Open Streets ICT is a FREE community-building event that closes a usually busy street to traffic and opens it for biking, walking, running, dancing, yoga, and more! All Wichitans are invited to join in the fun, and to stop at the local Douglas Avenue businesses, restaurants, street vendors, and the five major activity hubs situated every mile along the four-mile stretch.
Promote healthy active living through a free event opening the City’s largest space-its streets-to walk, bike, roll and discover active transportation.
Provide a space to be active, safe, and have fun. This event should be used as a pathway for participants to learn how to incorporate biking, walking, physical activity and active transportation choices into their everyday lives.
How & Why the Concept Started
Wichita Park & Recreation and the Wichita Park Foundation are partnering with an array of stakeholders, representative of the community, to organize an Open Streets ICT event on Sunday, September 24, 2017. Open Streets ICT is a community-based initiative designed to engage every generation in Wichita while achieving public health, environmental, social and economic goals. The concept of Open Streets ICT is to temporarily close selected streets to motor vehicles and open streets to invite walking, biking, arts and culture related activities. While this is a one-day event, the aim is that Open Streets ICT will become more common, thus resulting in potential improvement in air quality from reduced emissions, decrease of chronic diseases and enhanced community connectivity. Open Streets ICT will become a public space that is a safe environment to promote the interaction of local businesses and organizations with the community to help strengthen Wichita. Streets belong to everyone, they connect us to each other and the places where we live, learn, work and play across neighborhoods, cultures and economic status. The goal of Open Streets ICT is to foster an appreciation among community members, businesses and key decision makers for streets to become multi-functional and not just for motor vehicles. Open Streets ICT will provide an environment for the community to congregate and think of streets as more than pavement. That sense of connectivity will come from the greater understanding that multi-modal forms of transportation (walking and biking) are safe and viable in Wichita, that businesses can change the manner in which they attract consumers and that civic pride increases from attending a unifying and innovative event.
Few studies have actually quantified the benefits derived from North America’s open streets initiatives. This may be because open streets are a new phenomenon in so many North American communities—47 of the 67 initiatives profiled herein began in the past 3 years, many on a trial basis. Yet, it’s obvious to anyone who has experienced open streets that good things happen when thousands of people engage in social and physical activities together. This is especially true when such activity occurs along a thoroughfare typically congested with automobiles. Below is a brief overview of the public health, environmental, economic, and social benefits associated with open streets. The information presented is sourced from the few available academic studies, as well a compelling anecdotal evidence found in newspaper articles, blogs, and the like.
There is no question that open streets initiatives engage participants in physical activity. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Physical Activity* confirms that open streets generate positive public health outcomes. The study, which surveyed 37 such initiatives in 11 South and North American countries, found that71% included physical activity classes, while 89% of the designated routes included parks offering additional opportunities for exercise. Additional research conducted in Bogotá strengthens the claim that open streets encourage people to be physically active. Indeed, when people in that city choose to exercise, they typically do so for an average of 48 minutes. By contrast, the average Ciclovía participant spends an average of 4 hours and 15 minutes exercising in the city’s streets and parks—five times the average amount. According to a new study looking at the economic benefits of the Ciclovía, the associated physical activity has an economic benefit realized in health care cost savings. It should be no surprise that across the United States and Canada many existing and emerging open streets initiatives are organized and sponsored by those working to improve public health through active living.
Open streets initiatives offer environmental benefits. Removing cars from the road, even just temporarily, provides a positive environmental impact, especially if the initiative is conducted on weekly basis. A study conducted in Bogotá reveals that particulate matter along the city’s Ciclovía route was 13 times higher on a regular weekday than on a Sunday. Although it’s unclear if the study controlled for traffic volume changes (traffic is normally lighter during the weekend), removing automobiles and trucks from city streets each Sunday surely contributes to improved air quality along the route. Most open streets initiatives also directly promote and encourage citizens to replace daily automobile trips with bicycling, walking, and public transportation. Although it’s more difficult to measure, these efforts are believed to encourage less routine car use. Finally, participation and support from numerous environmental organizations are common. The presence of such groups builds participants’ awareness and highlights the connection between improving the natural and built environment, the economy, and public health.
When located in downtown or neighborhood business districts, open streets offer new economic opportunities for many types of businesses. The inclusion of local vendors, artists, non-profit organizations, musicians, and other performers invites wider participation, which in turn provides increased opportunity for restaurants and retailers. This is especially true for those who do not regularly have the opportunity to share their food, wares, and products to hundreds, if not thousands, of people. While not every business will have a banner day—appliances may not be flying off the shelves and into bike baskets—the exposure to a broader and typically regional audience is valuable for businesses of all types. After the first Bike Miami Days, Tony Alonso, President and CEO of La Epoca Department Store said, “It was so much fun to see so many people in downtown on Sunday…the atmosphere of fun and people and activity made such a difference. Downtowns hoppers were plentiful and they were buying! It was one of the best Sundays we have had. “Open streets also contribute to direct health care cost savings. Are cent study published in the Journal of Urban Health analyzed the average economic cost and benefits associated with open streets programs in Bogotá, Medellin, Guadalajara, and San Francisco. The study, which is the first to assess the cost-benefit ratio derived from open streets programs, found that from a public health perspective each of the four initiatives is cost beneficial, especially when compared to other physical activity programs. The study partially attributes the low costs to the highly efficient use of existing infrastructure: our streets!
Community and Social
Open streets initiatives provide more than just opportunities for physical exercise; they are an exercise in building community, cultural identity, and social engagement. By temporarily removing the danger of motor vehicles, open streets provide a novel type of public space that helps people make social connections and lets them view their city through a new lens. Thus, an immediate benefit—one that is perhaps more exciting and visible than any associated environmental or public health benefit—is the amount of interaction that occurs between participants of all ages, incomes, occupations, religions, and races. Allowing people to socialize with their fellow citizens in a non-threatening, apolitical environment allows individuals, community organizations, and political leaders to build social capital and develop a wider understanding of their city, each other, and the very real potential for making streets friendlier to all people. The emergent open streets research field and strong anecdotal evidence demonstrate an impressive number of overlapping community benefits.