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Op-ed: Streets for the people

By Andy Hanshaw, executive director of the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition – CicloSDias Organizer

As many of you know, CicloSDias took over our streets this August, and call me biased, but it was a resounding success.

Bikers, joggers, skaters and people of all kinds started walking and rolling around 9:30 a.m. A little after 10 a.m., councilmembers Marti Emerald and David Alvarez along with County Supervisor Dave Roberts and a few other event speakers addressed the growing crowd at Cherokee Point Elementary School to get attendees excited about this event. The speakers pointed out that everyone there was making history with this first-ever open-streets event for San Diego, and Emerald even named it “CicloSDias Day” in District 9.

A horn sounded to conclude the press conference and off everyone went: families, friends, children and pets all strolled and pedaled off to explore the route. This included me, as I rolled with a few friends to see firsthand what we worked so hard to bring to San Diego.

I could not have imagined something more wonderful than what I experienced on that neighborhood ride. Although only 5.2 miles, it took me about an hour to get to 30th and K streets (one bookend of the route) because I was constantly passing friends from my community. People shouted out as they rode by, smiles lighting up their faces, while many actually stopped me to say hi, catch-up and express their gratitude for the event.

There were a few rest stops set up where sponsors such as DecoBike (spearheading the bike-share coming to San Diego in 2014) and BikeSD engaged with participants while music played and volunteers handed out fruit for everyone riding. Between the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 people came out with their favorite form of non-motorized transportation to get a taste of what an open-streets celebration really meant.

Of course, one of the biggest highlights of the event was shopping local, so I stopped into several businesses along the route. Once I found a spot to park amidst the patios and fences lined with bicycles, I joined friends and community members at places to eat, drink and enjoy all that the neighborhoods of North Park, South Park, Logan Heights and City Heights have to offer. One of our priorities with CicloSDias was supporting the local businesses, and we are still receiving feedback that they saw great success with this event.

But it was obvious the success was not contained to the business side of things. I felt it in the air: a contagious sense of enthusiasm and happiness shared by everyone involved. Families were active with their children – I don’t know if I’ve ever seen so many tandem bikes at once – friends hung out, spontaneous bands and performances popped up on sidewalks and everyone was very literally re-discovering their streets, neighborhoods and communities.

I enjoyed hearing from residents who lived along the route and their progression of emotions towards CicloSDias. Despite any initial frustration at having to move their cars, once people saw what CicloSDias was all about there was a true sense of pride in the community. I loved talking to these people and hearing how their perception of the event changed as they had positive, rewarding experiences and came to be great fans by the end, already inquiring about the next one.

We could never have had this without community support and the help of our amazing volunteers and donors. On behalf of the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, I want to say thank you for giving us the opportunity to host this revolutionary event here in San Diego.

But I think most importantly, San Diegans felt like they were a part of something big, something growing.

And the truth is, they were. CicloSDias – hopefully the first of many.

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