from Joel's photos

“A city should be so constructed so that it is safely navigable by any seven-year-old on a bicycle” –ENRIQUE PEÑALOSA

Sunday, May 23 marked Atlanta’s first ciclovia, Atlanta Streets Alive. Six months in the making, I was completely floored by what I saw Sunday at 1 pm. People spilling out into the streets to explore the city unimpeded or distracted by car traffic, children riding bikes without fear, grownups dancing like kids in the streets. It was magical.

I was intrigued by the ciclovia concept after experiencing it as a student in Bogota, Colombia as a Fulbright scholar. (Scholar might be overselling it, but I did take classes at both the elitist and the leftist universities – Los Andes, where I dodged pointy-toed prada and La Nacional, where I dodged tear gas and rubber bullets – and researched participatory planning efforts including transportation.)

In Bogota, the ciclovia is so widespread that every Sunday, simply by walking two blocks from my apartment I was at ciclovia, and most residents of the city could say the same.  100+ miles of city streets are fully or partially closed to automobiles, buses and taxes, and turned over into public, democratic spaces for people to get active.  An estimated 800,000 – 1 million participate . It’s unbelievable.

I wanted that for our town. And I wanted it for my family. Most days, I bike Everett to daycare in the trailer on back streets, taking a circuitous route that adds 10 minutes to my trip. Most days Josh picks him up and they ride the bus home together, but on those occasions when I pick him up by bike, there just is no good way to get home.

It’s frustrating to me that we are trying to do the right thing and our streets, designed and built primarily for cars, don’t make it easy. Biking by yourself, as an adult, and biking with a child, your child, are two very different things at this point in our city’s evolution.

So the ciclovia held a special appeal for me as a parent.

from Kyle's photos

from Kyle's photos

Making it happen in Atlanta was ambitious, to say the least. Some key people at the CDC suggested late last year that the 2010 Congress for New Urbanism coming to Atlanta might be a good time to do it. And we (the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, city councilmember  Kwanza Hall, and a volunteer planning committee including CDC, ARC, CAP, ADID, GSU, and GT people – so many acronyms in one place!) took it on. Saturday, May 22, I was nearly sick with anticipation and asking myself why. Sunday, May 23 found me ecstatic at the turnout and universal looks of glee on people’s faces.

from Court's photos

I hope you had  a chance to experience it for yourself. It was madcap, it was organized, it was raucous, it was peaceful. It was crazy fun, and we hope to do it again in the fall.

from Kyle's photos

Best of all, for at least that afternoon I didn’t feel any fear as I watched Josh pull Everett in his bike trailer down Edgewood Avenue.

image by Kyle Torok

To quote Enrique Peñalosa again,

“We humans know more about what constitutes healthy habitat for a mountain gorilla than for a child living in a city.”

“We humans are pedestrians. We need to walk, not in order to survive, but to be happy.”

“In order to choose a city model we must have an idea of how do we want to live, because a city is really a means to a way of life. For example if we want a humane, child friendly city, motor-car road infrastructure may have to be limited and car use restricted.”

Photos in this post came from the Atlanta Streets Alive photo album on Facebook (I used images taken by ABC members), and from images captured by ABC volunteer Kyle Torok, who covered the event for FreeWheelin’ (Kyle’s album). Thanks guys!

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