An estimated 82,300 people showed up for the Oct. 5 version of "Atlanta Streets Alive," the latest in a string of Sunday afternoon street-closure parties put on by the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition. The project was inspired by open-streets initiatives around the world, especially the Ciclovia events of Bogotá, Columbia.
The latest incarnation had such an impressive turnout, with such an enthusiastic crowd, we had to reach out to Rebecca Serna, executive director of the coalition (pictured, at right). In a Q&A after the jump, Serna expounds on all things Streets Alive — including specifics about dates and neighborhoods for future events. And the nicest neighbor complaints of all time.
Curbed Atlanta: How would you quantify the degree of success that the most recent Streets Alive event had? 83,000 people?
Rebecca Serna: We are so gratified by how Atlanta has embraced open streets. To have 83,000 people show up and take part was just incredible. In adding Boulevard to an already-popular route (last year the Highland Avenue route drew 25,000) it was especially exciting to see people make the full, nearly five-mile loop. The collaboration with YO Boulevard made that loop possible, and to see kids who aren't usually allowed to walk on Boulevard riding down the middle of the street was beautiful.
CA: For those who don't know, these things aren't just for "bike people," right?
RS: Definitely not! When we launched this initiative back in 2010, we tried very hard to make sure Atlanta Streets Alive was not perceived as a "bike race," because that would limit the impact. We're not interested in preaching to the choir — we want to create a positive human-powered experience anyone can enjoy, whether on foot, bike, skateboard or stroller. Many studies have found 60 percent of the population to be among those interested in biking but too worried about safety issues to ride in an urban setting. One big benefit for us of putting on these events is that we take cars out of the equation for the afternoon. Once people have tried biking down streets they normally drive, it plants the seed with some people to continue beyond the event.
CA: Lots of folks are clamoring for more events — what kind of red tape do y'all have to go through to set these up?
RS: The City of Atlanta at all levels is a fantastic partner on these events. We have to complete a permit application like any other event, and answer any questions that come up. One goal from day one was to reach Peachtree Street. Accomplishing that this year was a major milestone for us, and having the city on board made that happen ...
The main barrier to putting on more events is simply money. We raise funds to pay the off-duty police officers, advertise, rent the barricades, organize the activities and volunteers, and do the community outreach.
CA: Do y'all ever receive complaints from less enthusiastic non-participants?
RS: We do occasionally receive complaints from nearby residents impacted by the street closures. They tend to be the nicest complaints I've ever heard of. Most people say they applaud the goals and what we're doing but didn't hear about the event for one reason or another. As we grow it's getting easier to reach large numbers of people so no one is surprised ...
What used to happen during street-level outreach is that businesses and neighborhoods were concerned about their customers or residents being able to get where they needed to go. Now more and more they are realizing that when Streets Alive happens, they're already where it's at!
CA: When might we see more events? And where?
RS: Our goal is to organize four Atlanta Streets Alives in 2014: April, May, September and October. We plan to add a new, exciting route next year: the Historic West End, an overlooked gem of a neighborhood that is very excited about welcoming Atlanta Streets Alive. In 2015 we hope to add Lakewood, and continue to grow the number of events. Again, it all comes down to fundraising — we're about to embark on our fundraising campaign for 2014, with a goal of raising $200,000.
CA: Anything else you'd like us to know?
RS: As a parent, the thing I love most about Atlanta Streets Alive is how much my kids love it. That gives me hope for a day in our city when my kids can bike or walk safely by themselves, and experience the joy and independence of getting somewhere on their own. As Enrique Penalosa (the Colombian mayor who put Ciclovia on the map) said, "I would say that the great city is not the one that has highways, but one where a child on a bicycle can go safely everywhere."
— By Curbed Atlanta contributor Tyler Estep
· Street Parties, Walkability Threaten To Make ATL 'Cool' [Curbed Atlanta]
· More 'Streets Alive' coverage [Curbed Atlanta]
[ABOVE: Serna image via Atlanta Bicycle Coalition]