By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Jun 11, 2016 at 5:36 AM

Explore the best Milwaukee has to offer with VISIT Milwaukee and OnMilwaukee this summer by "Urban Exploring." We'll be sharing parks to hike, walls to climb, rivers to paddle, trails to bike and so much more. Be a tourist in your own town and experience it with us! 

Now that summer has finally shown up in 2016, Milwaukeeans are finding any and all excuses to get outside and get moving. Luckily, the city doesn't skimp on providing excuses, from festivals to beer gardens to concert series to, one of the newest events hoping to add its name to the extensive list of Cream City summertime staples, Ciclovia MKE.

The open streets initiative will take to the streets for the first time this year from noon until 4 p.m. on Sunday, June 12, shutting down a chunk of South Cesar E. Chavez Drive, down Washington Street to a few blocks on South 3rd Street in Walker’s Point for an afternoon of open streets, car-free commuting and community building through arts, activities and staying active.

"The concept is car-free," explained project coordinator Mirtha Sosa. "It can be anything. You can skate, you can walk, you can run, you can bike, you can do anything – it’s just car-free. It’s opening up the space to people so they can experience it in ways that are through alternative transportation. The main goal is that, active living and changing how we think about urban environments."

While the concept of ciclovia is relatively new to Milwaukee, the premise has been growing in popularity around the country and the rest of the globe for decades, starting in the ’70s in Bogota, Colombia. Translating out to "cycleway" in Spanish, the idea was to shut down selected streets in a part of the city so people could experience and interact with the neighborhood in new and healthy ways. Instead of merely driving through in the relative seclusion of a car, the ciclovia opens up the roads to active transportation and, at the same time, opens visitors’ eyes to new businesses, new communities and new conversations perhaps unnoticed before.

Since its creation in Colombia, the ciclovia concept has expanded across South America, Latin America and eventually into the United States, where cities like Atlanta, Minneapolis and New York City have all adapted the open streets initiative into regular good weather get-togethers. And now Milwaukee is aiming to get in on the act.

"Milwaukee’s about the same population size as Atlanta, and we have such beautiful streets and a lot of really interesting neighborhoods that we just really wanted to bring together," Sosa said. "The idea too was that the city is consistently rated as the most segregated and separated as far as neighborhoods go, so having a ciclovia would kind of encourage people in the open streets to check out different parts of the city."

According to Sosa, ideas for Milwaukee’s own ciclovia began circulating and coming together over the past two or three years, culminating with the first Ciclovia MKE last August in the Walker’s Square/Walker’s Point neighborhood. The inaugural edition came with a few bumps in the road; in addition to rainy weather last year, Sosa admitted that the concept can be difficult to explain to people.

Overall, however, for a completely new event trying to establish itself in the middle of the packed Milwaukee summer festival season, the project coordinator called year one a success. So, with its maiden proof of concept under its belt, Ciclovia MKE’s sophomore celebration – nicely tied in with the fifth annual South Side Bicycle Day – is returning to the same part of the city to shut down the streets while simultaneously opening them up in a whole new light.

In addition to providing a safe section of town to ride, run, walk and explore, Ciclovia MKE will also provide free children’s bike helmets and raffle off more than 600 bicycles and bike locks at its Walker Square Park area. The park zone will also feature a farmer's market and one of several dance stations. In addition, the 3rd Street end of the route will showcase arts programming from Arts @ Large, the Milwaukee Art Museum and more, while the Cesar E. Chavez Drive block will feature activities from Milwaukee Recreation along with neighborhood restaurants and shopping.

"Even though it’s not a circular route, we really want to encourage people to go up and down (the streets) and do the whole thing," Sosa said.

While the event may not even be technically a year old, Ciclovia MKE is already looking toward big things. Sosa, for one, hopes the event expands into more neighborhoods and becomes a regular, city-wide series of celebrations – complete with an open streets coordinator like other cities, such as Atlanta.

It’s a process that’s already begun; after all, if you miss Sunday afternoon’s edition or enjoy it so much you desperately need more in your life, the next Ciclovia MKE is just a few months away on Sunday, Aug. 14 in the Clarke Square neighborhood. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.