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Expanded exercise-oriented event promotes pedestrians and pedalers

A coalition of local officials and community organizers are collaborating to get Durhamites moving in a safe, family-friendly environment. 

Bull-city-open-streets Their initiative, introduced last year as a one-off event called Bull City Summer Streets, is expanding this year under the new moniker of Bull City Open Streets. This Sunday, and on three other occasions, organizers will close some Durham streets to automobile traffic so bicyclists and pedestrians can enjoy fresh air and exercise without safety concerns. 

Robin Michler is a UNC-trained transportation planner who works as a transit education specialist for Clean Energy Durham. His predecessor, Jessalee Landfried, was a key planner of Summer Streets, which drew more than 1,000 people last May. 

“The pilot event in 2010 was such a success that I wanted to try to help institutionalize the event in Durham ... to help make biking and walking part of the city’s consciousness,” Michler said. 

The event is modeled after the weekly ciclovía that apparently originated in Bogotá. Each Sunday, the Colombian capital bars automobiles from more than 70 miles of streets, freeing the pavement for walkers, runners and bicyclists. Former Bogotá Mayor Enrique Peñalosa, a Duke graduate, helped promote pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly policies in the city. 

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Landfried and a team of volunteers pulled together Summer Streets after meetings organized by Durham Congregations Associations Neighborhoods showed a community desire for a safer environment for walking and biking, said Mark Dessauer, who worked on Summer Streets last year and is continuing with Open Streets. 

The community desire tied in nicely with Dessauer’s job as communications director for Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities, a program based at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health in Chapel Hill. 

“Obviously, our streets are not safe,” Dessauer said, referring to research showing that Durham has the state’s highest rate of collisions involving automobiles and child pedestrians.

“We also have a very high obesity and diabetes rate. And one of the most important things that we [tell] communities is you gotta be active. So if you want kids to be active and they’re being hit on the street, what do you do? When will they ever learn how to ride a bike?” 

Dale McKeel is the pedestrian and bicycle coordinator for both the city of Durham’s Transportation Department and the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization, which develops regional transportation strategies. After biking regularly in his teenage years and early 20s, he set aside his two-wheeler for about two decades. 

But McKeel got back in the saddle after the American Tobacco Trail opened near his home. The planner “figured out how to get to places in a comfortable and relatively safe way. And it’s the same way with these kinds of [Open Streets] events. Folks get out and ride a bike on a closed street, figure out, ‘Hey, this is pretty fun, I can do this.’ And it may encourage them to ride more as just part of their everyday routine.” 

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Children and adults alike will be able to learn or relearn bicycling between noon and 3 p.m. Sunday in the area around Durham Central Park. Portions of Washington, Morris, Hunt, Foster and West Geer streets will be closed to cars to allow folks to circulate in a counterclockwise fashion. 

At activity stations scattered along the route, participants can enjoy music, bike safety instruction, and yoga, dance, fencing and martial arts demonstrations and classes. A stationary bike will be set up to allow people to make their own smoothies. 

“It’ll be excellent people-watching,” said Mel Downey-Piper, an Open Streets organizer who coordinates the Partnership for a Healthy Durham for the county’s Public Health Department. “[And] basically, you don’t have to walk more than a block without finding some sort of activity to do.” 

The Open Streets event will take place in conjunction with the city’s Earth Day Festival — which the Parks and Recreation Department pushed back from April 22 because that coincided with Easter weekend — so there will be plenty of activities, sights and sounds for visitors to take in. 

The festival, which runs until 5 p.m., will feature a parade, art exhibitions, a green crafts market, local musicians and performers, and presentations on composting, gardening and local government environmental sustainability programs. The city is letting people shred confidential documents and drop off electronic waste for recycling at the corner of Foster Street and Seminary Avenue. 

Would-be riders will need to bring their own bicycles. (Organizers hope to have some two-wheelers available to loan at future events.) People with bicycles that have been accumulating dust for a while be able to stop by a station to get a tune-up and some basic repairs. Another station will help children learn their proper helmet size; some youngsters will also be able to get free helmets. 

Organizers are also providing valet bicycle parking at the corner of Foster and Hunt so participants can sample the different activities without walking their bikes everywhere. 

And to help people travel to the event while keeping their carbon footprints to a minimum, all DATA buses will be fare-free on Sunday

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The Open Streets event will be repeated in mid-June in North-East Central Durham around the Holton Career and Resource Center; in September in the Crest Street community north of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center; and in October one more time at Central Park. 

“One issue we heard after doing it around the Farmers Market [at Central Park last year] is that many people who wanted to participate across the city don’t usually go there or had trouble getting there,” Dessauer said. “And so we took a cue from Portland [Oregon], which has been doing this for about four years now, in doing an open street in a central area and also going out to neighborhoods.”  

“Downtown’s great, but it’s great to go where people are actually living and to actually explore and go out on the streets,” Downey-Piper said. 

Durham is the first city in the state to host a ciclovía, according to organizers, who say that other municipalities have expressed interest in following the Bull City’s lead. 

