Reclaiming the streets … for cars? Why Bucharest is reining in outdoor events

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Reclaiming the streets ... for cars? Why Bucharest is reining in outdoor events
© Via Sport
Reclaiming the streets ... for cars? Why Bucharest is reining in outdoor events
© Via Sport

While cities around the world embrace pedestrianisation, Bucharest’s new mayor is blaming traffic on street events such as Via Sport, which closes a central boulevard to cars on weekends. Is the Romanian capital taking a step backwards?

“The reason we are doing this in the street in the summer and at the weekend is to encourage people to leave their cars, take their bicycles, walk with their kids, play games, and have fun,” says Alex Zamfir, one of the co-founders of Via Sport, an event that has taken place on most summer weekends for the last seven years on one of the busy thoroughfares of central Bucharest. During Via Sport, a 750-metre stretch of the Kiseleff highway is closed to vehicles from 10pm on Friday until 2pm on Sunday, to create a safe space for leisure and sports.

Yet it’s a Saturday morning in late July, and rather than looking out over hundreds of children and adults playing games, we are sitting on a bench watching a slow stream of cars go by, perhaps two dozen every minute or so.

A few days earlier, the event organisers had received a letter saying that due to “road upkeep” over the next four months, Via Sport couldn’t take place. This came in the wake of recent comments made by the new mayor of Bucharest, Gabriela Firea, which some feel threatens many of the cultural and sporting events that take place on streets in the Romanian capital.

“Just this weekend, the traffic in the capital was blocked and not because there were too many cars – but because there are many street events approved in downtown Bucharest, whether cultural, entertainment or sports, and this doesn’t happen in any [other] European capital,” said Firea – who was elected mayor on 5 June – in a recent interview with one of Romania’s news stations. Despite apparently supporting street events in Bucharest, she added that they shouldn’t be held in the central area. […]

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