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500 People Ate Dinner on a Freeway in Akron This Weekend

"500 Plates" brought together people from all over Akron to have a meal together on the to-be-closed "Innerbelt Freeway." Photo: Jason Segedy

“500 Plates” brought together people from all over Akron to have a meal together on the Innerbelt Freeway, which is not long for this world. Photo: Jason Segedy

How’s this for a creative reuse of outdated 20th century infrastructure? This weekend, 500 people in Akron, Ohio, sat down and had dinner together on the Innerbelt Freeway.

The event, dubbed “500 Plates,” brought together people from all over the city to talk about the future of the Innerbelt. The city is planning to decommission the lightly-used 1970s-era highway and redevelop the land — but exactly how is still under discussion.

Photo: Jason Segedy

Photo: Jason Segedy

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Scenes From the Big Car-Free Day in Paris

The air was noticeably clearer yesterday over the city of Paris, where people walking, biking, skating, and otherwise getting around without a motor took over streets generally packed with cars, including the Champs Elysées.

About a third of Paris was free of motorized vehicles from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., except for buses and taxis. Car speeds were capped at 20 kilometers per hour in the rest of the city.

Mayor Anne Hidalgo, at the urging of activists, initiated the massive car-free event as a lead-in to the city hosting COP21, the United Nations’ upcoming conference on climate change. Paris is plagued by diesel exhaust, and the skies over the city were noticeably bluer yesterday, according to the Guardian. The exhaust cleared. The rumble of traffic was gone. People seemed happier and less stressed.

One of the tens of thousands who took to the streets told the Guardian it was “like a headache lifting.”

Camille Carnoz of the bike activist group Vélorution said she hopes the car-free day leads to permanent changes:

Today is symbolic, it’s about giving people a dream, showing us what a city could look like without cars, a type of utopia. But we need to go further, with more and larger cycle routes, better parking spots for bicycles, slower speed limits. There’s a lot to be done.

Here are a few more views of the day without cars.

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It’s Past Time to Make Summer Streets Even Greater

New Yorkers enjoying Summer Streets last Saturday. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

New Yorkers enjoying Summer Streets last Saturday. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

When Summer Streets launched in 2008, it was accompanied by a veritable New York media firestorm. “Will Car-Free ‘Summer Streets’ Work?” asked the Times. “Businesses Brace for Summer Streets,” warned WNYC. Seven years on, New York’s marquee car-free event has become a popular August institution. It’s time for more.

Since its first edition, Summer Streets has encompassed nearly seven miles of car-free streets on three summer Saturdays, along Park Avenue and Lafayette Street from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park. Summer Streets attracted more than 300,000 people last year, DOT said. Yet despite the program’s popularity, the city hasn’t expanded it.

Smaller “Weekend Walks” events have grown over the years, bringing car-free streets to neighborhoods in all five boroughs. But these pedestrian-focused events aren’t the same as Summer Streets, which is big enough to attract people from all over the city. Most important, Summer Streets covers a car-free route long enough to entice New Yorkers onto their bicycles.

There are hurdles to expanding Summer Streets, which already relies on corporate sponsorships. “It takes a lot of funds,” Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said last year. “We have to work closely with the NYPD. It’s a lot of work to close down the streets, and to their credit, they come to the table and help us with this just out of their own resources.”

If the city can overcome its cost hurdles, there are a few ways to expand Summer Streets. It could be extended to happen on more than just three Saturdays in August, it could last beyond 1 p.m., it could cover a longer route, or it could cover additional routes in boroughs other than Manhattan.

Los Angeles, for example, has expanded its CicLAvia open streets event to downtown Los Angeles, Pasadena, the San Fernando Valley, and Watts, among other neighborhoods, with car-free hours lasting well into the late afternoon.

Where — and how — would you expand Summer Streets in New York? Let us know in the comments.


Mark Your Calendars: Summer Streets Returns in August

Another summer, another edition of Summer Streets.

