By Olivia Scheck
UNION SQUARE — Knicks star John Starks and Mets pitching ace John Franco were in Union Square Tuesday to promote the fourth installment of Summer Streets — an annual event that frees up nearly seven miles of city streets for recreation.
For three consecutive Sundays this summer — August 6, 13 and 20 — a 6.9 mile length of street, will be car-free and chock-full of summer-friendly activities, from biking to dance instruction and rock climbing to cooking classes. The route begins at Centre Street downtown near the bridge, becomes Lafayette Street, and continues into Park Avenue near Union Square.
"With miles of open streets there's room for people to dance, to cha cha, to roller blade, [and] to take part in all sorts of free classes," said the city's Department of Transportation Commissioner, Janette Sadik Kahn, who was flanked by the local sports heroes. "It's about making family-friendly streets that are safe and fun for everyone."
While the Summer Streets event is sure to displease many motorists, Franco, a New York native, remarked on the powerful effect that this type of community event can have.
"One thing about New Yorkers is events like this bring the city closer and makes everybody one big, happy family," the Mets legend said.
Starks, who noted that they didn't have anything like Summer Streets when he was growing up in Oklahoma, invited New Yorkers to come out and "learn a few tips about shooting a basketball from me," though he did not specify which week he would attend.
The Summer Streets route is mostly confined to Lafayette Street and Park Avenue, with important cross streets, like 14th, 34th and 42nd Streets open for cars to pass through.
While this year's event won't feature the enormous "dumpster pools" that raised eyebrows last summer, it will add a 25-foot rock climbing wall, a demonstration by sand sculptor Matthew Long, and guacamole-making lessons from restaurant chain Chipotle to its list of offerings.
Summer Streets, which came to the city in 2008, was partly inspired by Ciclovia, a weekly event in Bogota, Colombia, which closes more than 70 miles of city streets to cars every Sunday.
See the Summer Streets website for more details about the event.