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Crowd of 20,000 hits Open Streets OKC


Ben Felder March 31st, 2014

For a few hours on Sunday afternoon, a portion of 23rd St. west of Interstate 235 was closed to automobile traffic while tens of thousands of people reclaimed the asphalt for cycling, walking and having a good time.

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“We are super pleased with the turnout and couldn’t be happier,” said Kristin Culver, a supervisor with Wellness Now, which helped put on the Open Streets OKC event on March 30.

Event organizers said initial estimates were that the crowd could top 20,000. Along the nearly one mile stretch of 23rd St. that was closed to cars, there were food trucks, games and vendors lined up. One station offered yoga and dancing, while another gave visitors the chance to tour a city bus.

Part street festival and block party, the goal of Open Streets was to inspire a new use for public spaces that encourages physical activity, Culver said.

“This is about trying to encourage physical activity as part of you getting from point A to point B,” Culver said.

Improved public transit, pedestrian and bikeability have been hot topics in local city planning for several years and Open Streets provided an example of the demand and desire residents have for alternatives to driving.
“We hope it sends a message of community, that we want more things like this to happen in Oklahoma City,” said Mandy Qualls, a communications supervisor with the Oklahoma City County Health Department.

While gas-powered vehicles were not allowed on the road, there was a city bus parked on one corner, offering guests the chance to tour one of the city’s buses and learn more about public transportation.

“This has been an opportunity to really introduce people to transit who have never been on a bus,” said Michael Scroggins, a public information officer with the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority. “A lot of people were like ‘wow, this is a lot cleaner than I thought.’”

Scroggins said visitors were shown how to pay a bus fare and notify the driver that a stop is approaching. The bus system also encourages bike riders to consider the bus system, which sees more than 4,000 bikes a month brought onboard, Scroggins said.

Open Streets was designed to be an event that changes conventional thinking for both citizens and city planners, event organizers said. It’s a chance for visitors to think more about ways to get around other than by a car, and city officials had a chance to see the demand that exists for streets that are more open and inviting to pedestrians and cyclists.

However, for many people Sunday’s event was a chance to experience a type of community not possible from within an automobile.

“I think it’s just a great sense of community,” said Jordan Williams, a college student that came out for Open Streets. “I think that’s what’s great about this event is that it brings people together.”

 
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