On Nov. 6, Bike Walk Macon held their second Open Streets Macon event of the year. The event was held on Clayton Street., which connects the Vineville and Pleasant Hill neighborhoods. Residents enjoyed the afternoon sun while painting crosswalks and engaging in other community activities alongside people they might have otherwise known only in passing.
The goal of the event was to engage the community in reimagining their streets, said Rachel Hollar Umana, executive director and founder of Bike Walk Macon.
“We have a lot of activities, and you get a few hours in your neighborhood streets to just reimagine how we could be using our streets as places that are safe and comfortable for people of all ages to enjoy,” said Umana.
The organization, founded in 2015, has held Open Streets Macon events since 2016. Originally, their efforts were focused on streets like College Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. However, in recent years they have shifted their focus to neighborhoods.
Umana said that her organization fielded requests from people saying they would love to have Open Streets Macon in their neighborhood to make it more friendly, walkable and bikeable. Similar requests brought them to the Pleasant Hill and Vineville neighborhoods.
In addition to the neighborhood organizations, Macon-Bibb has worked closely with Bike Walk Macon to ensure that the streets are closed and that traffic is not allowed through as pedestrians take over the roads.
In the first few years that Bike Walk Macon hosted Open Streets Macon, the idea was to have the streets blocked off and available to the public as a safe place to go for a bike ride or a walk. However, around the time the pandemic hit, there was a change in the direction of what the organization could provide for the community. They wanted to leave a permanent mark on each street that was celebrated in addition to the activities that they put on with the community on that day.
Painting the crosswalks on Macon streets is one way that the day can be commemorated for years to come. On Nov. 6, one artist was picked from each neighborhood to design and outline what they wanted to see at the intersections of their streets.
The Pleasant Hill neighborhood’s representative was Tiara Ponce. Hailing from New York, Ponce now lives in Macon and works as a teacher at The Tubman Museum. This is not her first work of art on display in Macon, though. She painted a mural of Nipsey Hussle for a local sneaker store, Global Sole, as well as a floor mural at the Greenwood Bottoms shopping center.
Ponce’s design is focused on finding unity between the two neighborhoods that meet at the corner of Clayton Street and Rogers Avenue. The design incorporates two outstretched hands shrouded in vines and leaves of what Ponce called “the Growing Tree.” On the left is a Black hand and on the right, a white hand, which Ponce said represents growth and love as they are both connected by the vines.
The artist’s goal was to promote neighborliness.
“We do so much when we come together,” said Ponce.
Ponce was not alone, however, in painting the crosswalks. She was aided by her younger daughter, who she said has taken an early interest in art. Heidi Clinite, a volunteer with Open Streets Macon who helped that day, said that she has been volunteering with Bike Walk Macon every year.
Returning volunteers are common at these events, said Umana, because they fall in love with the experience there.
As the leader of Bike Walk Macon, Umana is also the Vice Chair of the Macon-Bibb County Pedestrian Safety Review Board. Bike Walk Macon has played a part in making the city a safer place to be as a pedestrian, advocating for new streets to have designated bike lanes and accessible sidewalks.
“We had a really big win last year,” said Umana. “It’s called a ‘complete streets policy,’ and it’s a policy for Macon-Bibb County that says all new road projects have to consider all forms of transportation.”
One of the first major changes that happened because of Umana’s efforts occurred when Montpelier Avenue was repaved with the goal of implementing a bike lane to protect cyclists. The project took place years ago, but the precedent set by the group and their tenacity has led to other projects around town that have put in bike lanes as streets are repaved.
Open Streets Macon hopes to continue to encourage community and safety in Macon neighborhoods. They invite all residents to join them on Dec. 8 for a holiday-themed Macon Bike Party starting on High Street.