Open Streets takes over Capitola this weekend
Over tea at the new Midtown Cafe, Saskia Lucas and I are chatting about Open Streets. The founder and director of Open Streets Santa Cruz County, Lucas playfully calls the event a gateway drug.
“At Open Streets,” she says, “the inexperienced, infrequent, new bicyclist, who wouldn’t normally want to take a bicycle ride on the road because of traffic, gets out there and they have a positive experience.”
With two Open Streets events on West Cliff Drive under its belt, Open Streets Santa Cruz County (OSSCC) expands to Capitola this weekend with an event on the Capitola Village Esplanade on Sunday. In addition to seed funding from a Regional Transportation Commission grant and the California Coastal Conservancy, the City of Capitola has come on board as an Open Streets partner. This is, according to Lucas, a big step in the right direction.
For the last two years, Lucas and her team have bootstrapped the West Cliff Drive event with tenacity, volunteer labor, and hustle, paying for everything with private sponsorships and donations. But that’s an anomaly in the broader Open Streets community: more than 80 percent of over 100 Open Streets events across the country are funded with a combination of public and private dollars. A goal of Open Streets Santa Cruz is to establish a strong foundation of public/private partnership. According to Lucas, doing so is necessary to make Open Streets sustainable.
For Open Streets Capitola, the city is providing staff time, permitting, police time, barricading, parking, free shuttles, T-shirts and banners. OSSCC is responsible for program coordination, volunteer coordination and outreach.
Capitola City Councilmember Dennis Norton has been championing Open Streets to experiment with car-free days on the Esplanade.
“There’s no more room for cars in the Village,” he explains. “We have maxed every square foot for the parking of autos at the expense of people space. Everyone has experienced what a nightmare the Village becomes on a car-congested summer day.”
The concept, says Norton, is to see what it’s like to remove cars from the picture for one day. “We have plenty of room for more people if the auto is eliminated,” he says. “More people on the street is certainly a benefit to local business.”
For the uninitiated, Open Streets events temporarily close roads to motorized vehicles and open them to the public. The result is an enormous public space full of bicyclists, pedestrians, kids playing and friends gathering. Originating in Bogota, Columbia in 1976, Open Streets now takes place in hundreds of cities around the world.
In Santa Cruz, we have our own brand of Open Streets that includes people on stilts and in costumes, all varieties of customized bicycles, a bike pulling a couch, music, workshops, resources, classes and more.
Recently, Lucas spoke in front of the Santa Cruz City Council and asked them to recognize the unique nature of Open Streets and consider a partnership. The sentiment she expressed was that the event is broad-based and open to all. Unlike other road closures, which require participants to sign up for a race, or street fairs with vendors, Open Streets is a free event that celebrates the community and beauty of Santa Cruz.
“West Cliff Drive is a precious resource,” Lucas says. “For the city to get to enjoy that space without automobiles for a day a year is something, I think, worth investing in.”
On Sunday, there will be a demonstration green lane, parklets, a bike corral, bike valet parking and a community table. The theme of the event is ocean access and protection. In keeping with the theme, the California Coastal Conservancy provided seed funding, Save Our Shores is doing a street cleanup, O’Neill Sea Odyssey will demonstrate how pollution affects our bay, and the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Foundation is hosting beach bingo.
People who arrive by foot, bicycle or bus can enter a raffle to win a $500 gift certificate from Family Cycling Center. Parking is free at the Pacific Cove lot and the newly opened Lower Pacific Cove lot, with shuttles to the event.
Expanding into Capitola signals a growing up for OSSCC and reflects the community’s enthusiasm for Open Streets.
“It’s a really great situation,” says Lucas. “We’ve got something that’s a demonstrated success and it has a lot of community excitement. How to translate that community excitement into active support,” she adds, “is what we need to work on.”
INFO: Open Streets Capitola takes place Sunday, May 4 on the Capitola Esplanade from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. For more information visit www.scopenstreets.org.