For the eighth year, New York’s spin on Ciclovia is coming to nearly seven miles of streets on Manhattan’s east side. For three Saturdays in August — the 1st, 8th and 15th — Park Avenue, Lafayette Street, and a portion of 72nd Street between Central Park and the Brooklyn Bridge are going car-free between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Each year Summer Streets has something new as the main attraction. This time, New Yorkers will be able to ride a tube down “Slide the City,” which in a promotional video looks like a large, multi-block Slip ‘N Slide. It will be installed at Foley Square — but be warned, walk-ups are not allowed. Participants must register online in advance.

Another new addition this year: a dog run and agility course at Astor Place sponsored by the American Kennel Club. Dogs not your thing? Maybe try riding a handcycle, also at Astor Place. Activities returning from previous years include a zip line and parkour workshops.

The theme this year is “accessibility.” “Whether you want to slide on water, bike, run, play soccer, take a self-guided architectural tour or play with your dog, our streets are an accessible and fun place for city residents and visitors of all ages to enjoy those activities,” Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said in a press release.

Since launching on three Saturdays in 2008, Summer Streets has not expanded to cover more streets or hours of the day. A major factor is the police presence required by NYPD. At last year’s Summer Streets announcement, Trottenberg said that cost limits the city’s ability to expand the event.

Looking for more car-free summer fun? Bronxites might also want to check out Boogie on the Boulevard, organized in part by the Bronx Museum. The event turns the center lanes of the Grand Concourse between 161st and 167th streets into car-free spaces featuring music and other programs from noon to 4 p.m. on the first three Sundays of August.


Eyes on the Street: New 215th Step-Street, With Bike Ramp, Taking Shape

Photos: Brad Aaron

Looking up the northern section of the 215th Step-Street from Broadway, with bike ramp on the left. Photos: Brad Aaron

It’s been a year since we checked up on the 215th Step-Street in Inwood, where the northern section of the long, steep stairway looks to be nearly finished — complete with bike ramp.

These stairs serve as a car-free street between Broadway and the 1 train and residential blocks that make up the northwest corner of the neighborhood. “The ancient passageway was built in an era when the automobile was still a relatively new contraption and getting up or down a hill required nothing more than a decent pair of shoes,” writes Cole Thompson at My Inwood. Check Thompson’s site for photos of the step-street dating from 100 years ago, when Broadway was paved with cobblestones and there’s not a car in sight.

As promised, the Department of Design and Construction is rehabbing the northern and southern sections one at a time, with one remaining open. Locals have waited for the city to fix the stairs since the late 90s, at least, and while it seems doubtful that DDC will meet its spring deadline (the project, which began last January, was supposed to take 17 months), Inwoodites may be using the new northern section before long.

How cool is it that, on a public stairway built before the city ceded the streets to motor vehicles, the reconstructed stairs will feature a bike ramp as a modern amenity.

The stairs in 2008.

The stairs in 2008.

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Here They Are — Your Car-Free Street Scenes From Marathon Day

If you can get to the course early enough, marathon Sunday lets you roam freely, for one morning, on some of New York’s most atrocious traffic sewers. Here’s a look at how some people made the most of the car-free time.

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Remember This Hashtag – #marathonfunday

Rise with the sun on marathon day and you can claim what’s typically a car-choked mess all to yourself. Photo: Doug Gordon

Quick, what’s the biggest car-free event of the year?

Summer Streets gives New Yorkers the longest stretch of contiguous roadway with no traffic, but marathon Sunday might reclaim more asphalt — even if you don’t count the route itself, all the car-free side streets along the way add up.

Of course, if you get up early enough you can enjoy block after block of the marathon route before the course gets cleared for the race. Doug Gordon and his daughter Galit did it last year on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn and it looks like a ton of fun.

This year there’s a movement afoot on Twitter to capture the spirit of car-free New York City streets on marathon day. To share your photos, use the hashtag #marathonfunday.

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Madrid Moves Toward a Car-Free Center City

Drivers who don't live in the center city will no longer be able to drive through Madrid's core neighborhoods. Image: City of Madrid

Drivers who don’t live in the center city will no longer be able to drive through Madrid’s core neighborhoods. Map: City of Madrid

Beginning in January, Madrid will enact new policies to keep cars out of almost 500 acres in the core of the city, part of a long-term plan to entirely pedestrianize the center city.

