Good story in the Christian Science Monitor about places that are taking steps (albeit tiny, tiny baby steps) to take back some of the public space given over to cars and letting people use it:

The auto’s demotion at Golden Gate Park follows dozens of similar moves in at least 20 American cities in the past three years. It’s a trend that is gaining ground rapidly in the US, say urban planners.

  • New York is proposing to shut down perimeter roads of Central Park and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park all summer long.
  • Atlanta plans to transform 53 acres of blighted, unused land into new bike-friendly green space.
  • Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago, and El Paso, Texas, are planning events to promote car-free days in public parks, most in the hope that the idea will become permanent or extend for months.

“Cities across America are increasingly declaring that parks are for people, not cars, … and closing roads within parks is one result of that,” says Ben Welle with The Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence, in Washington.

Resistance can be fierce at first, he and others say …

“City leaders were faced with a challenge: to get a poor city of overweight, sedentary people moving when there weren’t any parks or [bicycle] lanes,” says Robin Stallings of the Texas Bicycle Coalition. A national magazine declared the city one of the four fattest in the US, he says, “and that really got everyone’s attention.”

Two years of planning and $100,000 in donations made the program possible. El Paso is the first ciclovia city in Texas – and it needs it more than most, says Beto O’Rourke, the city councilman who championed the idea. It has just 25 percent of the park space of the average US city, a smaller tax base, and few spaces for pedestrians or bicyclists, he says. “This solves a lot of problems at once.”

The trend reflects cities’ response to residents who, after streaming back to city centers, want more pedestrian amenities.

In the US, say observers, the clamoring for car-free park space is intensifying because of two other trends: global warming and obesity rates.

“Climate change and the obesity crisis have [rejuvenated] the movement for car-free space,” says Paul White of Transportation Alternatives, which works to reclaim roads from autos. As of last year, he notes, more of Earth’s inhabitants live in cities than in rural areas. “Now we have to figure out what urban habitat will sustain ourselves … it’s all about reducing car use.”