It’s now about a month after Atlanta Streets Alive, held on May 20th, and I still see Highland Avenue differently. It’s amazing how 13,000 people can totally transform a street and really mess with your mind. I’m not the only one that wants to see another event in the fall. It seems over 100 Facebook fans agreed with the idea of having another Atlanta Streets Alive event in the fall, on the same route. But first, let’s do the recap for those that missed “the community building event of the year” as Jay Tribby says.
An estimated 13,000 Atlantans joined together Sunday, May 20 on North Highland Avenue, where a two-mile stretch of street was temporarily closed off to cars and opened to “human-powered amusement.” Street hockey, four-square, bellydancing, walking, yoga, bike polo, double dutch, salsa, and tai chi were just some of activities available to participants. Local businesses and food trucks opened their doors and joined customers on the pavement, holding street sales and getting to know their customers.
We kicked off with the inaugural Great Atlanta Bicycle Parade, organized by Chantelle Rytter. Nearly 500 people–many wearing costumes and brandishing colorfully decorated “art bikes”– took part in the parade that stretched from North Avenue to Virginia Avenue. Every demographic of Atlanta residents was represented in the parade, riding bicycles that ranged from vintage to bedazzled to top-of-the-line racers. This artful celebration illustrated the evolution Atlanta has made into a city that warmly embraces bicyclists.
Parade rider Angel Poventud, referencing the outpouring and enthusiasm of both the participants and observers, noted, “This is the critical mass the city’s been waiting for. This is a turning point for Atlanta.”
The event not only encouraged residents to be physically active but also to unite as a community. Throughout the event, neighbors and friends were viewed chatting or embracing, and children were seen playing safely with one another in the urban landscape. Elected officials were in attendance as well, mingling with constituents and listening to their concerns.
Five Atlanta City Councilmembers, including Aaron Watson, Alex Wan, Kwanza Hall, Lamar Willis, and Carla Smith, supported the event, an exciting indication that the city sees the value of opening up its streets for residents to get out on foot and bike to connect with neighbors and neighborhoods.
The event’s founding Councilmember from District 2, Kwanza Hall, who spent the day greeting residents from his blue and green single-speed bicycle, said, “North Highland Avenue was more than alive on Sunday; it was positively vibrant. When we free the streets for our citizens to enjoy them on their own terms, we open the door to new forms of intown community.”
Councilmember Aaron Watson, a supporter of the event, was also in attendance on his bicycle and gave remarks in support of active, healthy living in Atlanta, and invited Atlantans to join his Live Smarter initiative.
With Atlanta Streets Alive, Atlanta joins 150 cities in the world–and 70 cities across the U.S.–in implementing “ciclovias,” a tradition of open streets that began in Bogota, Colombia, where 75 miles of streets are closed every Sunday and Holy Day of the year.
Steering Committee member Andrea Torres said, “The overwhelming amount of active and happy people of all ages enjoying a wonderful area of the city of Atlanta out of their cars, playing in the streets, and the amazing social interaction we experienced yesterday, reinforced that Atlanta has an enormous potential of becoming a leader of the Ciclovias in the US.” Torres–and many Atlanta Streets Alive participants–voiced a desire to see streets open to residents on a monthly or weekly basis in order to encourage activity as well as a sense of community. “Atlanta could have a positive individual and social impact in a larger proportion of its population if a more regular program was implemented covering longer routes and connecting neighborhoods,” Torres noted.
The next Atlanta Streets Alive date and location are pending, though the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition hopes to host one in the fall of 2012 in keeping with the tradition of holding two open streets events per year since 2010.. For information on sponsoring an upcoming Streets Alive, contact Rebecca Serna of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, the nonprofit organizer behind this project.