Bike Walk Knoxville sponsored its 10th Annual Open Streets event this weekend in North Downtown Knoxville. The first-ever loop route took walkers, bikers, skateboarders, and roller skates through the streets of Knoxville that are ordinarily for automobiles only, allowing for stops at community booths for games and more. The sunshine and lower humidity made for a lovely afternoon to host the event.
Open Streets Knoxville, hosted by Bike Walk Knoxville with support from the City of Knoxville, First Horizon Bank, Gresham Smith, WUTK, and other amazing sponsors, aims to promote physical activity and strengthen community during this free, family- and pet-friendly event. The international Open Streets initiative promotes healthy living, local businesses, and sustainable transportation in cities. It is an opportunity to reimagine our streets as a public space for people of all ages and abilities to use. Past Open Streets Knoxville events have brought together an average of over 3,500 people per event.
If you are new to the history of open streets like I was, here is a description that outlines its origin and purpose. “Open Streets programs, also known as Ciclovias, open streets to people and close them to cars encouraging participation in physical activity and healthy recreation. They are free, regularly occurring programs and offer communities the opportunity to experience their city streets in a whole new way. At Open Streets, there are no finish lines, parades, or sidewalk sales, and this is something that sets Open Streets apart from other events like marathons or street festivals. Open Streets can provide stimulus to local businesses, offer a setting for greater civic participation and integration, and build support for the provision of broader transportation choices.
Medellin, Colombia, is the birthplace of Ciclovia, but since its inception, many international cities have since adopted and adapted the tradition as their own. Below are a few examples of how other cities have celebrated their most valuable public space – their streets!”
I took my three girls downtown to check out Open Streets Knoxville. This year’s route took us on sections of Depot St, Gay St, Central St, Emory Pl, 3rd Ave, 4th Ave, and Lamar St. With so many streets blocked off from traffic, it felt like a different city. We took our time walking around, stopping at each booth, and getting to know the local businesses we often drive by so quickly that we didn’t even know they were there! My husband always says the best way to get to know a city is to run it (or walk, in our case). I couldn’t agree more. From music at the Southern Railway Station to art in Emory Place, Open Streets 2023 offered something for anyone visiting.
Multiple food trucks were set up on N. Central Street throughout the afternoon with savory options and cold, sweet treats for those heating up on their walk or rides. We took advantage of Kazoku and of course, Kona Ice. I was thrilled to find a new coffee shop coming to town (yes, I will be telling you all about it soon!), a bakery celebrating its 25th anniversary downtown, lovely vintage shops with items making me all nostalgic for childhood, and art studios I had yet to visit. Crafty Bastard anchored the corner offering free outdoor games and food/beer for purchase. After trying to catch a few minutes at all of the other weekend events downtown, I enjoyed slowing down and seeing more shops open on a Sunday afternoon than I am used to in that area.
This year’s route had booths spaced out along all sections of the loop. We arrived around 3:30; the event began at 2, and while there were many Knoxvillians out and about, it didn’t feel crowded. The nature of a loop in a downtown space does not lend to full visibility of said loop, making it hard to decipher attendance. Vendors said they were staying active, with visitors stopping regularly. Most offered bottles of water and a snack or candy along with their games and activities. My younger girls love a prize wheel, and they were able to find some and win at several booths. Their favorite stop was a local salon, The Wild Side, which gave them tinsel in their hair and braided it for them.
I kept forgetting to reset my watch to track all the steps I took this weekend, but it was definitely miles. Between the Rhinestone Fest, joining Urban Guy on his tour for Bike, Boat, Brew & Bark, and my own shopping at the market on Saturday, I can safely say I met my step goal. The pace of Open Streets is not rushed or hurried, however. With a focus on outdoor recreation, it was nice to take our time and explore the city in a new way. Families biking together, playing games, sitting outdoors, creating art, and listening to great local bands felt like the perfect way to end a busy weekend downtown.