by Eugenie Sage
Christchurch’s recent Open Streets Cyclovia event was a wonderful success. Central city streets were closed to cars for a day last Sunday, transforming them into a safe haven for cyclists and pedestrians.
Residents of all ages took to the central streets on a variety of non-motorised wheeled contraptions to celebrate Christchurch’s potential as New Zealand’s cycle city.
Open Streets is an international movement. It follows the Ciclovía (which means “bike path”) model which began in Latin America in the 1970s as a response to the congestion and pollution of city streets. Ciclovías allow residents of normally congested cities to come out and enjoy healthy recreation in the streets. The best known is probably Paris Plages on the banks of the Seine every July.
Christchurch’s Open Streets gave everyone a taste of how enjoyable and pleasant a rebuilt city could be when there are many more areas where people take priority over cars; where it is easy to wander, pedal, meet and talk.
Christchurch’s own Bicycle Band – have brass can pedal – played while others played bike polo, whizzed up smoothies on a pedal powered blender, watched a cycle powered cinema, had a free bike tune-up or just enjoyed the music, and food stalls.
The best part was seeing so many families out with children riding bicycles and having a great time. Cathedral Square came alive as the young and young at heart circled the Chalice madly on a variety of ingenious and unusual bikes, bells ringing non-stop.
When talking to people about why they liked cycling, several said they enjoyed the freedom, the exercise, being out in the weather, saving on fuel and that it was easier than looking for car parks. The best answer was from a lively 6 year old who said, “I love biking so I can go through the puddles and splash my mother.”
Open Streets was another example of what community feels like – people of all ages coming together and sharing the streets, talking and mingling. It was a brilliant day out, and was probably a relatively inexpensive event to organise, apart from traffic management costs to keep the cars out.
Wellington had a similar successful event in September. There’s lots of advice here on how to organise an Open Streets event. Ask your Council to help open up the streets in your city or town to art, music, conversation and pedal power by having regular weekend days when the streets are closed to cars.