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Sunday Parkways = healthy communities

Chicago took a giant step on Sunday, October 5, by banning motorized traffic from a four-mile section of its historic parkways so thousands of pedestrians, cyclists, in-line skaters and others could exercise to their heart's content. And presumably to their heart's benefit.

The free, open event, called Sunday Parkways, is a replication of similar efforts in Bogotá, Colombia; Quito, Ecuador; Portland, Ore.; New York City and other places that have imposed driving bans for purposes of public health and neighborhood cohesion. View an audio slideshow of this and similar events at  

Photo: Gordon Walek

During the Oct. 5 Sunday Parkways event, Chicagoans had a chance to burn the fat and enjoy the sense of community -- and there's another opportunity on Oct. 26. 

 On October 5, sections of Kedzie, Sacramento, Franklin and Central Park, between Logan and Jackson boulevards, were closed to traffic from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., although cross street traffic wasn't obstructed.

On Sunday, October 26, a similar length of Central Park, Harrison, Kedzie, Roosevelt and other streets will be traffic-free from Lake Street to 24th Street.

One might think that temporarily closing a few streets on two autumn Sunday mornings wouldn’t be a challenge. But Sunday Parkways has been nearly three years in the making, as representatives of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, five NCP neighborhoods through which the routes travel, several aldermen, and various city agencies have negotiated the logistics of momentarily altering motorists’ habits.

Trip to Quito

Little has been left to chance. In September, 16 representatives from the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, the neighborhoods, LISC, the park district, the police department, the office of emergency services and two aldermen traveled to Quito, Ecuador, for the third annual international ciclovia conference. View videos about ciclovias in Quito and elsewhere.

Photo: Gordon Walek

The Chicago delegation prepares to ride the ciclovias in Quito, Ecuador in September. 

Ciclovias use existing streets, parks and boulevards, closed to auto traffic, to encourage physical activity and embrace public space in ways that promote good health, civic engagement and economic development.

Every other Sunday Quito, closes nearly 20 miles of streets and principal avenues to vehicular traffic, freeing them up for cyclists, walkers, joggers, in-line skaters and other users of non-motorized transportation. 

Nearly 50 other people from North America, Latin America, South America and Europe attended the Quito conference, where they discussed the benefits and challenges of opening city streets for pedestrian and recreational use.

The Bogotá, Colombia, delegation, for example, reported on research it was conducting to measure the public health benefits of its program. Bogotá is widely credited with originating the ciclovia concept a couple decades ago and now closes off nearly 70 miles of city streets for pedestrian use.

New York's experience

Dani Simons, of New York City's Department of Transportation, detailed the marketing campaign her office waged to ensure maximum participation in its Summer Streets events, in which a seven-mile section of Park Avenue was closed to vehicular traffic on three consecutive Saturdays last August.

Photo: Gordon Walek

A mother and son enjoy a beautiful autumn morning along Chicago's historic boulevards. 

Despite concerns by businesses that traffic-clogged Manhattan would succumb to gridlock if such a major thoroughfare were closed, the city survived. And nearly 50,000 cyclists and pedestrians each week took advantage of the opportunity to use one of New York’s most notable streets as a recreational venue.

In addition to talking about the benefits of ciclovias , the Chicago delegation also rode the Quito route. At first glance, Quito isn't a bicycle-friendly city. Auto and bus traffic is heavy and unforgiving.

But with many of Quito's broad avenues and narrow colonial-era streets closed to traffic, cyclists and pedestrians can get an excellent sense of how the city evolved over the last few hundred years while at the same time taking in extraordinarily beautiful views that the mountainous geography affords.

Photo: Gordon Walek

The day included tumbling routines, aerobics classes and more. 

Ride organizers say that about 60,000 of Quito’s two million residents typically participate in the Sunday events, and to the untrained eye they cut a wide swath across all demographic measurements – old, young, rich, poor, fit, fat (but getting less so).

Most evident were the large number of families on bicycles, tricycles and other wheeled vehicles that fanned out across the route with the same relaxed manner they’d display on a neighborhood stroll. Learn more about the Quito approach and comment on it here.

In Chicago, the Sunday Parkways program strongly emphasizes the public health benefit of cycling, jogging and walking. Participants in the October event  engaged in exercise classes and dance at five activity stations along the routes – Palmer Square, Garfield Park, Douglas Park, Humboldt Park and Telpochcalli Community School.

Alderman Rey Colon (35th), who attended the Quito conference with Alderman Walter Burnett (27th), has been a strong proponent of Sunday Parkways as one small step to combat the obesity problem that plagues so many American neighborhoods.

Photo: Gordon Walek

The Sunday Parkways event drew inspiration from New York City and Quito, Ecuador. 

But Colon and others embrace the idea for additional reasons. “This as an opportunity for engaging communities,” said Christina Bronsing, of Little Village CDC, who has worked with her counterparts at Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation, Humboldt Park Community of Wellness, Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, and Lawndale Christian Development Corporation to make Sunday Parkways a forum for people in adjacent neighborhoods to interact freely.

Those organizations, along with the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, have applied grassroots community-organizing principles to the event, engaging residents at the block level to get out of their homes and into the streets for a couple days of exercise and social interaction.

For more on Sunday Parkways from NCP lead agency the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, please click here.

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