- Associated Press - Thursday, March 6, 2014

HOUSTON (AP) - Houston officials are adopting an idea that’s been popular in San Antonio and some other cities: They plan to temporarily close busy streets to vehicles so people will explore neighborhoods by foot, bicycle and skateboard.

City leaders announced the program Wednesday and say it will begin next month with some contiguous streets closing to traffic on selected Sunday afternoons. The program, called Open Streets, began in Bogota, Colombia, more than 30 years ago, the Houston Chronicle reported Thursday (https://bit.ly/1cdLhea ).

Houston officials say the aim is to encourage residents to exercise and explore neighborhoods they normally zip through in their cars.

“It is a way to acquaint ourselves with what is around those streets in a way we don’t normally experience it going by car,” Mayor Annise Parker said.

Closing streets, even in car-crazed Houston, isn’t new. It’s done for festivals and other events. Officials say the cost of paying city workers and police officers for extra patrols will be low.

In St. Louis, where the street closings have been popular, the city found nearly three-quarters of attendees spent money along the route.

Other cities experienced similar success, sometimes after slow starts. Monica Garza, who coordinates San Antonio’s similar “Síclovía” program, said any initial skepticism has subsided.

“There were businesses along the current route who were hesitant about road closures and also just the general residents in the area thinking they may not be able to get out of their neighborhood, but that has changed pretty significantly,” Garza said. “After five events, you can see the bigger impact it’s making. People are engaging more actively.”

Houston city Councilman Ed Gonzalez said residents are eager to get out from behind the wheel of a car.

“We’ve become so dependent on the vehicle that when we explore other possibilities, it really is an eye-opener,” Gonzalez said.


Information from: Houston Chronicle, https://www.houstonchronicle.com

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