By Karen Kefauver
August 24, 2012
Saskia Lucas has pedaled many memorable miles on her bicycle during her 20-plus years living in Santa Cruz, but one ride in particular stands out. It’s the ride that inspired her to launch a new, free, community event called Santa Cruz Open Streets.
“Sometime during the late ’90s, there was a lot of rain and a landslide on Highway 9 had closed the road for repairs,” recalled Lucas, a UC Santa Cruz graduate. “I had heard through the cycling community that the road was closed to cars, but was open to people.”¦ I had ridden Highway 9 before, but usually avoided it because it’s a narrow road with a lot of blind corners. To me, it felt dangerous for cycling. But that day, I biked up the road and it was a really fun experience.
I remember appreciating the beauty of the forest and seeing what a great road it was for bicycling. It is well-graded, it’s winding and smooth. I felt like I was appreciating the environment more than the few other times I had ridden the road when there was automobile traffic. I wasn’t distracted by being on the lookout for cars.
“I also saw other people on bicycles, a family pushing a stroller and people rollerblading in the middle of street. It was not just cyclists. I remember thinking it was so cool and They should do this road closure on purpose!'”
Now, the City of Santa Cruz has agreed to temporarily close a portion of West Cliff Drive, one the city’s most scenic roads, “on purpose” from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Oct. 7 for the inaugural Santa Cruz Open Streets event, which Lucas founded and is directing.
Though the event is new to Santa Cruz, Lucas, 39, discovered similar events popping up around the world during her six years working at Ecology Action, where she developed and ran a youth bicycling safety education program called Bike Smart!
“I was inspired by these cities that were creating temporary street parks for people to get out and be active,” she said. “It was an example of how cities can and do set aside streets and public space to promote physical activity and health.”
She cited Bogota, Colombia, as the leader in the open-streets types of events. She also noted that San Francisco and New York have had success with similar events. To get a feel for hosting a new event in Santa Cruz, Lucas attended a Sunday Streets www.sundaystreetssf.com event in San Francisco in April. That day, the route included a six-mile stretch of road from Golden Gate Park to the Great Highway along Ocean Beach.
“I went with a friend and we brought our bikes,” she said. “We noticed many cyclists, but also people of all different ages. There were all types of bikes. We saw a double decker art bike, a group of bicyclists on vintage Schwinn kids’ bikes, a pedicab and a boom box on the bike. The feel was definitely very festive. People were happy and enjoying themselves. There were a lot of smiles.
“It’s really successful and it’s inspiring.”
While the inaugural Santa Cruz event may not attract the thousands of visitors that flock to the San Francisco version, Lucas expects to see many smiling faces along the two-mile route between Lighthouse Field and Natural Bridges.
“I envision a lot of bicyclists, people on skateboards, on foot, and maybe even people dancing down the street. It’s up to people to be creative and use their imagination on that two miles.”
Performers and booths will be set up along the nine parking lots dotting the course.
Some of the groups that plan to participate include Minorsan Self-Defense and Fitness, Outrigger Santa Cruz, Trips for Kids and Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz. Additionally, slated performers include the Hoopalights hula hoop performance troupe, Watsonville Taiko drumming, Cuban music group Flor de Caña, the “Singing Scientist” Peter Weiss, the Bike Dojo and others.
“People will have a chance to stop along the route and try out free fitness demo classes, listen to music, get a cup of coffee and learn about resources for active and sustainable living,” Lucas said. “A big part of Santa Cruz Open Streets is connecting locals to resources that are out there. There’s a wealth of resources in this community and this is an opportunity to learn about new activities.”
Cory Caletti said she thinks the event will fit right into Santa Cruz. A senior transportation planner for the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission, Caletti isn’t working on the event in an official capacity, but she has volunteered her time to help because she feels the city is “a great location for an open streets event especially given the very outdoorsy population here.
“As a City of Santa Cruz resident, I’m glad the city is taking the lead in bringing the event to the county,” she said.
Greg McPheeters, who serves on the transportation committee for the Santa Cruz Chapter of the Sierra Club, notes the club agreed to sponsor Open Streets because it is in line with the club’s mission to “explore, enjoy and protect the planet.”
“I think it’s a natural fit for the Sierra Club,” McPheeters said. “We’re excited about the new event.”
In the big picture, Lucas aims to promote a model of active and sustainable living and would like to grow the event in other locations in Santa Cruz County.
“I’m inspired to promote health and physical activity by creating temporary street parks. That’s what we are doing: creating a new opportunity and new space for people to be active.”
On event day, though, Lucas wants “to see tons of people filling up West Cliff Drive — on bike, on foot, on skates and people cartwheeling down the street with big happy smiles on their faces enjoying that space that’s been set aside for them. And the cool thing is this is free for everybody.”
She particularly hopes people who don’t necessarily bike much will get out and take a bike ride on the most beautiful road in Santa Cruz.
After all, it was Lucas’ bike ride years ago along Highway 9 while it was closed to car traffic that planted the seed for her to create Santa Cruz Open Streets. Who knows what ideas may blossom during this new event?