Streets become parks for a day

By Kelly Rix

This fall, some streets and historic tree-lined boulevards of Chicago will be temporarily transformed into public recreational space through a new program called Sunday Parkways.

On Oct. 5 and 26, cars will temporarily take a backseat to bicyclists, walkers, joggers, skateboarders and stroller-pushers in an effort to promote physical fitness, family fun and a stronger sense of community.

“The street will be open to everyone, as long as you’re not a motorist,” said Adolfo Hernandez, community liaison for the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, the organization spearheading the program with help from community groups serving the neighborhoods along the route.

About 10,000 Chicagoans are expected to participate in the program, Hernandez said, and people are free to join or get off in at any point along the route.

Activity stations will be set up along the routes offering participants free activities like dance, yoga, aerobics and jump rope. These stations will be in Palmer Square, Humboldt Park, Garfield Park, Douglas Park and Tepochcalli School throughout the morning, Hernandez said.

For people who don’t own a bicycle there will be free one-hour rentals available at Garfield Park during the event, courtesy of Bike Chicago. A license of state-issued ID is required for bike rentals.

The Sunday Parkways pilot will be split up into two separate events. The first event will be about a four-mile route starting in Logan Square and ending in Garfield Park on Oct. 5 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The route for the second installment will start in Garfield Park and stretch to Little Village on Oct. 26 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Sunday Parkways will tour through five lower-income neighborhoods that don’t normally host these types of events-Little Village, North Lawndale, Garfield Park, Humboldt Park and Logan Square-Hernandez said.

“These are communities that really need this the most,” Hernandez said. “Each of the five communities we are traveling through have some of the highest obesity, diabetes and asthma rates in the city.”

Lucy Gomez-Feliciano, health organizer/active living & healthy eating coordinator for the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, said there was widespread support in the community for Sunday Parkways.

“I think people are looking for opportunities where they can participate in safe outdoor activities with their families,” Gomez-Feliciano said.

Some people might be afraid to try bicycling or jogging on the streets when cars are on the road, Gomez-Feliciano said.

The Sunday Parkways program is modeled after Bogota, Colombia’s Ciclovia program, which campaign coordinator Randy Neufeld came across when visiting Colombia. Neufeld was impressed and inspired by what he saw and decided to try and bring a similar program to Chicago, Hernandez said.

In Bogota, Colombia, residents have enjoyed a network of pedestrianized streets every Sunday since the 1980s.

“The Ciclovia movement is a very exciting movement that is going on around the world,” said John Greenfield, a freelance writer and alternative-transportation enthusiast who runs the blog

“The idea is that you remove cars from the scene and create space for non-motorized transportation,” Greenfield said. “It shows how public space can be used for so many other things besides just driving.”

The Chicagoland Bicycle Federation has been working on planning Sunday Parkways for more than three years and originally had a more ambitious vision for the program. But obstacles often halted planning and compromises were made.

“[Sunday Parkways] was originally planned to be three dates, but due to the amount of city resources that it would require, we limited it to testing it out on a smaller scale and looking at ways to expand it next year,” Hernandez said.

Funded by a grant from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation and the Chicago Community Trust, the event expenses are paying for city services like traffic controllers, police officers and barricades for the streets, Hernandez said.

The Mayor’s Office of Special Events supported the idea of Sunday Parkways and worked with organizers and acted as a liaison between both city agencies and event planners.

“Sunday Parkways is one of these types of events where we provide assistance and guidance, and we are always pleased to see yet another healthy recreational activity for the people of Chicago added to the mix,” said Cindy Gatziolis, spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office of Special Events.

But some critics say the city didn’t do enough to support the program.

“I really think the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation did a great job on this, they put a lot of work and time into planning and fundraising for this but they’ve had to deal with a lot of headaches,” Greenfield said.

“It’s just too bad that the city of Chicago dropped the ball on this.”

Because Mayor Richard M. Daley is an outspoken cycling advocate, Greenfield said he expected that the mayor would have gotten behind Sunday Parkways and pushed the city to spend a little money and time on it.

Hernandez said the city thinks it’s a great idea but just isn’t willing to commit the resources to take on Sunday Parkways right now.

“The city gave [the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation] permission to tackle it and to try and prove that this is an event the city should eventually take over and offer [it] regularly,” Hernandez said.

For more information about the program, visit the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation’s website at