Rome considering taking health to local streetsby Doug Walker
Shutting down Broad Street in downtown Rome for an in-the-street event would be significantly different from shutting down the area for a bike race or marathon.
“This is for everybody,” said Gil Penalosa, a Colombian native who is promoting healthy lifestyle events in the United States. He told Rome leaders that a ciclovia — as similar events are called around the world — would be “an exercise in social integration.”
“You deliver the people and everything else will take care of itself,” was the reaction from downtown merchant Roger Wade. He and a number of merchants huddled with Penalosa and representatives from Bike! Walk! Northwest Georgia during a brainstorming session at City Hall on Monday afternoon.
Penalosa started the concept in his native Bogotá as a means of taking back the streets from crime and drug lords and, in the process, promoted physical activity among the city’s citizens. In Spanish, ciclovia translates to “bike path” and now often refers to a closed street used for biking, walking and other similar activities.
He suggests that if Rome were to try the concept, that it schedule more than one event.
“The first time, all you see are the problems. The second time, everybody knows what’s going on,” Penalosa said.
In most cities where a ciclovia has been held, it has taken place on a Sunday.
Planning Director Sue Hiller initially suggested trying it on a Saturday in Rome. “A time when downtown merchants are maybe a little slow anyway,” said Hiller.
Ann Hortman from the Greater Rome Convention and Visitors Bureau even suggested the last Friday in April, when a portion of downtown streets would be closed anyway for a national handcycling event.
Not to be confused, Penalosa said that a ciclovia is not all about cycling.
“It could be walking, running, biking, skating, aerobics, chalk painting, anything,” Penalosa said. “What attracts people the most is other people.”
Similar events have drawn support from the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.
Bill Moll, director of Bike! Walk! Northwest Georgia, said that the cost to put on an event would be minimal. He said the city of Atlanta spent about $3,000 to put on one of the events.
Penalosa added, “You have the infrastructure. You have the streets. Open the streets to the people and close them to the cars.”
David Kenemer with the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission said his organization could assist with some budgetary issues.
Downtown Development Director Ann Arnold said she would be willing to survey downtown merchants to determine their level of support for such an activity, and perhaps get a better handle on the appropriate timing for such an event.