Can car-free ‘Sunday Streets’ come to Berkeley?

On May 6, parts of the Mission District in San Francisco were closed to cars for that city's "Sunday Streets" program. Photo: Emunah Hauser

Thirty-six years ago, the mayor of Bogatá, Colombia had a novel idea. He wanted to close some of the city streets on Sundays to give bicycle riders, roller skaters and pedestrians a chance to enjoy the city in a different way.

The street closure was a huge hit, and over the years the concept has expanded to include 70 miles of closed streets every Sunday. About 1.5 million people take advantage of the car-free environment each week, about 20% of the population. They not only walk and bike, they dance, do yoga, and have aerobics classes

The idea, termed “Sunday Streets” or “Open Streets,” has been so popular that it has spread around the world, to cities like Kiev, Tokyo, and San Francisco. Now a group of Berkeley officials and activists want to bring the concept to Berkeley. They hope to close off a 10-to-16-block stretch of Shattuck Avenue to cars on a Sunday in October.

“It mirrors what is happening around the rest of the country,” said Mayor Tom Bates, whose office, along with that of Councilmember Jesse Arreguìn, is promoting the plan. “It creates a sense of community. It liberates you from your car. You can walk around and enjoy the businesses.”


Shutting down a large portion of the downtown for an event will cost about $30,000, according to Erin Rhoades of Livable Berkeley, one of the groups involved. The others include the East Bay Bicycle Coalition and the Downtown Berkeley Association. Those funds will pay for an event organizer, promotion, police protection, barricades and other incidentals.

“It would be a really positive event for Berkeley,” said Rhoades. “To get people envisioning the downtown in a different way. It’s family friendly and a great day for merchants, too.”

To raise the funds, Livable Berkeley is holding a fundraiser Saturday May 12 in the Drinks District at Donkey & Goat Winery on Fifth Street from 2:00 to 5:00 pm. Trumer Brauerei will be offering beer. And there will be live music.

“This fall, we’re planning to close the Downtown to cars on a Sunday, turning the Downtown into a paved park where people can bike, walk, jog and dance, meet up with friends and play in the street,” says the invitation.

Tickets are $10 and are available via Brown Paper Tickets.

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