What is ciclovia? Imagine that you’re on vacation, traveling in a dizzying, non-stop metropolis where the lights and noises of the street keep you up late into the night. You wake up in the morning, step outside of your hostel and are greeted not by the blare of car horns and a cloud of automotive exhaust, but with the quiet hum of bikes, roller blades, and — hey… are those birds singing?
This idyllic scenario isn’t some kind of green travel utopia, or something I made up. It actually happens in cities around the world every week. On three different occasions in my travels (in Guadalajara, Mexico in 2005, Mexico City in 2007, and in Lima, Peru early this year)
I’ve witnessed what is called a ciclovía (also known as “bike path,” ciclovia, or an open streets initiative). Each Sunday, these cities close off long stretches of a major downtown street and restrict it to just runners, walkers, bicyclists, and skaters.
Ciclovia – a blissful experience
The first time I saw this I was stunned. I had just begun working on my Master’s degree in Urban Planning and was passionate about promoting walking and biking and taking public transit as alternatives to driving a car.
It’s the best thing for the environment, reduces traffic congestion, and improves public health. And here I was in a developing country where these cities had taken a bold move to do just that. Close the streets — no cars allowed for several hours — every single week.
When I learned more, I found out these events had been going on for almost thirty years in the founding city of Bogotá, Colombia. My home country of the United States could learn a lot from these cities.
Why close the streets?
There are lots of reasons why cities would want to create such open space programs. Having this type of event reduces air pollution by getting cars off the road, and it encourages walking and biking both as transport and for public health. It generates recreational areas, or makeshift parks, in areas that lack space for kids to play safely.
These programs can also help to improve the local economy by increasing foot traffic into shops and businesses that usually have cars zipping right past. It helps get people outside and helps build community by letting people meet their neighbors. In total, ciclovías help make cities nicer places to live, work, and travel.
How You Can Get Involved with Open Streets
Find an open streets event near your home or when you travel. It was a surreal feeling to walk down the middle of the expansive Reforma, a major boulevard in Mexico City, feeling safe and not being afraid of cars.
These events are great for people watching, and are a perfect opportunity for travelers to experience life in the community. More than 100 initiatives happen regularly in North and South America, with more forming every week.
I’m heading to South America — to Colombia and Ecuador — later this month and am hoping to check one out in Quito, Bogotá, or Medellín.
No event near you? Take to the streets!
Walking, cycling, or using public transportation when you travel gives you a local perspective on the place you are visiting and helps you make the city a better place.
Organize an event in your city.
The Open Streets Project has resources to help organize an initiative in your own community. Planning your own ciclovia is easier than you might think!