Bay Area Cities Open Streets This Sunday for World Health Day

Streets_Alive_banner.jpg

Numerous Bay Area cities are joining municipalities around the world this Sunday, April 11th, to embrace the health and community benefits of ciclovias -- or car-free events that encourage walking, biking and physical activity -- as part of the World Health Organization's 1,000 Cities 1,000 Lives, World Health Day 2010.

Like the incredibly popular Sunday Streets events in San Francisco the past three years, city leaders from South San Francisco to Redwood City have designated this Sunday as Streets Alive, when they will close streets to cars and open them up as public space.

"We need to build exercise back into people's daily activities. When people are used to doing everything by car it's hard to get them to imaging moving in a different way," said San Mateo County Health Department Chief Jean Fraser. Fraser said events like this are important for connecting physical activity and the built environment, which is relatively far from the mainstream thinking about health.

"One of the interesting things we find is that people tend to focus more on food and less on exercise," said Fraser. "If push came to shove in really helping people's health, if you could only choose one, the science is pretty compelling that exercise is more important."

Added Fraser, "When you make exercise something that happens as a consequence of doing some other daily activity, then you can meet those daily requirements just by moving yourself through the day."

Cities in San Mateo County didn't settle on a single route for this year, so the events will be focused locally, with each participating city coordinating events and programs on the routes they have selected. The events will run from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and will vary by city. Organizers said they are hopeful that if this year's events are successful and draw an audience, they will be able to expand the ciclovia next year to be on a unified route through many more San Mateo cities. The most obvious street for that would be El Camino Real.

"We would like to open El Camino Real to ciclovia," said San Mateo County Supervisor Carole Groom, whose office has been instrumental in organizing Streets Alive events. Groom said she hopes the foundation laid by this years events will lead to "a much bigger, signature event" for April 2011.

Groom said she was in New York City by coincidence the day that they closed Broadway to cars and opened it up as a pedestrian mall in the heart of Times Square. Over the course of three days, she saw how quickly people's perceptions of the space changed.

"At first, people didn't know what the heck it was. On the second day,  people were having coffee and using their laptops, next day street vendors were selling sandwiches," she said, arguing that if it can work in the heart of Manhattan, it can work in San Mateo County.

"There's no reason, I think, why we can't do this on a more regular basis."

Sunday Streets in San Francisco

In San Francisco, the second Sunday Streets of the year will wind through Golden Gate Park and along the Great Highway, where several miles of roadway will be opened to cyclists, skaters, and pedestrians from 10 am to 3 pm. See the route map below and be sure to get out on your favorite mode of non-motorized transportation this Sunday.

Great_Highway_route_1.jpg

Watch the World Health Organization 1,000 Cities 1,000 Lives promotional video here: