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On the bus to Open Streets Watsonville

By Karen Kefauver
May 14, 2015
Link to Sentinel Article

After at least 24 trips on Metro bus with her bike, Saskia Lucas is an expert at demonstrating the simple mechanism that secures the bike in the bus bike rack. Karen Kefauver — Contributed
Saskia Lucas, founder and organizer of Open Streets Santa Cruz County, pedals along the San Lorenzo River levee to the Santa Cruz Metro Center to catch the bus to Watsonville and review the route for Open Streets Watsonville on Sunday. Karen Kefauver — Contributed

I’ve lived and biked in Santa Cruz for more than 20 years and I’ve never put my bicycle on a bus.

I admit that it was not on my “bicycle bucket list.” But that changed when my friend Saskia Lucas suggested we go to Watsonville for a half-day field trip; it sounded fun. It was a chance to explore a neighboring city I rarely visit, in part because I dislike driving my car — even short distances.

Plus, there was an added incentive: Lucas, the founder and director of Open Streets Santa Cruz County, promised me a sneak preview of the layout and plans for Open Streets Watsonville on Sunday.

The event is new to Watsonville, though three previous Open Streets events have been held — twice in Santa Cruz on West Cliff Drive and once in Capitola Village. Lucas launched the series of events in 2012, taking a cue from dozens of other cities around the world that were hosting similar “open streets” to illustrate that roadways typically occupied by cars can be transformed into safe places for people to ride freely.

“My personal passion is car-free recreational spaces,” said Lucas, whose original inspiration for launching Open Streets in Santa Cruz County was her joyous experience of riding Highway 9, the scenic mountain road, when it was temporarily closed to cars due to a landslide.After at least 24 trips on Metro bus with her bike, Saskia Lucas is an expert at demonstrating the simple mechanism that secures the bike in the bus bike rack. Karen Kefauver — Contributed
After at least 24 trips on Metro bus with her bike, Saskia Lucas is an expert at demonstrating the simple mechanism that secures the bike in the bus bike rack. Karen Kefauver — Contributed

“I like to use the term ‘pop-up park’ to describe Open Streets,” Lucas said. “What do you do at the park? You bring your own recreation — bikes, skateboards, roller skates. It’s fun and promotes health and community.

“My vision from the beginning has been to host events at different locations throughout the county. So hosting Open Streets in Watsonville has always been in the plans.”

As we rode our bikes from Seabright to the Santa Cruz Metro Center, she explained that a larger goal of the event is “to counteract how cars have overtaken cities. People don’t always get to walk and bike and feel safe. At Open Streets, they get to enjoy the roads for themselves.”

We arrived at the Metro Center early for our 8:37 a.m. bus to allow plenty of time for Lucas to demonstrate how to safely put our bikes on the bike rack in the front of the bus. I had seen students on Bay Street securing their bikes on those bus bike racks hundreds of time, but I had never paid attention.

On most metro buses, there are only three spaces available for bikes, so it’s best to arrive early to insure you get a spot on the bike rack. It’s first come, first serve. Otherwise, you are out of luck and have to wait for the next bus. We spotted one cyclist about to board our bus to Watsonville, so we quickly claimed the other two spots.

As I approached the bus driver and readied to pay my fare, I had a fun flashback to high school, when my friends and I often took the bus into Washington, D.C. for outings in Georgetown to eat Mrs. Field’s chocolate chip cookies and shop for glittery hair spray at Commander Salamander. For us teens, the bus had represented freedom and a stress-free way to get around town.

Our original plan had been to take the bus to Watsonville, then bicycle back home via scenic rural roads and stopping in Corralitos. That way, we would get a better workout. But when it turned out to be a chilly, grey Saturday, we ditched that plan.

After leaving the bus and a quick meal, we rode along the route for Open Streets Watsonville, which measures a little more than half a mile. We started at Watsonville City Plaza, which rests on a 1.4-acre park.

On Sunday, the plaza will serve as one of two entrances — along with Callaghan Park — for Open Streets Watsonville. The event route includes information booths, bike zones for kids to practice their skills on a Bike Smart! obstacle course, Green Ways to School will have a bicycle-powered smoothie blender, Watsonville Taiko will perform, and there will be a bicycle stunt show happening in the parking lot of nearby Watsonville Cyclery.

As we pedaled back to the Watsonville bus station to ride home to Santa Cruz, I looked forward to boarding the bus and putting my bike on the front rack. It was a cold day and the bus was heated. I wanted a snack and food is allowed on the bus, and I wanted to focus on my friend rather than driving. I could stretch my legs at the end by getting back on my bike and riding home. But, the bus was ideal.

My one regret? That I waited 20 years to give it a try.

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