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Spotlight on: Open Streets Project
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Spotlight on: Open Streets Project
Andrea Garland, Alta Planning + Design

The Alliance for Biking and Walking and The Street Plans Collaborative launched the Open Streets Project (guide and website) on February 21, 2012. We recently checked in with Mike Lydon, Principal of the Street Plans Collaborative and founder of the Open Streets Project.

What was the genesis of the Open Streets Project?
After organizing the first Bike Miami Day in 2008, I was inspired and started a research project to learn how open street projects were growing in North America (the USA and Canada). Eventually we partnered with the Alliance for Biking and Walking to form the Open Streets Project with the goal of serving local advocates and open streets organizers across North America, with support through a grant from the Fund for the Environment and Urban Life.

What role do Open Streets projects play in creating bike-friendly communities?
1) It puts people out on their bicycles. 2) Seeing cyclists on the streets helps to bring awareness to local stakeholders about the needs of the bicycling community. 3) Police involvement in the event helps change their perspective about bicycle safety because they can see and experience some of the common issues cyclists face in the streets.

What are some pitfalls that Open Streets event organizers should avoid?
1) Getting ahead of yourself without getting the proper local support. It's very important to involve the community stakeholders (local government, business, neighborhood associations, etc.) from the beginning to get their buy-in with the project.
2) Poor marketing: Make sure you get the word out so that the event will have good attendance.
3) Wrong time of the day: It's important to choose a day and time that's best for your community.
4) Route length: Should be appropriate to the size and population of the community. Not so short that there isn't enough activity, but not so long that gaps of inactivity can reflect poorly on the image of the event.

What three things should every Open Streets event have?
Activities that reach beyond biking and walking; engagement from other local groups to help get a larger cross section of the community involved; and coordination with other established events, to draw more attendance.

What's your favorite thing about Open Streets events?
Seeing people in the streets with smiles on their faces. From a planner's perspective, the best thing is that this kind of project can become tangible fairly quickly.

How do you think the Open Streets movement will grow in the next five years?
I think we'll see more initiatives emerging, especially in smaller communities. I also think we'll see longer routes and events that move around the cities, keeping established events fresh. Current initiatives that are getting stronger will become weekly events, making it easier to measure the health impacts in each community.

What's on the horizon for the Open Streets Project?
In the short term, grow the website by adding more case studies. We also plan to offer technical workshops around the country (led by the Alliance) help communities that want to host events in 2013. In the long term, we'd like to scale up the project to reach out to international communities by partnering with organizations in Latin America and Europe and translating the resources to other languages.

Visit the Open Streets Project website to explore resources and learn more.

APBP and NCBW co-produced a webinar in May 2009 that featured examples of open street (ciclovía) events in Chicago, Miami and New York City. Visit this page to view the webinar recording (scroll down the page and click on the title Ciclovías). 

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