Hutton Marshall | Editor
Bicycling festival to close Uptown streets Nov. 9
Every Sunday, Bogota, Colombia, turns its streets into the most bike-friendly city on the planet.
Known as Ciclovia, the city-run event closes down traffic lanes weekly to create a 120 km network of car-free streets. Two million people (one-third of the city’s population) participate regularly.
The celebration of active transportation has spread globally, especially in South America. The U.S. and Canada both have regular events in many major cities, although none with Bogota’s expanse.
Last summer, San Diego held its inaugural CicloSDias beginning in City Heights which moved down 30th Street through North Park, South Park and into Sherman Heights. Under the guidance of the newly elected — and soon-to-resign — Mayor Bob Filner, his bicycle initiatives manager, and the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition (SDCBC), 5.2 miles of city streets were completely closed off for cyclists, runners and any other human-powered mode of transportation.
The bike coalition held a similar event earlier this summer in Pacific Beach, and now, the organization has teamed up with the Hillcrest Business Association (HBA) to do the same on the streets of Hillcrest Nov. 9.
From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., a two-mile route running along Sixth and University avenues and Normal Street will be dedicated exclusively to cyclists and pedestrians. Three “Periodic Crossings” filled with various physical activities and displays will be placed along the way.
CicloSDias wears a few more hats than one might think: The event is part exercise, part advocacy and part small business promotion. Each component affects where and how it all takes place.
Similar to the Pacific Beach CicloSDias, the Hillcrest route will pass nearly 300 storefronts along the bustling Hillcrest business corridor. SDCBC Executive Director Andy Hanshaw said a business community engaged with active transportation is crucial to the event’s success.
“What we’re really trying to do is engage the businesses and get them involved with this — and they’re excited about it — because there’s going to be thousands of people outside their doors, and they’re coming from all over and may never have seen their business before — it’s an opportunity,” Hanshaw said.
HBA Executive Director Ben Nicholls said local businesses are already onboard.
“When Andy held the first [CicloSDias] … [the HBA] sent him a letter saying ‘please consider Hillcrest for future events,’” Nicholls said. “So this event came here at the request of Hillcrest businesses.”
Nicholls cited the Uptown Parking District’s devotion of meter revenue to bicycle infrastructure like bike corrals as an example of the neighborhood’s support of bicycle initiatives. He said the HBA has long been a leader in this regard.
“The HBA is the biggest supporter of bicycle infrastructure in Hillcrest,” Nicholls said. “We’ve done more than any other group to promote this as a bicycling neighborhood.”
Both Hanshaw and Nicholls acknowledge the unique situation of hosting this CicloSDias in Hillcrest. SANDAG, a regional planning agency, plans to install a massive network of bike lanes throughout San Diego during the next several years, and its path through Hillcrest continues to face considerable opposition from the community.
Business owners have expressed concern over parking spaces that may be sacrificed to install the protected bike lanes. Others worry about impact on traffic congestion. A Hillcrest CicloSDias may give businesses an opportunity to see the impact of an increase of cyclists around their storefronts.
“I think this has the ability to demonstrate that people do want to bike and walk in the neighborhood … because it’s a chance to give things a test run and look at the possibilities,” Hanshaw said.
In response to the SANDAG Uptown bike corridor, local architect Jim Frost created an alternative bike plan, though “alternative” is technically a misnomer as SANDAG has yet to unveil the specifics of their plan.
KTU+A, a local architectural firm, will create temporary protected bikeways replicating those planned for both SANDAG’s and Frost’s corridors within the CicloSDias route, giving the neighborhood a visual of what such plans may look like if put into place.
The plan calls for University Avenue to be reduced to a single lane of traffic through much of Hillcrest in order to create more space for parking and pedestrians. The HBA, the Hillcrest Town Council, the Uptown Planners and the Uptown Community Parking District have all requested that SANDAG perform a feasibility study on the plan.
KTU+A will also create a temporary outline of the Pride Plaza design, a pedestrian space envisioned around the Pride flag monument at University Avenue and Normal Street.
With one CicloSDias in 2013 and two this year, Hanshaw hopes to continue steadily increasing their frequency, although that growth may be difficult to sustain if funding continues to depend on nonprofits like the HBA and the bike coalition. Bogota’s massive, weekly event is possible partially because of public funding. The county government did, however, provide funding to the bike coalition for the event through its Community Enhancement Program. According to the county’s website, the program awarded the bike coalition $4,500 during the 2013-14 period.
Hanshaw said that while the event does not currently bring in any revenue to counterbalance the cost of hosting it, sponsorship interest has been increasing with the event’s growth. Hanshaw also has a policy to keep CicloSDias vendor-free.
“We don’t bring out vendors, we encourage people to eat, drink and shop at the local businesses,” Hanshaw said.
He added that both the city and the county have been very supportive of the bike coalition’s efforts with CicloSDias and other active transportation initiatives throughout the city. Hanshaw also pointed out that Mayor Kevin Faulconer is a known cyclist, and that the CicloSDias got a much-appreciated mention in the city’s Bicycle Master Plan.
San Diego State and UC San Diego co-authored an evaluation of San Diego’s first CicloSDias event, which they released earlier this year. The report states that approximately 8,311 people attended, half of which got their recommended 150 minutes of physical activity during the event. Eighty-four percent of attendees shopped or purchased food or drink during the event, and 50 percent of businesses reported the event had a positive impact on their business.
When attendees were asked why they attended, 70 percent said it was the ability to bike without traffic, only 31 percent attended to “support bicycling” and 18 percent to “visit store/restaurant.” Attendees were allowed to select multiple answers.
A citywide survey conducted in the report found overwhelming support for improving the city’s bicycle infrastructure. Latinos, non-whites and lower-income respondents showed slightly stronger support (87 percent) than white and higher income respondents (84 percent).
The former subgroups were also found to be significantly more likely to use a bicycle share program. DecoBike, the city’s bicycle sharing program expected to be unveiled in the coming months, will have a display at CicloSDias.
But when the Hillcrest streets are temporarily closed off on Nov. 9, city initiatives, traffic congestion and bike lane shortages can be temporarily forgotten, because more than anything, Hanshaw said, CicloSDias is simply about the community enjoying public space in a rare, relaxed way.
“This is about more than just biking and walking: It’s about the communities of Bankers Hill and Hillcrest,” Hanshaw said. “It’s about getting out and enjoying the streets.”
Visit ciclosdias.com to learn more about the event.
—Contact Hutton Marshall at firstname.lastname@example.org.