There is no question that open streets initiatives engage participants in physical activity. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Physical Activity* confirms that open streets generate positive public health outcomes. The study, which surveyed 37 such initiatives in 11 South and North American countries, found that 71% included physical activity classes, while 89% of the designated routes included parks offering additional opportunities for exercise. Additional research conducted in Bogotá strengthens the claim that open streets encourage people to be physically active. Indeed, when people in that city choose to exercise, they typically do so for an average of 48 minutes. By contrast, the average participant spends an average of 4 hours and 15 minutes exercising in the city’s streets and parks—five times the average amount. According to a new study looking at the economic benefits, the associated physical activity has an economic benefit realized in health care cost savings. It should be no surprise that across the United States and Canada many existing and emerging open streets initiatives are organized and sponsored by those working to improve public health through active living.
Open streets initiatives offer environmental benefits. Removing cars from the road, even just temporarily, provides a positive environmental impact, especially if the initiative is conducted on weekly basis. A study conducted in Bogotá reveals that particulate matter along the city’s Ciclovía route was 13 times higher on a regular weekday than on a Sunday. Although it’s unclear if the study controlled for traffic volume changes (traffic is normally lighter during the weekend), removing automobiles and trucks from city streets each Sunday surely contributes to improved air quality along the route. Most open streets initiatives also directly promote and encourage citizens to replace daily automobile trips with bicycling, walking, and public transportation. Although it’s more difficult to measure, these efforts are believed to encourage less routine car use. Finally, participation and support from numerous environmental organizations are common. The presence of such groups builds participants’ awareness and highlights the connection between improving the natural and built environment, the economy, and public health.
When located in downtown or neighborhood business districts, open streets offer new economic opportunities for many types of businesses. The inclusion of local vendors, artists, non-profit organizations, musicians, and other performers invites wider participation which in turn provides increased opportunity for restaurants and retailers. This is especially true for those who do not regularly have the opportunity to share their food, wares, and products to hundreds, if not thousands, of people.
Local businesses along the event route are critical stakeholders to the success and sustainability of Open Streets, as they can promote it and benefit from participating in the event. The Kansas Journal of Medicine’s study sought to evaluate the 2019 Open Streets ICT event’s impact on adjacent businesses. It found that Open Streets ICT increased sales and the number of visitors among businesses.
View the report here.
Open streets also contribute to direct health care cost savings. A recent study published in the Journal of Urban Health analyzed the average economic cost and benefits associated with open streets programs in Bogotá, Medellin, Guadalajara, and San Francisco. The study, which is the first to assess the cost-benefit ratio derived from open streets programs, found that from a public health perspective each of the four initiatives is cost beneficial, especially when compared to other physical activity programs. The study partially attributes the low costs to the highly efficient use of existing infrastructure: our streets!