I recently explored Indianapolis, Indiana for two weeks, mostly on a bicycle or walking. It is a huge city at 368 square miles compared to Hartford’s 17. Unlike Hartford, the city expanded and annexed until absorbing the entirety of Marion County. The city’s governance is a joint City-County council.
Beyond diving into discussions of regionalism and land use, I had the opportunity to volunteer with my sister at the annual Indy Nite Ride, recently rebooted post-pandemic. Nearly 500 riders gathered downtown for an 11 p.m., 20-mile slow ride around the city with do-it-yourself lights and music. I was reminded how different the Midwest is from the Northeast by how many shouted thank you while pedaling past my volunteer station.
The next Saturday afternoon I joined the Indy Bike Party ride. Hundreds, including families and toddlers in bike trailers, pedaled a leisurely seven-mile loop with a social rest stop in a city park. There were no police escorts or closed streets. Volunteers led the group, took care of intersections, and helped repair a rider’s flat tire. As I dropped into informal intersection duty, the ride organizers introduced themselves and there were again plentiful thank yous.
The ciclovia and open streets concept began in the 1970s in Bogota, Colombia and spread worldwide. Cities and towns close streets to cars but open them to people, dancing, cycling, skating, jogging, and picnics.
I left the bike party halfway, pedaling over to a dinner meetup with a longtime friend. The restaurant was on the same street as the Indy Criterium race course. We marveled as wicked-fast cyclists whipped past. The races progressed from amateurs to nearly inhuman professionals. The crossing for the closed course to the post-meal show at the Indy Fringe Festival was at a gap in the fence guarded by watchful volunteers, ensuring those crossing would get through before the racers zipped by again at 35 mph. The criterium races were part of a weekend bicycle festival organized by Momentum Indy. The weekend included a Saturday morning ride honoring Major Taylor.
Connecticut has its own momentum with residents organizing bike parties, and the next two DominGo Hartford open streets events will be on Sept. 25 and Oct. 23, both Sundays. Open streets events, slow street conversions, outside dining, and pedestrianized town centers are more common than I expected on this wandering cross-country bicycle tour. Parking lots and streets are being converted to more productive and enjoyable uses.
Important connections are made in these social spaces and during the events. Neighborly, creative, and cultural connections are much more likely when people are outside their separate boxes, both literally and figuratively.
Get outside your box! Join a bike party or check out the festive open streets experience.