Community takes to streets

Thousands turned out over the weekend to participate in the first area Open Streets event.

Sophomore Moretta O'Connell makes a giant bubble on Saturday during Open Streets on SE University Ave.

Bridget Bennett

Sophomore Moretta O’Connell makes a giant bubble on Saturday during Open Streets on SE University Ave.

Nick Wicker

After five years of hosting expansive block parties across the city, Open Streets Minneapolis brought the get-together to the roads surrounding the University of Minnesota for the first time on Saturday.
 
More than 100 tents sponsored by businesses, the city and the University lined University Avenue Southeast — which was blocked off to car traffic — attracting anywhere from a few passersby at the start of the event to crowds of pedestrians and cyclists come afternoon.
 
Event organizers said they hope the celebration will become an annual tradition.
 
Randal Gast, owner of Qdoba Mexican Grill in Dinkytown and vice president of the Dinkytown Business Association, said his organization hung posters in the weeks leading up to the event and used games and prizes to attract University students.
 
The event brought business and attention to Dinkytown shop owners, Gast said, but it also gave the community a platform to connect — something he said is new to the area.
 
“[Other events] are the same every year, but this is new,” he said. “It’s a crapshoot.”
 
The hardest part of expanding to new locations is informing residents of the event, said Alex Tsatsoulis, who’s an Open Streets organizer and Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition development and communications coordinator.
 
Though attendance varies between locations, East Lake Street brought in about 16,000 visitors in its first year, Tsatsoulis said, a number he reported as unusually high. He said he didn’t expect a similar turnout for the University.
 
Organizers also faced the challenge of shutting down University Avenue Southeast, said Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association spokesman Chris Lautenschlager.
 
During preliminary planning, the Minneapolis Police Department expressed concern over whether blocking off the street would cause heavy traffic, Lautenschlager said.
 
“If you start shutting down streets, things are going to get crowded,” Gast said.
 
Plans for the event began in December and included officials from the city, the University and local neighborhood and business associations, Lautenschlager said.
 
Visitors included families who planned to travel to campus for the event, along with students who stumbled upon the gathering by accident.
 
Mathematics junior Anthony Vargas, who attended the event Saturday, said he enjoyed one attraction where visitors could sit in the driver’s seat of a city bus and observe the view.
 
“It’s interesting to see where the blind spots are,” Vargas said.
 
Ryan Bender brought his daughters, ages 2 and 4, to the event. He said he and his family go to Open Streets gatherings citywide to spend time with his wife, Ward 10 City Councilwoman Lisa Bender.
 
Ryan Bender said he had visited 10 Open Streets events, adding that the University setting served as an attractive location in comparison to others.
 
Bender said his daughters enjoy Open Streets because they can spend the day outside and play in the inflatable bounce house.
 
“They should do these every week,” Bender said. “And I’ve lived in cities where they do them every week, and people love them.”