Compelled by concerns over public health and a returning zeal for urban life with fewer cars, cities across the world are closing roadways to cars and opening them for people. This trend is getting a great endorsement through the World Health Organization’s upcoming World Health Day on April 11, in which it is encouraging cities to close roads on that day for the enjoyment of people.
The concept took hold in South America in Bogota, Columbia, with other efforts in Mexico City and along the beaches of Rio de Janeiro taking hold. In Rio, the beachfront recreational space is practically doubled (and so is the amount of users) during the weekly car-free Sundays.
The idea has also caught on in the U.S. in Chicago, New York City, San Antonio, Baltimore and other places. Portland, Oregon’s Sunday Parkways shuts down eight miles of streets on three summer Sundays in three neighborhoods. The city’s transportation department views Sunday Parkways as ideal for connecting neighborhoods, bringing people together and providing something to do in the city’s many great neighborhood parks. Park and transportation officials have worked together to include parks along the route and program them with different events and attractions.
The event has been a hit. Tallies showed 15,000, 22,000 and 25,000 participants on the streets and in the parks for the three different days, with about 25% being non-bicycle riders — showing that these are not just “bike-people” events.
Meanwhile, cities are also continuing to close roads permanently or on designated days inside city parks. The park roads of Central and Prospect Parks are closed to traffic nearly full time nowadays, but places such as Kansas City are doing it, too. The city’s park department has shut down over two miles of Cliff Drive every weekend from May to September. And the National Park Service closed down the length of road that traverses Fort Dupont Park in the city’s economically depressed southeast. Both of these recent efforts have made the explicit connection in getting residents physically active — but in a fun way instead of preaching the virtues of fitness.
The upcoming 1,000 Cities, 1,000 Lives effort for World Health Day on April 11 is a great opportunity for cities to encourage their residents to get out, have some fun and together engage in some healthy activities — whether it be burning calories or warm conversations with newly-met neighbors and friends. Cities across the globe have signed up for the event. Though it is coming in only two months, there is still time to schedule something. The roads found within parks may be an easier route for those that are interested.
Looking beyond, the WHO event is about more than one day of road closures. It is about encouraging our cities to be healthier places by design. And road closures both in parks and city streets are one way to do this on a regular basis.