This past weekend, Tucson had its first cyclovia event.
On Sunday, from 10 AM until 2 PM, four sections of different streets were closed off to automobile traffic, freeing the streets for non-motorized activities for miles. This page has more information, and this blog has a good write up of the event.
The purpose of a cyclovia is to allow all uses other than automobiles on the streets. The problem with doing this in Tucson is the quality of the pavement. Most sections of the route were not smooth enough to allow for skateboarding, long-boarding, roller blading and other activities that require smooth pavement. This is unfortunate because some members of the community really enjoy these activities and would love to have an entire street to participate.
Overall though, it is hard for me to be pessimistic about this event. There were a lot of people out participating and interacting with the built environment in a more sustainable way. When people move more slowly through a place, they can interact with it better. They can see how bad of condition the streets are in and contact the city, demanding improvement. They can find neat restaurants and cafes they never previously noticed.
The best thing about cyclovia is taking street space away from cars. Though it was only for 4 hours on one day of the year, it represented an opportunity to take back the streets. For too many years, American transportation policy has dictated that cars are the only way to get around efficiently.
This is simply not true. Plenty of places in America are easily accessible by foot, bike or transit.
For the places that are not yet accessible,efficient land use policy can help to change this unfortunate reality.
It is also telling that much of this cyclovia route will soon be home to the route of Tucson's first modern streetcar. Construction will begin this fall (Oct./Nov. 2010), and according to project managers, the project will be complete in about 15 months. This means that next year on April 18th, the cyclovia route will look very different.
In five years, the route will probably be very different as well. Construction on the streetcar will have been completed for a long time. Development will probably be occurring along the route, and the recession will hopefully be far over.
However, the real question should be what will the first Tucson cyclovia route look like in ten years? Only time, and progressive planning policy, will tell.