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Emily Welker, Published July 14 2013

StreetsAlive: Shed your tires; shed your spare tire

FARGO – It’s been said that most American cities can’t be traveled without a car, but on Sunday in downtown, driving would’ve made most of us miss out on much of what makes StreetsAlive enjoyable.

In less than three city blocks, the average observer could see, instead of the usual backed-up line of motorists on Broadway:

Hula-hoopers, gymnasts, in-line skaters, strollers, fencers, skateboarders, beatboxers, reclining bicyclists, elevated bicyclists and traditional bicyclists, dog walkers, jugglers, wheelchair riders, Frisbee throwers, buskers, kick scooters, toddlers and two people blowing bubbles while directing all motor-driven traffic around the nine-plus blocks of downtown Fargo and Moorhead sectioned off for all this activity.

“I volunteered last year, it’s super-fun,” said Jana Clark, one of the bubble-blowers, as she wafted a long, green, plastic wand over the heads of the crowd of pedestrians she was waving west past the traffic barricades. “It gets better every year.”

Clark is one of thousands of people attracted to the StreetsAlive promise to turn downtown into a car-free, exhaust-free zone for recreation for the hours of noon to 5 p.m. two Sundays a year. Last year, organizers estimate that 7,500 to 8,000 people turned out for the two-day event.

It’s designed by the Cass Clay Healthy People Initiative and Active in Moorhead to get bodies moving without the help of cars. It’s designed to increase physical activity levels in everyone, no matter what their current fitness level – even in kids, for whom extra weight and obesity affects one in three.

The F-M Fencing Club booth was one of numerous family-friendly demos and exercise classes offered, and had attracted quite a crowd of children and some grown men fascinated by the practice swords, or “foils,” the fencers were using.

“We did this last year, too, actually – we had another spot with a dummy and we’re letting some of the younger kids try it,” said young fencer Lizzie Powell, in between demonstrations at the booth.

“We run those ladders like soccer players do,” said Powell, of the training regimen fencers use in order to stay sharp in matches. “Something that helps is if you run – your legs have to move fast.”

Clark admitted that sometimes, it can be tough even for the most dedicated exerciser to get out and get active in Fargo-Moorhead, at least when it isn’t summer.

Streets covered in snow and ice and buffeted by high-speed prairie winds can make it hard for even her to get motivated, let alone get outside, she said.

But Clark thinks Fargo is making progress toward being a physical-activity friendly community, citing the new bike lanes on University and 10th Street as signs of forward momentum. But nothing beats being able to take over Broadway, she said.

“There’s never another time you get to ride down the middle of First Avenue,” she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541