In Our View: Closed to Cars, Open to Fun

Sunday Streets Alive event looks like an experiment worth trying

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We don't necessarily agree with everything they do in Portlandia. We are, after all, not particularly fond of keeping our city weird, and we hope that notion stays on the other side of the Columbia River.

But once in awhile those wacky Oregonians seize upon an idea worth borrowing, and this summer the city of Vancouver will be hijacking one such plan. Aug. 18 will mark the inaugural Sunday Streets Alive event in Vancouver, in which a parade route of city streets will be closed to automotive traffic.

The plan is to bring local residents out of their cars for a good walk or a leisurely bicycle ride. Scooters, skateboards, inline skates … they're all welcome, as well, invited to traverse a 4.2-mile path that will pass some of Vancouver's most noteworthy landmarks.

"It's really just a celebration of the community," Jennifer Campos, a senior planner for the city of Vancouver, told Columbian reporter Marissa Harshman in a Monday story in The Columbian.

As Harshman wrote in a recent article: "Along the route will be six stations with a wide range of activities, including obstacle courses, a climbing wall, Zumba, pet shows, and disc golf. Vendors will set up along the streets, and organizers are encouraging more organic activities as well, such as neighborhood garage sales and lemonade stands."

What does Portland have to do with all of this? Well, the city to the south has been holding similar events several times a summer for the past several years, rotating among a variety of neighborhoods. Those activities have been a rousing success.

Trust us, we recognize that closing city streets to cars for an afternoon — at taxpayer expense — is a pretty quick way to raise some hackles. The planned Vancouver event has a price tag of about $70,000, with $17,000 of that coming in one-time startup costs. Funding is coming from the city and from grants, including a $20,000 grant from Kaiser Permanente.

And while it's difficult to support what could be deemed frivolous spending in a time of economic belt-tightening, we believe there is a strong case to be made that this is money well spent:

• Sunday Streets Alive can serve as a significant economic generator. A large turnout will be a boon to businesses and vendors along the route, which will go through or pass by downtown Vancouver, Uptown Village, the Fort Vancouver National Site and Officers Row, Clark College, and the Marshall Center.

• It can provide participants with a fresh look at their city. It's a bit easier to breathe in the sites and the culture of Vancouver on a bike or on foot than while riding in a car.

• It can promote a sense of community, a shared experience among neighbors and families.

• And there's nothing wrong with encouraging people to get out of their cars once in a while and enjoy a little physical activity.

One of the more interesting philosophical battles of recent years has been that between the United States' traditional car culture and the burgeoning bicycle culture. Portland has erred on the side of bicyclists in many instances, but it is a stretch to see Sunday Streets Alive as a continuation of that battle. Running from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the event will close the streets in question for about 0.057 percent of the year.

That's a small inconvenience for what could be a valuable community event, especially for the downtown area.