Sunday’s Rainy Open Streets Made the Case for Multiple Car-Free Events

Todd Gee and his daughters enjoy a break in the downpour. Photos by John Greenfield.

The longer route and new activities of this year’s Milwaukee Avenue Open Streets cicloviá promised to bring the car-free playground into more neighborhoods and attract more people. The event expanded from last year’s 1.4 miles to 2.6 miles, and the city had signed up — for the first time ever — to pay for police officers and traffic control aides. The event was paid for mostly by the Wicker Park-Bucktown Special Service Area (Steven is a member of the transportation subcommittee) and sponsors Aldi, Walgreens, and Revolution Brewing.

The whole event went off without a hitch on Sunday, according to organizer Active Transportation Alliance, save for the rain. New attractions were scheduled this year including capoeira, outdoor yoga, and boot camp training, but didn’t happen because of the weather. Other activities continued, like Design-A-Divvy bike, the color mob (where people threw Indian Holi color powders at each other), and two Revolution Brewing beer gardens.

The sentiment of many participants, expressed at the event and on social media, was that Chicago needs more Open Streets events to avoid putting all its eggs in one basket:

Event manager Julia Kim of Active Trans said in jest at one point, “So the event was perfectly executed, but not enough people showed up.” John followed up with her afterward to take stock…

Four Square game near Milwaukee and Honore.

John Greenfield: There were a lot of programmed events on the schedule. Were a lot of those canceled?

Julia Kim: Yeah, because of the rain, and it wasn’t scattered, it was a constant downpour, it effected some programming. We had Red Moon’s Sonic Boom installation, which was a last-minute surprise. Actually, they came on site, they were by the stage, it was going strong, but then the rain just didn’t let up so then they broke it down.

Overall, we can’t control the weather, but insofar as execution, planning, programming, it was a huge success. Attendance suffered because of the rain, but overall having [almost] three miles of arterial corridor, like Milwaukee Avenue, it’s a nice bike ride. It’s an unbelievable transformation to witness. In that sense it was very successful, it went well. It’s never perfect, we’re always trying to do things better, but insofar as implementation of traffic routing, the barricades, and the partnership with the city, it was a success. It’s just that the attendance was not where it should be because of the constant rainstorm all day long.

JG: Any lessons learned, like things that you could do in the future in case of rain?

JK: It would be nice to have multiple days. That way you could factor in if one day rains. It’s never going to always be sunny all the time, but if you have multiple days, you have better odds of beating the rain. This is one of those situations where we can’t control Mother Nature. It was forecasted for sunny, and it was beautiful all week. We just can’t control the weather.

Volunteers from Rowe-Clark Math and Science Academy. "We helped color new designs for the Divvy bikes," one of the volunteers said. "We were making the scene kind of fun, because there wasn’t really anybody playing, so we were making some kind of fun. Just playing with the little kids and stuff."



Beyond Fitness: The Social Benefits of Open Streets Events

It’s a beautiful thing to witness just how much neighborhood streets can change when you remove car traffic. As open streets events, modeled after Bogotá’s Ciclovia, have spread across the U.S. in the past several years, they’ve brought not just opportunities for physical activity, but a joyful new way to use streets as public spaces. In Milwaukee, this year’s Ciclovia overlapped […]
Photo: Erik Voss and the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition via the Better Bike Share Partnership

Bike-Share and Open Streets: A Perfect Match

Open streets events, or ciclovias, give people a new way to explore their city's streets. Without cars on the streets, they're a natural opportunity for people who don't usually ride a bike to hop on two wheels -- and that's precisely why it's important to include bike-share systems in the mix, says Stefani Cox at the Better Bike Share Partnership.