Part of Portland’s Baxter Boulevard will become a car-free zone on Sundays starting next month, giving the city a mile-long paved park for bicycling, roller-blading, skateboarding or just hanging out next to Back Cove.

Sundays on the Boulevard, as the weekly event is being called, got its start last summer by accident.

The city had to close Baxter Boulevard for an extensive sewer improvement project intended to clean up the water in Back Cove. While city officials braced for traffic backups and angry neighbors, they found instead that drivers got used to going around the area, and that residents took advantage of the closure to use the street for recreation and socializing.

“We were very concerned in advance, and (traffic) turned out not to be an issue,” said John Spritz, treasurer of the Back Cove Neighborhood Association.

A new park was born.

The city announced Tuesday that the boulevard will be closed to motor vehicles between Vannah Avenue and Payson Park on Sundays starting May 4. The road will be closed from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each Sunday through Nov. 9.

“We hope to capitalize on the momentum that was created when the boulevard was closed last year to cars during our public works project,” said Michael Bobinsky, Portland’s director of public services, in the city’s written announcement. “People really took advantage of the roadway. … This is just a formal extension of that.”

In addition to the city, sponsors of the effort are the Back Cove Neighborhood Association, the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, Healthy Portland and Portland Trails.

Sundays on the Boulevard is among a growing number of programs nationwide in which city streets are closed to traffic temporarily so people can use them for walking, bicycling, dancing, playing and socializing.

“We already changed people’s behavior last year, so we feel this is the perfect time to give this effort another try,” said Kara Wooldrik, executive director of Portland Trails, in the written announcement. “These programs are growing across the country. They really help to showcase various modes of transportation and connect people to streets.”

Spritz said Sundays on the Boulevard is based on Memorial Drive in Cambridge, Mass. That busy street has been closed on Sundays each spring and summer for years and has been a popular place to play and overlook the Charles River.

Spritz said he expects few problems with traffic around Baxter Boulevard, because traffic is light on Sundays and because drivers adapt quickly.

“It takes a little getting used to at first, and then people go, ‘Oh yeah, it’s Sunday,’ ” he said.

Spritz said the groups behind the plan have notified the city’s licensed food truck operators, who might take advantage and sell food near Payson Park on Sundays.

While the Sunday events could build a following over time, Spritz said he doesn’t expect huge crowds.

“Success is not necessarily going to be measured by droves of people. Success may be a few people enjoying it,” he said.

“It’s not going to end up like the First Friday Art Walk” on Congress Street, Spritz said. That means there will be no need for people to crowd onto sidewalks. “There’s plenty of room.”

John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

[email protected]