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Contemplating ciclovías recreativas

Updated: Jun 1, 2022

Ciclovías Recreativas, also known as Open Street and Car-free Sundays, are initiatives to temporarily close certain streets to motorized traffic for an extended period on weekends or holidays. People can then freely use the road space to walk, cycle or practice any recreational activity. They are notably widespread in Latin American cities thanks to the pioneering program Ciclovía in Bogotá, which started in 1974 (more information here). They have become such an integral part of the urban life in Latin America that there are even manuals to help implement and promote them, such as the Manual para Implementar y Promocionar la Ciclovía Recreativa (also available in English here) and the Manual para la Implementación de Ciclovías Recreativas en el Ecuador.

I used to live in Joinville, Brazil, and every other Sunday, I could enjoy a local open street initiative in a portion of this avenue along the river:

I cannot describe the pleasure of walking or cycling in the middle of a two-lane auto-centric street alone or surrounded by people instead of cars. On top of that, there were often sport and leisure activities, particularly for kids (trampoline and inflatable playground, for example), offered by the municipality or organizations. My favorite part, however, was seeing the kids riding their tiny bikes or even learning how to ride them in this huge avenue. Unfortunately, I did not take any pictures of my experiences in Joinville, but I found some online. They can perhaps translate this moment of cycling and walking on the asphalt at a slow pace, not feeling anxious or stressed about the presence of fast-moving traffic:

Source: Mauro Artur Schlieck/Secom/ND, Redação ND Joinville (17.02.2011)

Source: Prefeitura de Joinville, O Mirante Joinville (03.10.2018)

The implementation of Ciclovías Recreativas is usually correlated to promoting physical activity, as it provides space for sport and leisure activities. However, beyond the health benefits, they also enable the democratization of public space. By reclaiming the street for this period of time, citizens interact with their city and community on a different level.

Even though it is not a permanent cycling infrastructure, this kind of temporary initiative can potentially change the road users’ perspective of the traffic environment. My personal experience in Joinville made me perceive that road space differently. I felt like belonging to that avenue not only as a driver but as a pedestrian and cyclist. I believe that somehow this kind of initiative might help to break down the rigid (single-use) perception of the street as a channel of movement for motorized vehicles. Eventually, it can become an instrument to open up new discussions and proposals for reclaiming road space. In Joinville, for example, this initiative was further extended in duration and to cover more kilometers of this avenue.


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