LA GRANDE — A four-block portion of La Grande’s O Avenue will resemble some Seattle neighborhoods in a special way for 45 minutes the evening of Wednesday, Sept. 2.
The stretch, between Second Street and Walnut Street, will be closed to vehicle traffic for Walking Wednesday, an event aimed at helping people come together during the COVID-19 pandemic. The quarter-mile portion of O Avenue will be shut down for an hour beginning at 6:45 p.m. to allow residents to walk freely along the street and greet their neighbors, some of whom they may not have seen for a while because of the pandemic.
“This is an invitation to the neighborhood to come out, walk around and see each other,” said Zachary Lauritzen of La Grande, who is organizing the event and said everyone taking part in Walking Wednesday must wear a mask and practice social distancing.
Lauritzen said having O Avenue closed will make it much easier for neighbors to talk to one another in a safe forum. He said this is difficult to do on O Avenue’s sidewalks since they are only about 3-1/2 feet wide, making it harder to practice social distancing.
Lauritzen took on the project after learning about how many cities around the world have closed off streets to give people a safe space to come outside during the pandemic and visit while practicing social distancing. These cities include Seattle, where Lauritzen, his wife, Lauren, and their young daughter were living in the early stages of the pandemic about six months ago. Seattle, during this time, closed many of its neighborhood streets to through traffic to provide space for people to bike and walk at a safe distance apart.
Zachary Lauritzen was impressed with the impact of these closures.
“People loved it. Everyone was having a good time,” he recalled.
Lauritzen, the son of Dale and Carol Lauritzen, graduated from La Grande High School in 2001. He later earned a degree in international studies from Elon University in North Carolina and then a master’s degree in teaching from Eastern Oregon University. He was an educator in the Corvallis School District and then the Bethel School District in Eugene a total of 10 years before moving to Spain in 2019 and then to Seattle last winter.
He and his family now live in the O Avenue neighborhood where Walking Wednesday will be conducted.
Lauritzen has made arrangements with the La Grande Police Department to close the four-block portion of O Avenue.
“The police department has been very helpful,” he said.
People who live on O Avenue in the area of the upcoming closure will be able to get home during Walking Wednesday.
“We will take down barricades for people who need to drive to their homes,’’ Lauritzen said.
He said the farthest anyone would have to drive to their home would be a half a block.
Walking Wednesday is not connected to the Walking Wednesdays program linked to the national America Walks program, which also promotes healthy physical activity.
Lauritzen said if La Grande’s Walking Wednesday is successful he hopes more versions of it can be conducted at the same site in the future. For additional information contact Lauritzen at firstname.lastname@example.org.