El Pais in Spain is reporting that, unless they live there, drivers will no longer be allowed to enter the city’s four most central neighborhoods. Instead, all outside traffic will be routed along a select few major avenues. The penalty for driving into one of the restricted zones without permission will be 90 Euros, Architecture Daily reports.

The new rule is expected to reduce traffic in the affected areas by at least one third. Motorcycles and delivery vehicles will be able to enter the zones at certain hours.

Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón told El Pais, “The main objective is to reduce traffic passing through neighborhoods and looking for parking agitation, while increasing parking spaces for residents.”

The measure is in keeping with the city’s 2020 Mobility Plan, which aims to gradually pedestrianize the city center. Madrid has also raised on-street parking rates and increased the use of speed enforcement cameras in an effort to encourage walking, biking, and transit.

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Kidical Mass NYC and Summer Streets Bring Out the Tykes on Bikes


This just about captures the mood on the ride from Borough Hall to Astor Place. (Note: Biking on the sidewalk is legal in NYC if you’re under 13.) All photos: Ben Fried

Mission accomplished for the first Kidical Mass NYC ride: The all-ages Saturday morning bike convoy from Brooklyn Borough Hall to Summer Streets was a ton of fun.

Moms, dads, and kids — about two dozen people all told — made the trip with an assortment of box bikes, child seats, trailers, and kiddie cycles. The self-propelled children were super impressive. No one had training wheels, and they all made it over the Brooklyn Bridge.

Here are some photos of the ride, plus some shots of Summer Streets, which seems to be drawing more families with kids every year. To plug into the next Kidical Mass NYC ride, follow them on Facebook.


At Kidical Mass, everyone got their cues from ride organizers Ali Loxton and Doug Gordon.


First leg: Cadman Plaza.


Tourists all over the place on the Brooklyn Bridge? No problem.

Summer Streets itself has turned into a great family event and on-the-ground classroom for precocious cyclists. It is simply amazing to see kids as young as 4 pedaling down Park Avenue and Lafayette Street. And there are a ton of them…

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How Brownsville, Texas, Is Using Bikes to Address Social Problems

Brownsville, Texas' open streets events CycloBia has been a huge success. Photo: CycloBia Brownsville

Brownsville’s open streets event, “CycloBia,” has been a huge success. Photo: CycloBia Brownsville

This post is part of a series featuring stories and research that will be presented at the Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike/Pro-Place conference September 8-11 in Pittsburgh.

Brownsville, a Texas border town, is frequently cited as one of the poorest cities in the country. It also has one of the highest obesity rates.

But local officials have taken on some of the city’s health problems. And one of the key tools they’re using is cycling.

Planning Director Ramiro Gonzalez says it’s been about two years since the city of 180,000 people — 93 percent of them Latino — began its cycling push. City Commissioner Rose Gowen, a doctor, made health-based initiatives a key part of her agenda.

"People inherently want to be active. But there’s always an excuse," says Brownsville's Planning Director Ramiro Gonzalez. Photo: CycloBia Brownsville

“People inherently want to be active. But there’s always an excuse,” says Brownsville’s Planning Director Ramiro Gonzalez. Photo: CycloBia Brownsville

“It really started at the level of getting people active to improve [their] health,” Gonzalez said.

Since then, the city has implemented a complete streets policy and adopted the National Association of City Transportation Officials‘ Urban Bikeway Design Guide — which, unlike older American engineering guidelines, includes protected bike lanes.

The city has been putting that guidance to good use, adding about 30 miles of bike lanes in the last year.

But once you have bike infrastructure, how do you get people to use it? City leaders brought in livable streets expert Gil Penalosa, former director of parks, sports, and recreation for Bogotá, Colombia. He got the idea of an open streets or cyclovia event percolating. This year, Brownsville has held eight open streets events, which it calls CycloBia, clearing major downtown avenues of car traffic and opening them to active play. The city is planning two more before the year’s end

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