How to call Open Streets on State Street a success


Quality over quantity.

To know if you were successful in doing something, you’d have to evaluate the outcome against your goals. Several of my friends who attended Open Streets on State Street (from here on called Open Streets) called it a success. But the simplest definition of the word says that an aim or purpose has been accomplished.

I talked to Julia Kim, the Open Streets manager at Active Transportation Alliance (Active Trans), Adolfo Hernandez, director of advocacy and outreach at Active Trans, and Ty Tabing, the executive director of the Chicago Loop Alliance (CLA) to understand what their goals for Open Streets were.

But co-writer John Greenfield and I will tell and show you what happened in the seven, car-free blocks on State Street between Lake Street and Van Buren Street.


It was very fun watching people of various sizes, ages and genders in street clothes doing synchronized dance moves to hits by Beyonce and Katy Perry, led by an aerobics instructor. -JG


Members of the International Capoeira Angola Foundation Chicago study group practice capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial arts dance, in front of Macy’s.  -SV


A Spanish ensemble with upright bass, violin, guitar and hammered dulcimer performed in the middle of the street to promote the Joffrey Ballet’s Don Quixote. -JG


Skaters in the Windy City Rollers women’s flat track derby league played several games, blocking and jamming on a tinny track. Bob Mumbles, his derby name, narrated the game. -SV


The dunk tank was perhaps the most popular attraction at Open Streets. At one point Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner (CDOT) Gabe Klein volunteered to take the plunge. Active Transportation Alliance Executive Director Ron Burke threw the pitch that dropped the commish into the water. Photos by Jennifer Henry. -JG

Successful or not

Project evaluation is important in order to find ways the project (Open Streets in this case) can be improved, measure the achievement of goals, determine its impact, and monitor efficiency. If residents and Active Trans want City Hall to become a greater contributor, which John wrote about last Friday, or if sponsors are to donate again, this evaluation is even more important.

While I’m not privy to the exact evaluation process at Active Trans or CLA, they did share with me their quantitative and qualitative goals and initial assessments.

Active Trans’s view

After the “bumpy ride” of putting on Open Streets in 2009, and its predecessor in 2008, Sunday Parkways, Active Trans wanted to launch an event downtown, much like San Francisco and New York City. Julia helped Active Trans pull this off in eight months, starting when she was hired in February. And Open Streets occurred without a single major incident or crash. Drivers were allowed to pass through at Madison and Monroe Streets, a concession to the City. Julie and Adolfo believe this year’s event may have shown that a full street closure can be done and that keeping the cross streets open wasn’t necessary.

Active Trans projected 10,000 people at the event, and by their counts, 10 to 15 thousand people attended. We agreed on the difficulty of counting: some people were coming just to shop or eat on State Street, while others came strictly for the event.

The last goal was one about the local economy. “We reached our goal with connecting commerce and businesses with people, and providing foot traffic, and getting businesses involved in the Open Streets movement”, Julia told me.

Active Trans plans to have a recap meeting with CDOT and Office of Emergency Management and Communication officials to gain their feedback.

Chicago Loop Alliance viewpoint

Ty Tabing at CLA agrees. “We received some anecdotal evidence that businesses did well”. Talking to member businesses about their receipts for the five hour event will part of the organization’s post-event evaluation.

Ty explained to me that with Open Streets, his organization, tasked with maintaining the Loop as a destination in many realms (economy, tourism, residential), provided an amenity for various constituencies: “27,000 residents, college students, Chicagoans and suburbanites”. It’s one of many unique, interesting events for Chicago to happen in the Loop. John wrote on Grid Chicago last Friday:

The Loop Alliance is no stranger to innovative programming, having also presented Looptopia, an all-night arts celebration that took place downtown in 2007 and 2008, as well as last year’s giant eyeball installation on State Street.

From the perspective of bringing thousands of people to the Loop to have fun in a safe environment while closing seven blocks of State Street to car, bus, and taxi traffic, both Active Transportation Alliance and Chicago Loop Alliance feel the event was successful.

Partnering with the City of Chicago

But from the perspective of persuading City departments to foot the bill, or take a larger role in the planning and operations in order to create a longer and larger space for residents to use streets for fun and recreation, deeming it successful will be difficult. I imagine their measurement of success is based less on improving quality of life and more about providing an efficient service: Are there different things a City department can do that provides similar services to more residents at a lower cost?

Joining forces with corporate sponsors and the Chicago Loop Alliance may become a sustainable funding mechanism, but the partnership is not complete without a monetary buy-in from City Hall. When it invests taxpayer money into Open Streets, the Mayor and the aldermen will ensure that it’s money well-spent. That means promoting the event to attract higher attendance and more spending at local businesses. And to achieve that, it means improving on what has already been tried: shutting down Madison and Monroe Streets to create an larger, uninterrupted, car-free space; and increasing the distance to allow more people to join on bicycles.

No stopping Cal-Sag Cycles youth


Car crossing at Madison and Monroe didn’t stop Southland students from coming on bikes. John Greenfield talked to Jane Blew Healy, board president of Active Trans. A dozen or so tweens and teens from the south suburbs in Cal-Sag Cycles, a youth build-a-bike class funded by grants from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and Coca-Cola, rode several miles to the 95th Street Red Line station and rode the train downtown.

For many of the kids, recruited from various schools, it was their first time on the CTA, said instructor Jane, leading the group with co-teacher Steve Millsaps Sr. “The class is a very powerful experience for these kids”, she said. “It’s an opportunity for leadership. They’re fixing flats for people in their neighborhoods and helping to teach other kids about safe cycling”.

What’s next

I haven’t experienced ciclovía in South America, nor the domestic versions in San Francisco and New York City, but I prefer this style of Open Streets in Chicago to the iterations of 2008 and 2009. I would like the City of Chicago to take on a leadership role as a means to expand the event. Without it, I think Open Streets will continue to attract just a fraction of those who would attend because of the larger draw and influence that an event “Presented by the City of Chicago” carries with it.

The Wicker Park-Bucktown Special Service Area is interested in Open Streets. Where else should we have people of all ages and backgrounds enjoy bicycling, walking, strolling, and skating for several hours in a large, open space?

View more photos of the events at Open Streets.

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