Palm Sunday weekend was great. The sun was shining, the allergy meds held the pollen in check, and Carrboro’s 2nd Open Streets event was about as picture perfect as it gets. Before I go into details from Carrboro Open Streets, a quick definition:
Originating in Colombia in South America, and first called Ciclovia, an “Open Streets” event is one that closes city street space normally allocated to cars and gives it to people on foot, bicycle, skateboard, inline skates, a wagon- pretty much any non-motorized vehicle, for several hours at a time. With an emphasis on community, physical fitness, and green transportation, it is common to have bicycle riding and bicycle maintenance instruction, as well as fitness classes from martial arts to zumba, yoga and aerobics.
Within the United States, Open Streets events have taken place pretty much everywhere- New York City, Madison, WI, Minneapolis, Austin, Honolulu, Los Angeles, and smaller communities such as Roanoke, VA, Clearwater, FL, and locally, Durham and Carrboro.
Also, since these events are designed to highlight the benefits of bicycle transportation, I want to share how we got there, which I think illustrates some of the problems that the Open Streets movement is trying to address in the first place.
Getting to Carrboro Open Streets 2014
In the week leading up to Open Streets, DC made it clear that DC wanted not only to ride the balance bike AT Open Streets, but that DC also wanted to use it to GET to Open Streets. Seeing as DC wanted me to bring my bike as well, this presented a non-trivial problem for us. How were we going to cross key streets on the way to the Open Streets zone safely? When I walk and DC ride as a duo, if any sudden danger element intrudes on a situation, such as a distracted driver, I can literally snatch DC off the balance bike if I have to. Fortunately, we have never needed to do this, but when you’re walking your own bike across a street, this is not going to happen as fast, and in such situations, seconds count. DW was also heading to Open Streets, but she would be arriving via her own bike later, so parental tag-teaming was also not an option. There were at least five crossings where cars do more than 25 mph regularly between our house and the Open Streets.
We settled on a two-part solution. Part 1: Chapel Hill Transit to the rescue! Realizing that the bus could get us pretty close to the Open Streets event, this cut down our set of complicated two-bike crossings from five down to two. DC waited on the sidewalk while I loaded my bike into the rack on the front of the bus, and then I carried DC’s balance bike onboard.
Once we got off the bus, we still needed to cross two streets where cars take corners too fast, because many of Carrboro’s curbs are far too gentle to calm traffic effectively. DC follows directions well, but is not yet skilled enough to cross streets while surveying the environment for safety threats and acting defensively without my help. So we settled on “the Fox and the Chicken” method, based on this old riddle, where I left one bike on the ground, put DC in my left arm and one bike in my right hand, and crossed the street. We then crossed back with just DC in my arms, and then got the second bike and repeated the child-in-one-arm-bike-in-the-other move. Then we went to the next intersection and did it. Again. Without the bus, this would have been 30 street crossings to reach Open Streets. We managed to do only six. I recognize that most people don’t have children in the age bracket that are beyond a stroller and not yet proficient in crossing a street on a bike; however, the fast-turn corners in town present different variations of this problem to everyone, but particularly our senior citizens and small children.
We Made It! Carrboro Open Streets 2014
Having successfully reached Open Streets without getting in a car, we immediately started checking things out. There was an outdoor climbing wall that looked like great fun and already had a line to try. Folks from the Recyclery offered to take our photo together with our bikes. We were told how we could get discounts to the Carrboro Farmers’ Market if we stopped by on our bikes. Another person invited us to a fitness class.
Neighborhood Loop Bike Parade
Someone announced that a kids bike parade/neighborhood loop ride was starting in a few minutes, and we decided that sounded like fun.
I did not get the gentleman in this photo’s name, but he did an excellent job leading the ride from Weaver St down Lindsay, down Poplar, and up Oak. He also gave the kids a short lesson in how to properly tighten a helmet and even adjusted a few helmets that needed tightening to be fitted correctly. Volunteers at each of the intersections watched for cars and stopped them as needed. As short as the loop was, it was still the first time DC and I have ridden on neighborhood streets together, which was a big deal for us.
