The German autobahn was converted into a people-bahn for six hours yesterday as a sixty-kilometer strip was closed to cars for a major summer party. Dubbed Still Life/A40-B1, the event drew a crowd of nearly three million, earning it the title of World’s Longest Street Party and giving residents of the primarily industrial (read: kinda depressing) Ruhr District an excuse to shake their arsches under the Teutonic sun. Pedestrians flooded the roadway—normally the province of Benzes and Beemers clocking triple digits—and set up the longest picnic table Europe has ever seen alongside impromptu concerts and dance exhibitions. Naturally, we here in the USA are happy for the Germans and their fun party, but the question remains, is this something we could pull off stateside?
In some ways, we already have. The High Line in New York’s Meatpacking District converted an abandoned elevated freight railroad spur into one of the country’s most attractive pedestrian thoroughfares. The Great Northeast Blackout of 2003 turned all of the major bridges out of Manhattan into no-holds-barred street parties. And of course, almost every block in the city is closed to cars once a year for block parties or street fairs where you can buy funnel cakes and slightly irregular GAP tee-shirts without worrying about getting clipped by a taxi. But deliberately closing a huge stretch of a major commercial highway just to let people walk around a bit without buying anything? Not in the land of capitalism.
Still, I’d love to see a chunk of the BQE in Brooklyn closed to traffic for a day. Drivers are in no position to appreciate its soaring views of Lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, and New York Harbor, yet they’re spoiled with the splendid panorama every day. It makes sense that the humble pedestrian should get a glimpse as well. And if someone feels like rolling out a couple of beer barrels, all the better.