The concept of the 'ciclovía' (Spanish for "bike parkway") was hatched in Bogotá, Colombia, over thirty years ago. It's waxed and waned over the years there, but today well over a million people participate in an event that every Sunday and holiday closes 70 miles of road in the heart of the city to automobiles. Several American cities have followed suit with events scheduled several times a summer: most notably New York, San Francisco and Portland, Ore. And over the weekend, it came for the first time to Denver.
The pleasant chime of bike bells filled Park Hill this Sunday at Viva Streets!, hosted by BikeDenver and LiveWell Colorado, which closed off 23rd Street to automobile traffic from Colorado Boulevard to Syracuse Street from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Lilia Thompson and Natalie Wadhwa hung out by the face painting stand near Ferguson Park. Thompson, a Curious George fan, had her face painted to look like her favorite storybook simian.
Police estimate that 3,500 people had arrived to the event by 10:30 a.m. Add to that figure the hundreds more that rolled in as the day progressed; the innumerable volunteers manning booths, leading exercise routines, children's activities and bike workshops; the merchants of Park Hill's 23rd St., Kearney St. and Oneida St. shopping districts who brought their food, cold beverages and wares out onto the sidewalk; and the neighborhood opportunists who set up lemonade stands and held garage sales. A bike parade on Kearney Street kicked off the day. Bikes of all varieties ruled the road, but a fair number of scooters, skateboards and rollerblades wheeled alongside. Pedestrians and runners weaved their way around. Twister, street hockey, basketball, hopscotch, jump rope, hula hoops and other games filled the shopping districts and parks. Music played from stages, impromptu drum circles, boomboxes on bikes and standing symphonic ensembles. Amenities were aplenty and sidewalk chalk scrawled into the streets.
The Williams brothers Evan, 11, and Spencer, 10, left their Ash Street residence around 10 a.m. to explore. They were pretty pleased at the chance to play table tennis at a normally busy intersection.
Ben Turner, the director of sales, marketing and public relations for the Denver bike sharing program B-Cycle, expected a great turnout, but the numbers exceeded even his expectations -- BikeDenver estimated 7,500 came out. "Denver is trying hard to be a city with first-class biking amenities, and holding a 'ciclovía' is an important step to that," said Turner. "It's important that this one was successful -- which it was -- and that we continue to do them, because cities that are known for being cycling cities do this."
Piep van Heuven, executive director of BikeDenver and resident of Park Hill, knew that her block party-loving neighborhood would be an excellent venue for the inaugural event. 23rd Street was chosen in particular since it is bookended by two popular parks (City Park on the west and Fred N. Thomas Park in Stapleton) and had the potential to draw in the residents of the neighborhoods connected to those parks.
One Park Hill resident, Mark, father of two girls named Lillian and Isabelle, decided to bring another two girls to the event: his hens, Clementine and Lemondrop. The engineer originally built his coop on wheels for ease of clean-up, but added a temporary wheel to get them to Viva Streets! "They said there was a party on 23rd Street, so here we are," said Mark.
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"We were thanked more times than I can count today," said van Heuven, who has been a part of the group that has been planning Viva Streets! since November. "It is clear that Denver communities and neighborhoods really embrace this street closure-type of community event."