After the neighborhood bike loop, we ran into some friends in front of the Chapel Hill Transit “Mobile Mural” bus, which was there to let people practice putting bicycles in and out of the bike rack.
While chatting, DW joined us and then and got to try the bike-on-bus rack, which she reported was very helpful in allowing her to get used to how the bike rack worked without the pressure of wondering if everyone on the bus was waiting for her. CHT Operator Akalema was helpful and encouraging, and gave good advice that CHT operators are “not in there waiting impatiently for you to hurry up. We know how long it takes to get the bike secured, and we want it to fit in well just like you do.”
Bike Decorating and Obstacle Course
We then took DC by a craft table where there were all sorts of stickers, pipe cleaners, etc. DC’s bike was well-decorated within 5 minutes. DC then tried his hand at an obstacle course that featured riding through cones, up a ramp, and over the rungs in a bumpy rope ladder.
Next we got in line for the crowd-pleasing Blend-Your-Own-Smoothie on a bike stand. We picked strawberries, while others near us in line picked coconut milk, pineapple, and blueberries. I tried to let DC do the blending but the adult bike spacing between the seat and pedals was just a little too long for DC’s gait. I cranked the pedals for about 45 seconds total, stopping every now and then to see how pureed the drink was, until it was indeed, smooth.
Soon after we got lunch at Weaver Street Market and watched the cheerful Bulltown Strutters play up and down East Weaver Street and on the lawn.
Later at home, DW and I were talking about the event, and we both had a few take-away moments from Carrboro Open Streets. DW noted the complete lack of the typical unhealthy food being served at a street festival- no fried dough, no corndogs, etc. Sure, anybody who wanted to get cookies, ice cream, or other fattening food doesn’t have to look far in Carrboro, but with the health/activity focus of the event, we agreed that this made sense. She also appreciated getting to see certain types of fitness classes that she might try another time.
DC was thrilled to “win” a frisbee for completing the bike obstacle course, and reported that getting to honk the horn of the Chapel Hill Transit bus was another favorite moment.
For me, my favorite part was the simple joy of having a significant stretch of pavement in town where I could let our child ride free a bit and generally not worry that DC was one distracted driver away from catastrophe. Thanks to Carrboro Open Streets, DC spent more time than ever on a bike last weekend, and experienced some considerable confidence gains in learning to ride.
The other recurring theme was the number of Carrboro residents I ran into who said in one way or another, “we should do this every week!” While it certainly would be unusual to have many of these activities every Saturday morning (Bike Blender Smoothies in December, anyone?), I think there’s definitely a potential upside to conducting a Carrboro Open Streets event more frequently than once a year.
What Next for Carrboro Open Streets?
To me, Carrboro Open Streets has implications for both transportation and tourism. I’ll start with the latter.
I spoke with Alderperson Randee Haven O’Donnell for a few minutes, and Randee pointed out that some of the folks surveying Carrboro Open Streets participants were finding that non-trivial numbers of people were coming to Open Streets from outside Carrboro, as local tourists from the Triangle region. Now that there’s a hotel in town, maybe we should consider pairing two to four Carrboro Open Streets events to be on the Saturday mornings that follow 2nd Friday Artwalks. This allows a visiting tourist to pair two city culture events in a one-night visit. It also allows visitors to experience the Carrboro Farmers’ Market as well.
On the transportation front, the more I read and the more I use bicycle facilities in our own community and others where cyclists are completely separated from vehicle traffic, the more I realize how critical such facilities are to getting the large portion of the population that would bike if it was safer and FELT safer. I freely admit that adding more facilities like this to downtown is challenging, but I think we should try to identify opportunities downtown (and throughout the town) for more bike/ped-only segments in the transportation network.
See you all at the next Carrboro Open Streets!