Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Car-free Seattle?

It all started in Bogota, Columbia, surprisingly, in an event called Ciclovia, meaning "bike path" in Spanish. The streets are closed throughout the day and over 2 million people (30% of Bogota's population) partake in riding bikes, walking, enjoying movement classes and pretty much everything else that is done car-free. Check out the video:http://www.streetfilms.org/archives/ciclovia/ and watch other vids from other cities participating in car-free events. One other city is New York City, where the event has been quite successful.

These car-free events are not just meant to be for advocating bicycles as transportation; they also benefit the communities by building relationships between people and allow participants to experience their surroundings without the physical limitations of cars and without the constant concern for their safety due to traffic.

All that said, I attended the first of many car-free events in Seattle, this one at Alki Beach. When I say attended, I mean that I rode my bike there with friends, from my house (no gas expended to get to a car-free event). The ride between downtown Seattle and Alki is not a pleasant one, plainly put. The route is via Marginal Way and it is a street full of potholes, a rail crossing and busy traffic and then a trail that is disconnected and not safe for bikes. But once you actually reach Alki, the trail is flat and smooth and the biggest danger is strollers and rollerbladers.

We rode to the Alki Bakery for a snack and lingered while the event was setting up. I was hoping to do some people-watching and perhaps some schwag-gathering, as well, as I spied bike-related businesses setting up their tents. But when we walked our bikes over to the tents to get a feel for the event, we realized how few people were actually attending. In fact, most of the people we saw were those on bikes from Cascade Bike Club, who had planned some rides to coincide with the event.

Where were all the people frolicking in the streets? There were some but the area was not even as crowded as it would have been on any other Sunday. Could it be that a lot of the people who go to Alki travel there in a car and have no idea (or interest) in taking an alternate form of transportaion? After all, this area is not quite the densely populated metropolis that is NYC or Chicago or certainly Bogota. I guess that is not something that the (little) City of Seattle considered. But where were all the residents of Alki- did they sneak their cars out of their garages in the early morning so they could have the freedom to go wherever they pleased. I bet that many business owners in the area will be complaining to the Mayor over loss of revenue.

The local press is calling it an "experiment". Better luck next time, Seattle.

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