starting point, which is the intersection of Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard and Lucille Avenue. We are giving out 48 pairs of John Lennon-style colored glasses for the parade. We will look like rock stars as a group together riding down the road.”
Atlanta Streets Alive
April 23, June 11 and Sept. 24. Georgia Avenue and Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard (April 23), Marietta Street and Howell Mill Road (June 11) and Peachtree Street (Sept. 24). Simply show up at one of the three Streets Alive dates and locations. Participants can walk, bike or just hang out along the route and enjoy the scene. 404-881-1112, AtlantaStreetsAlive.com,Facebook.com/AtlantaStreetsAlive.