The car, it can be dethroned. If only for a day. Kind of like a king on carnival. Indy's first Open Streets Initiative, from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, will close Westfield Boulevard to cars for a span of almost two miles from Broadway to 53rd streets, turning the street into a free and family-friendly linear park for walking, cycling, dancing, playing, and socializing.
"The point of these events is to reclaim the street for people," says Kim Irwin, a member of the organizing committee from Health by Design. "Obviously we put cars on streets, but that's to serve the purpose of the people who are in those cars. And we forget that."
Similar events are held all over the world, with at least 80 Open Streets initiatives in different sites throughout Canada and the U.S. Called ciclovía (bike path) in Spanish-speaking countries, the original took place in Bogotá, Colombia, nearly 40 years ago. It is hugely popular there, occurring weekly, opening 76 miles of key thoroughfares to cyclists and pedestrians, and bringing people from different neighborhoods together.
Indy's version, organized by Megan Treida on behalf of the American College of Sports Medicine, has something for everyone, with activities placed at key hubs: Alice Carter Park, The Riviera Club, the shops at 56th Street and Butler University's fields. The Chase Bank parking lot will host biking activities, including a bike bucket workshop through IndyCog (there's a small fee for materials) and free helmets for kids in partnership with Riley Children's Hospital. Central Indiana Bicycling Association is organizing rides to the event from different parts of Indy.
Kids' activities are centered at Alice Carter Park, including plenty of jump ropes, hula hoops, and a bounce house. The IMA is organizing chalk art, and the Indianapolis Art Center will provide supplies for a "Make art, take art" table, where people exchange their work for someone else's.
Fans of tango, zumba, or yoga can find session in each, along with special yoga exercises, line dancing, and chair aerobics for seniors. If you prefer team sports, Colts in Motion and the Pacers Fan Van will also be present, along with the Indy Air Bears (whose jump rope wizardry you may have seen at Pacers halftime shows). You can find tennis and shuffleboard at The Riviera Club, as well as a special Rivi Mile run that includes a free beverage for a $5 registration fee.
If you work up an appetite, there are plenty of restaurants along the route, and a few food trucks will also be on hand. Green BEAN Delivery will offer fruit and produce samples. And for those whose idea of exercise is raising a glass, the Rivi has a beer tent with live music - unaffiliated with the formal Open Streets event but celebrating it just the same.
Westfield Boulevard was the ideal location for the inaugural Open Streets, given the bike lanes, canal towpath, and pedestrian infrastructure available to reach the event, says Irwin. It's also surrounded by a street network that makes alternate routes fairly simple. Kessler, Meridian, Central, and College will remain open; only one IndyGo bus will be rerouted. The majority of the funds from sponsoring organizations will be used for IMPD barricades, security, and traffic control.
The structure of our transportation system often means we don't drive through new neighborhoods without a specific reason, points out Irwin - so we never know the people and businesses in them. She hopes the event will be so popular that it will be organized in new locations in the future, giving residents the chance to celebrate the diverse assets of different neighborhoods across the city.
"We are not anti-car," Irwin explains. "We are trying to give people more choices, and a car is likely always going to be one of those choices."
But she hopes the event will give Indy residents new ways to enjoy the environment, play freely, and socialize, stressing that you can also simply meander rather than engaging in activities. "I'm envisioning a day where people are being active, but also where they run into neighbors they haven't seen for a while, stop to chat, and reconnect," says Irwin.