Imagine a Road with No Cars: Open Streets Chicago
Please, Mom! I’ll Ride With You the Whole Time!
I’ve previously written about how I think cycling can help people recover from trauma. Unfortunately, cycling can also cause trauma.
While I lived out of state, I wasn’t the only one falling in love with cycling. Back at home, my mom had also picked it up again. When I moved back, there was something I wanted to do more than anything: Go on a bike ride with my mom.
We moved back around the time of cyclofemme, a global bike ride on mother’s day. I told her all about it, and she loved the idea! She was thrilled to do it. That is, until she learned we’d have to ride on the roads. With traffic. We did not ride cyclofemme.
A new grocery store recently opened up 1 mile away from my parents’ home. What a perfect way to convince them to ride their bike more, I secretly thought to myself as I biked around searching for a quiet, safe route for them. When I announced my find, my mom was less than enthusiastic.
“Please, Mom! Give it a try.”
I’ll be with you the whole time!”
“No. Not on the road.”
“You can take the sidewalks the whole way!” (Not illegal there)
“No! Not on the road!”
I made several other attempts like this, which all ended the same way. She wants to do organized bike rides, but just can’t. There is a legitimate reason for her fear: When she was a teenager, she had a nasty crash because she got doored. It happened twice, actually. It’s been many years since that happened, but the impact remains. Trauma really can have a long-lasting effect.
Open Streets Chicago
On Sunday, September 15th 2013 Chicago participated in Open Streets. Open Streets is part of the Ciclovía movement, which means for part of the day cars are not allowed on the road. For (less than) one day, the roads are transformed from noisy, car-dominated, air-polluting headaches into people-focused, community-building utopias where people can roam free on foot or wheel.
I thought I had finally found the kind of road that my mom could ride on with me. And I was right.
Everything was set. In fact, it would be a family get-together! My sister and her partner were going to come as well. This would be the first time we all went on a bike ride together–ever! And that’s important to mention, because one purpose of the movement is to bring people together.
Well hello Mr. Murphy
I was devastated when I woke up: it was cold, dark, and raining. Thanks a lot, Murphy’s law. But we refused to let the rain stop us. No bikes, then, but we have our feet.
We started right at the beginning (Logan & Milwaukee for my Chicago readers). And all of us laughed as we crossed through the barriers.
We were clearly a minority when it came to our perspective. It was empty.
No, not empty. Deserted.
So deserted, in fact, that in combination with the weather, apocalypse-themed jokes felt like the only appropriate conversation we could have!
When Life Gives You Lemons…
But we still had fun. We joked and laughed together. We saw things we never noticed or couldn’t fully appreciate while traveling at faster speeds.
We shook our heads in unison at the drivers who didn’t feel the need to respect Open Streets.
We walked almost the whole 3 miles of Open Streets. It didn’t stay empty for the whole time. As we approached Wicker Park, it started to get a little warmer with slightly less rain, and people emerged from the shadows.
When it was time to turn back, we didn’t want to walk those 3 miles again. Instead, we rented a DIVVY! During lunch, my mom kept talking about how excited she was to try them because she had been wanting to see they launched. I, of course, was excited too!
No words I type will due justice to the joy I felt during that bike ride. The rain was splattering against my glasses, my pants were getting soaked, I was cold, and I had a less than pleasant experience with Divvy (post about that later)…. but I have not seen my mom smile like that in a long time.
Seriously. Look at her face. Try to tell me that’s not one of the happiest “bikey faces” you’ve ever seen.
I finally got to ride a bike, in the street, with my mom. My mom finally got to ride in the streets again after being doored years ago. And it only happened because of Open Streets Chicago.
The Future of Open Streets
I am thankful for all the resources that it took to host the event.
While it had a low turn out this year because of the bad weather (and I know a lot of people were at Riot Fest), I hope it will be continued and expanded for years to come.
I see a lot of advantages for Open Streets. It’s a new way to engage and connect with an area. It’s an event that gives everyone time to feel what it could be like to live in a place that prioritized people over cars.
I couldn’t help imagine what life would be like now if cars never dominated our streets… What do YOU think? How would things be different?
- Open Streets Event Dampened by Rain, But Still a ‘Liberating’ Experience (Josh McGhee @DNA info)
- Can Cycling Help People Heal from Trauma? (this blog)