Despite the extreme winter weather, Minneapolis, Minnesota has become nationally recognized as a walk-friendly community, earning a gold level designation. The Walk Friendly Communities (WFC) program encourages cities and towns across the United States to establish, promote and prioritize safe environments conducive to walking.
Minneapolis’ success stems from the City’s outstanding planning policies and high level of staff commitment to pedestrian safety, as well as pedestrian campaigns and events, with one of the events being Open Streets.
Walking-oriented initiatives provide numerous benefits such as an increase in physical activity, a decrease in traffic, thus reducing gas consumption, and the promotion of sustainable practices. Open Streets is a nationally implemented movement that promotes walking through temporarily transformed streets, typically used for motor vehicles, into car-free zones for recreational and entertainment purposes. When compared to other traditional street fairs or block parties, the programming of Open Streets is more geared towards promoting physical activities. This growing phenomenon requires cooperative public-private partnerships between government agencies, businesses and advocacy groups in order to achieve successful health, environment, and economic end-goals.
In Minneapolis, Open Streets represents part of a larger commitment to active transportation and has been held on an annual basis since 2011, with a total of four events in different parts of the city in 2013. The annual program is organized by the all-volunteer, non-profit organization Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition. Typically the route spans over two miles so that participants can experience what it feels like to travel along the normally busy routes of the City, separate from motor vehicles. Typical activities include walking, biking, running, skating, and even taking part in other street activities such as yoga, dancing and games.
Despite the growing success of Open Streets, pedestrian-friendly initiatives are normally constricted to one-day events. How can cities take the lessons learned from such initiatives to promote and establish better permanent urban planning practices and guidelines that encourage and promote walking as a preferred and safer mode of transportation?
Credits: Images by Jasna Hadzic. Data linked to sources.