Bardstown Road is one of the busiest streets in Louisville, Kentucky. It is lined with restaurants, shops, and bars, and often filled with traffic. But this past Sunday for four hours, three miles of the road was closed to cars. Instead, pedestrians and cyclists hit the streets in a free, public event called CycLOUvia. CycLOUvia invited residents to “human-powered Bardstown Road,” advocating, “life at five miles per hour can be much more of a rush than speeding along at 35 miles per hour”. The event was part of Kentucky’s 2nd Sunday Open Streets (2S) initiative as a response to the state’s high obesity rates and designed to encourage communities to engage in more forms of physical activity in the urban space.
Closing streets to cars, also known as pedestrian zones/malls, car/auto free areas is not a new concept. Cities around the world, from London to New York, have pedestrian only streets. Many Chinese cities have followed Shanghai’s Nanjing Pedestrian Road and designated their own pedestrian only shopping area. It is often seen as a great way to generate local business growth, increase community engagement, and promote the environment and healthy living. 2S and CycLOUvia were “modeled after the ‘ciclovia’ program in Bogota, Columbia, where for 30 years, citizens have enjoyed weekly car-free streets.”1
However, what made this event different was the way it happened. While it was organized by Metro Louisville, with the Urban Design Studio and Broken Sidewalk, it was the social funding platform kickstarter that supported the funding. As Mayor Greg Fischer noted, “Putting on community events takes a lot of resources and we are looking for community support from a grassroots level to help.”2 Over three thousand dollars were raised in 23 days, most with pledges under US$ 25.3 The funds were used for street signage, bagging parking meters, and other activities associated with shutting down the streets and promoting the event.
CycLOUvia was a lively success. People came out in all colors and stripes, walking their dogs, jogging with their strollers, or skateboarding with their friends. There were even dancers and hula-hoops. This just shows what can happen in cities when citizens become more involved and creative financing is applied. One wonders if more streets can be pedestrianized if similar grassroots support and creativity are used.
Ultimately, CycLOUvia needs to be more than an annual or special event. CycLOUvia demonstrated the environmental, community, and economic benefits of welcoming pedestrians and cyclists back to the streets, something that was the norm before the dominance of the car. It showed that by using innovate means of building support and fundraising, some streets can be returned to the people. Let’s hope there will be more streets permanently like this in the future.