Open Streets

A road without cars undergoes an immediate and complete transformation. Without the threat, noise and stink of cars, West Cliff Drive turned into a gathering place, dance hall, and center for healthy living last Sunday.

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Closing the streets to cars and opening them to only human powered travel is not a new concept. Since 1976, Bogotá Colombia has been closing over 50 miles of continuous roadway every week so that citizens can enjoy car free bike rides, free exercise classes and recreate public spaces to build community connections with friends and neighbors. They call it Ciclovía. San Francisco has held Sunday Streets for years.

Last year, at Santa Cruz’s first Open Streets event, leaders and volunteers from the city of Salinas attended to observe and ask questions of the lead volunteer staff so that they could start planning their own event which was held on October 6th.

This year, representatives from Santa Barbara were cruising the streets on decorated bikes to drum up awareness of the upcoming Santa Barbara Open Streets on November 2nd.

It’s a movement. It’s happening. Unlike most events that close West Cliff Drive, Open Streets is for the people and by the people. It’s their own block party. I even heard one volunteer and lifelong resident of Santa Cruz say it was the best event the town has ever seen.

People came from Aptos, eight miles away to join the fun. Some folks just stumbled upon it and spontaneously became participants by riding their bikes down the middle of the road or parking and boogying to the live music scattered along the route.

Families with little kids seem to especially enjoy the benefits of an open street. It’s a great place for parents to bring budding cyclists where they can make their way, some a bit wobbly and shaky, without fear of being run over if they take a spill.

Under the mastermind planning of Director Saskia Lucas, I played the role of program and logistics coordinator, but on the day of Open Streets there were dozens of volunteers who helped make it happen. It wouldn’t happen at all, in fact, without them. And it may not happen again if more don’t step up next time around. Though Santa Cruz City Council members and Mayor Bryant are supportive of the event, the City itself does not pony up any logistical or funding support. It’s unlikely the event will be able to continue without some major changes in its funding situation, which currently comes solely from private donation and business sponsorships.

For the time being, thousands of Santa Cruz County residents got a taste of freedom on the streets. They came, had fun, felt safe, got some exercise and joined their community in celebrating the natural beauty of our town. That is something they won’t forget, and hopefully, more will push to see it happen again.

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