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Open Streets Event Dampened by Rain, But Still a 'Liberating' Experience

By Josh McGhee | September 16, 2013 9:21am
 Open Streets closed down Milwaukee Avenue on Sunday for three miles, from Logan Boulevard to Ashland Avenue.
Open Streets Chicago
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WICKER PARK — Karen Steele hops on her Madsen bucket bike every weekday, battling traffic to keep her 8- and 10-year-olds safe on their 3-mile bike ride to school. 

"It's somewhat stressful because up until now I’ve had my girls in the bucket with me. Now, with one riding independently it makes me nervous," Steele said. "We’re stopping at every alley, every intersection, and I have to make sure its clear before they pass through."

Which is why she found Sunday's Open Streets event "liberating." The event sponsored by Active Transportation Alliance shut down 3 miles of Milwaukee Avenue from Logan Boulevard to Ashland Avenue.

"It's wonderful because now all you need to worry about is maybe a pedestrian getting in your way, but you don’t have to worry about cars," the 48-year-old said. "We were actually walking on the sidewalk and there were people in the street. They actually had to remind us that we could walk in the street. It was a liberating feeling just to take over the street."

The family planned several forms of transportation to get to the event but were forced to drive because of the weather.

"We are avid bike riders, but with the weather we had to reduce our risk," Steele said as her daughters played four square, one of her favorite activities. "Even on a rainy day, It has been a lot of fun. We got here a little early, we scoped out where we wanted to be, and we just started walking."

The Irving Park family had so much fun at last year's Open Streets event that they tried recruiting more families to come with them this year via Facebook.

"We tried to recruit two other families, and they bailed on us because the weather was so iffy, the weather kind of kept them away," Steele said.

"It’s pretty bad. Last year, we had tens of thousands of people in the street, and today it's not so hot," said Brent Norsmen, an employee working at Open Streets. "I liked to think the rain was not going to be that big of an issue, but it's cold, it's wet and kind of miserable."

Despite the rain, Open Streets director Julia Kim said the fifth-annual event was a success.

"Open Streets is basically an awesome retransformation of your iconic corridors, like Milwaukee Avenue or city streets, and turning it into a safe public way where people can exercise, connect with the community and also frequent businesses along the route," Kim said. "It’s really all about activity, being active and getting out of your houses."

Kim said attendance at the event suffered a huge drop because of the weather.

"Our attendance is not as healthy this year because of rain. Last year, we had about 25,000 people come out to one day" said Kim, director of Open Streets. "I think that naturally rain deters attendance but it hasn’t stifled the movement per se. It is an outdoor activity, and it's going to go on rain or shine."

The rain did affect programming for the day, closing events like the Red Room's sonic boom parade, skate jam, fencing and anything that required power. Some events like yoga moved inside instead, while other events such as the Blah Blah Blob battled the weather and stayed open.

Kim said she hopes to expand open streets, as New York City and Los Angeles have. Those cities hold similar events that span 5 to 7 miles for three weekends in a row.

"We see it as a cultural event where it gives the public the opportunity to be physically active and reuse your existing corridor without building anything permanent," Kim said. "It’s a celebration of communities. We see that going more frequently and longer distances."