Imagine it: every Sunday 75 miles of streets shut down to cars in one of Latin America’s largest cities. Seventy five miles of car-free streets opened up to people for biking, walking, running, skating, fitness classes and recreation.

Ciclovía in Bogotá, Colombia dates back to the 1970s and inspired a global movement that challenges us to reframe how we think about one of our largest public spaces: the street. The wildly successful event draws one quarter of the city’s 7 million residents on a weekly basis and serves as the ultimate example of an open streets event emulated by communities big and small all over the globe.

From Atlanta to Toronto to San Francisco, open streets programs have become part of the fabric of some of our favorite cities. This past year of COVID-19 lock-downs and social distancing reinforced the value of streets for people, but shifted the focus from gathering people together at events to creating permanent slow streets for safe and socially distanced outdoor recreation.

Here in Missoula, Sunday Streets has been fueling people-powered streets since 2010 and quickly evolved into one of Missoula’s most loved community events. Missoula In Motion, an agency dedicated to increasing the use of sustainable transportation, hosts Sunday Streets Missoula and emphasizes the event’s ability to influence our travel behavior.

With this lens, local programs have highlighted pedestrian and bike infrastructure, hosted a “Bike-a-palooza” group ride, and supported a “One Less Car Day” pledge. In addition to highlighting the walk- and bike-ability of our city, Sunday Streets also focuses on promoting health and wellness, supporting local businesses, and activating public space.

Regardless of its popularity and success in bringing together people of all ages and abilities for a fun, active afternoon, Sunday Streets Missoula continues to build towards the status of “Healthiest Practice Open Street:” the gold standard for open streets events.

Research indicates that open streets programs occurring with regular frequency and covering between 3-5 miles per event can have a significant impact on community health. Providing citizens with a regularly occurring opportunity to travel by bike or foot in a safe, low stress environment and to enjoy access to free organized physical activity helps individuals permanently adopt new, healthy behaviors.

Missoula In Motion seeks to build upon the momentum of Sunday Streets to eventually offer more frequent events with longer routes. Serving more neighborhoods opens up the possibility to highlight Missoula’s extensive network of neighborhood greenways that connect residents to local businesses and community services. Monthly events, even if just during the summer months, would contribute to the creation of a culture of health within our community not only through free physical activities, but also by helping attendees incorporate active transportation into their habits.

This year’s Sunday Streets event is headed in the right direction with the first ever loop route in one of Missoula’s largest and most diverse neighborhoods. The Franklin to the Fort open street on August 8th will cover 1 mile of car-free streets highlighting a neighborhood greenway and a handful of new traffic calming installations along Kemp St and Schilling St. Slow streets infrastructure like traffic calming circles and bulb outs at intersections build upon the goals of open streets by building safer streets for all users, enhancing mobility for all.

Made possible by the City’s Neighborhood Traffic Management Program, these new installations aim to reduce vehicle speed, shorten cross distances for pedestrians and ultimately discourage vehicles from using neighborhood streets as cut through routes.

An active group of neighborhood advocates who call themselves the “Neighbors in Action” are a driving force behind both the event and the recent traffic calming efforts. Member Jennie Vader notes, “When we work together and talk with each other on the street, we build connections that make a neighborhood meaningful.”

With help from volunteers and event attendees the Neighbors in Action will beautify two traffic circles at Sunday’s open streets. All are invited to help fill newly constructed planter boxes on Schilling St. or contribute to a mural at the intersection of 12th and Kemp.

Other highlights include food trucks, fitness classes in Franklin Park and 35+ local organizations hosting activities ranging from giant jenga to fencing and everything in between. There will be something for everyone!

For more information about Sunday Streets Missoula and how you can get involved with the open streets movement visit SundayStreetsMissoula.org.

Katherine Auge is the Transportation Demand Management Program Manager for Missoula in Motion. This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every week by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Sustainability Happenings

Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. If you like these offerings, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for the Home ReSource eNews via their homepage here.

Missoula’s Farmers Markets. Eat local now through the early fall! The original Farmers Market at the north end of Higgins runs every Saturday 8am-12:30 – information here. The Clark Fork Market is now located at 101 Carousel Drive near Dragon Hollow, runs every Saturday 8am -1pm – information is here.

Sunday Streets – August 8. This annual Missoula open streets celebration is back – this time hosted by the Franklin to the Fort neighborhood! Walk, bike or bus on down! Noon – 3pm. Details here.

Western Montana Fair – Aug. 11-14. Volunteer for the Zero Waste team at the Fair! Help set up and maintain Zero Waste stations. More information and sign up here. While at the Fair, check out the Creative Reuse Division!

Bike to Barns tour – Aug. 14-Sept. 30. Explore local farms and flavors on a 15-mile bike tour through Missoula’s Orchard Homes and Target Range neighborhoods. Check back here for more info.

Fixit Clinic – Aug. 21, 11am-3pm. Save the date for upcoming Fixit Clinics, hosted by Home ReSource! Bring your broken items and work with skilled repair coaches to learn how to fix them. More information and sign ups here.

River City Roots – Aug. 27-28. Help out with sustainability efforts at River City Roots! Volunteers are needed to sort trash, recycling, and compost, and to help out at the bike valet. Check this page for more info and sign ups.

Spontaneous Construction – Sept 18th. Missoula’s festival of creative reinvention! Reuse. Compete. Create. Enjoy! More info and team registration here.

Missoula’s third annual Clean Energy Expo – Sept 25. Climate Smart Missoula and Montana Renewable Energy Association are back to hosting this premier event at Caras Park. Save the Date.

Materials donations to Home Resource keep the wheels of reuse spinning in our community; and remember that everything you need to know about what to do with your unwanted stuff is at www.zerobyfiftymissoula.com.

Find more local activities and events at Missoulaevents.net and on Montana Environmental Information Center’s Conservation Calendar. And you too can help organize events – here’s the 2021 Calendar of Environmental Awareness Days – month by month break down of world day campaigns.