Car-Free City


Every summer for the past few years, my husband, young daughter, and I have enjoyed such a simple, pleasurable thing that, under the circumstances, felt quite remarkable. We jumped on our bikes and rode along the city of San Francisco’s waterfront from its Bayview/Hunter’s Point neighborhood along the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market, or rode in a different part of the city like Ocean Beach or the Civic Center. What is so unique about these family outings was that all of the streets we rode on were closed to cars, thanks to a city-sponsored program called Sunday Streets.

Modeled on a Ciclovia, a 25-year old program in Bogota, Colombia, San Francisco’s hugely popular Sunday Streets is now in its third year. This summer, Los Angeles hopped on the bandwagon—or rather, the bike—with its own version called CicLAvia. Similar Sunday morning street activities have proven to be wildly popular on three continents, in cities ranging from Tokyo to Kiev. American cities like Chicago, Portland, and New York hold similar events as well. They really transform the cities and clearly motivate people to go outdoors to be a part of something.

Here in San Francisco, nearly 20% of the population takes to the car-free streets, some on bikes, others on foot or on skates. Group events such as yoga, aerobics, tai chi, and even hula hoops are offered. Bike shops offer free bike maintenance. Clipboard-carrying volunteers campaign for their favorite causes. Some disco-dance on rollerblades, boombox in hand. A Sunday Streets regular is this guy who plays piano while bicycling. And not insignificantly, Sunday Streets demonstrates, if only for a few hours a month, what a car-free city might look like.