“I strongly feel,” Michler said, “that if Durham is able to sustain this event and make it part of a regular Sunday and weekend culture to go out and bike in the streets and close streets down that the impact will not be limited to just Durham but that it’ll really spur more awareness in other North Carolina cities.” 



Awesome. And good that the organizers are learning as much as they can with each iteration.

San Francisco calls theirs "Sunday Streets" and bills the event as "San Francisco's Official Block Party". They'll have six in 2011.

I went to one a few years ago and enjoyed it. I hope that the organizers can find ways to help more suburban bikers get their bikes to and from the car-free areas.

Wesley Hyatt

These sound like great events. Thanks for the information, and I hope there is a reminder posted on here for the June event as well. Both sound like fun, I hope to attend both of them.

Dave W.

This sounds great, thanks to the folks who have been working to make this happen, and hopefully this will continue to expand and be repeated often.

On a related tangent, can a Central Park/greater downtown Durham bicycle criterium race be that far behind?

Paging the folks at HTC. Welcome to Durham!

We'd love to see you put on a bike race and bring some of that developmental pro squad around with some others. pros in the afternoon, public race in the morning. yes, please.

Maybe Burt's Bees and Capitol Broadcasting could step up as a co-sponsor with some fundage along with some others? Raleigh has a pretty high profile marathon, a bike race in Durham would be great.


I was in Mexico City recently and witnessed first-hand, one piece of their massive ciclovia network, out of my hotel window one Sunday.
Here's a link:

What was impressive is that the streets they close are not small or out of the way streets- they are huge, main arterial boulevards that in some cases run for as much as 30 or 40 miles. An incredible amenity. Kudos to these guys for getting it started here, small as it might be (for now).

As for the mention of a criterium, I think that's a great idea- like the old Wellspring Criterium in Old West Durham:

I lived in Athens, GA, where they have (this weekend in fact) a nighttime criterium around 10 or 12 blocks of downtown (and the City suspends the open container laws..) That would be great for our downtown...
Another link:


John Davis

Sounds like a terrible idea. Inconvience the many to placate the few. Roads are for cars.

Seven Stars

Oh John, you're hilarious. Roads got paved for bicycles, not cars.

Matt Dudek

@Seven Stars, "Like."


I am excited for this event, and happy to see the coverage here on BCR.

However, I must take exception with the comment by Mark Dessaur, "[o]bviously, our streets are not safe." I won't refute crash data, but I think his statement is way over-the-top in that it attempts to turn a relative fact into an absolute truth. "Least safe in the state among certain types of collisions" is bad enough, but "not safe" is misleading and, more importantly, simply not true. It is a regrettable and wrong message.


mark dessauer

Jack - you are correct in correcting my statement. My original intent was to say there is a perception that the streets are not safe - I hear this from so many parents who want their kids to ride bikes. I think this perception is national and the streets are very different from my childhood or that of many others. I hope this event gets people to ride their bikes on the street and feel safer rather than sticking to sidewalks or leaving the bike to get dusty in the garage. There is a very important percentage of folks who are already out riding on Durham streets and I would like to motivate the people who are not biking and have this perception to try it first without cars and start biking again. I am sorry if my statement reenforced the danger.


i don't think i'm going to say anything that people don't know, i just want to emphasize a distinction. i've biked a lot in many places.

biking on streets will never be 'safe'

conceptually, the biker is woefully outgunned, with no armor. only luck, foresight, luck, judgement, luck, a mean streak to survive, luck, and a sexy ass allow bikers to operate safely on roads. and the goodwill and attention of our fellow movers.

i think this is the root of the somewhat passe 'defensive driving' instruction.
knowing/learning what the dangers are and controlling for them makes it safer.

i hope.

Kevin Davis

@JD -- These events happen in plenty of other cities; Phil noted SF's participation above, and when I lived in the Boston area a few years back, a half-mile or so of Memorial Drive routinely closed on Sundays in good weather, connecting Cambridge to the Charles River's banks via a suddenly, temporarily pedestrian- and bike-oriented space.

These ideas may be more foreign in the Sunbelt. But when you look at the migration patterns into the region, folks from the urban cores of the Bostons and Chicagos and New Yorks tend to disproportionately move to Durham, while people from suburban areas around big cities overwhelmingly go to Wake County.

Which would seem to indicate to me that we're likely to see more progressive ideas like this, not fewer, in the future here. It's all part of the "big sort" of Americans....


@mark - Thanks for the clarification, I absolutely agree with the fact that there is a common perception that the streets are not safe. And in Durham, we have known for some time that we have a lot of "opportunity for improvement" (a fine euphemism for "least safe in the state among certain types of collisions") that feeds that perception.

@clif - You are flat out wrong. You paint a picture in which a vehicular cyclist must be some sort of superhero. That is simply not true. Nor is it true that bikes are "woefully outgunned," for in saying so you are implying that our roads are some sort a size and speed-based "survival of the fittest" environment. Were that the case, only the largest trucks could survive and all other vehicles would perish. Scary stuff, eh?

I hope you are ultimately able to shed the cyclist inferiority complex this post appears to illustrate and appreciate just how much control cyclists like yourself do have over their own safety and understand that our "survival" is not based on superheroism nor the grace of the other road users. If one is a smart road user and obeys the rules of the road, one is likely to be just fine. There is always risk of danger on the road, but I don't think the risk is any greater for cyclists than motorists.


Glad to see this. We need more bike and pedestrian awareness and promotion. I hope for the day when we have a full system of dedicated bike lanes and sidewalks on every street in Durham.


Jack: It is your reading that is 'flat out wrong.' No survival of the fittest or superheroes necessary.

I think that by insisting on some purified choreography from whence harmony will emerge you mislead potential bikers. If half of drivers used their turn signal you might have some ground to stand on.

If you don't think 'woefuly outgunned' is apropos maybe you missed the SUV craze.

Thanks for the opinion.

John Davis

Bike lanes cost a lot of money to build and the last time I looked roads were built with taxes on gas. Cyclist alway complain about more bike lanes costing everyone else more money. If you want bike lanes pay for them yourselves.

Rob Gillespie

Not local roads. Local roads are built and maintained with property tax dollars.

Additionally, the federal highway tax fund no longer pays for the amount of money spent on highway projects. See this link for more info:


@Clif - There's no "purified choreography," I'm just talking about operating your bicycle the same way you'd operate any other vehicle. Sure, there are obvious differences based on speed and size differences, but John Forester's principle is true, "cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles."

And, I didn't miss the SUV craze (has it ended?), but using the word "outgunned" implies there is some sort of battle going on. There isn't. Its just a bunch of folks trying to get where they need to go, and trying to do so without hitting each other. And for the most part, our traffic standards are pretty effective at mediating that such that folks most often don't hit each other, regardless the kind of vehicle they're operating.

@John Davis - Rob's point is true. At this point, gas taxes pay for only about half the cost of new road construction. The rest is paid by property taxes. ( Also, most cyclists own and drive cars as well and pay gas taxes in addition to property taxes.

Regardless the source of funds, though, the roads belong to all of us.


@John Davis....
Most people who ride bikes also own cars, and hence, pay taxes. I guess you could argue that roads would require less upkeep if there were fewer cars and more bikes, I don't really know that for sure though.


@Hammer - Good point! Here's some info I came across recently:

"A single 40-ton semi, which weighs 40 times more than a one-ton car, does 9,600 times more damage to the roads than the car. A bike rider does not compare – the bike + rider unit does virtually NO damage with skinny tires, light frame and rider. Yet, big trucks are not paying their 'fair share' to maintain roads – at least according to a recent [Columbus, OH] Dispatch editorial. Under this analysis, bicycle operators should get a REFUND for not damaging roads…"


I ride 18 miles round trip to work 3 times per week. I love the ride early in the morning and except for a half mile stretch on Old Oxford Highway, the ride is pretty safe. If there were 2 feet of pavement on either side of the lane instead of none, it would be infinitely more safe. The spot is between Bragtown and Catsburg, the dip.


@Jack. I'll trade the refund for a narrow strip of pavement.



i like the way you've walked it back a bit but you're still clinging to sweet bureaucratease.

'outgunned' is intended to elicit thoughts of fatalities. it is appropriate. it may not be a war, which is your word, but people are dying.

and, whoever John Forester is, you're telling me you read his book and learned that he says that bicycles are vehicles?

From the Huffington Post

"According to a 2009 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study, there were 630 "pedalcyclists" killed due to traffic accidents. That number was well below the 718 killed in 2008, and even further below the 786 killed in 2005. However, the study noted that: “The majority of pedalcyclist fatalities in 2009 occurred in urban areas (70%). In respect to vehicle crash location in relation to an intersection, most pedalcyclist fatalities in 2009 occurred at non-intersections. Compared to 2008 these numbers increased by 5 percent.”


@clif - I maintain that "outgunned" is not appropriate because it implies cyclists face a heightened relative level of danger based on their mode of transportation. Its true that a cyclists are not surrounded by a cage of steel the way many motorists are, but using words that imply danger and fear are misleading. Vehicular cycling is generally safe.

Re: John Forester - That's quite an extrapolation from the one quote I cited. His oft-quoted principle is true. If you'd like to learn more about JF, Google him.

And, honestly, his writings fully support your initial comment, "...knowing/learning what the dangers are and controlling for them makes it safer."

Its not his writings that say bicycles are vehicles, though, its the vehicle codes of all 50 states.

In summation, my point is exactly your point that I quoted above. Cyclists can learn the risks involved in vehicular cycling - many of which are the same risks faced by other road users - and can control for them to minimize those risks. There is nothing inherently unsafe about the roads that prevents this from being true.


There isn't. Its just a bunch of folks trying to get where they need to go, and trying to do so without hitting each other

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