San Jose kicked off its first ViaVelo Saturday with the opening of seven blocks of San Fernando Street downtown to bicycle riders, skaters, and pedestrians who enjoyed five hours of car-free space. Several hundred people showed up, many of them families and the burgeoning young fixed-gear crowd, riding bikes and socializing on a brilliant spring day.
San Jose joins San Francisco and San Mateo county (whose Streets Alive was mostly rained out last month) in hosting the increasingly popular events, which are modeled on the enormous ciclovia in Bogota, Colombia. San Francisco has held three of the nine Sunday Streets of 2010 and Oakland will premiere its first Oaklavia on June 27th.
Organizers of ViaVelo were upbeat about the turnout and the day’s events, suggesting that if there is enough positive public feedback, the city would like to make the events a tradition next year.
"It’s nice not
having to worry about cars, to see families with their kids out, to see
families happy and having fun, rather than worrying about how to cross
the street or if it’s safe to ride a bike," said John Brazil, Bike Coordinator for the San Jose Department of Transportation. "I know that all the
organizers and many of the sponsors would like to see this continue, so
hopefully the community will tell their elected officials they like it
and it’s a priority."
As one of the primary community partners involved in organizing ViaVelo, the San Jose Bike Party led various feeder rides to and from the event. Several rides from downtown went to points of interest along San Jose’s extensive trail system.
"I love the fact
that San Jose is becoming a bike city and putting so much focus on it," said Ian Emmons, a Bike Party organizer attending ViaVelo with his son. "I think we’ve got a ways to go before we catch up with Portland and 7
miles of closed streets, but we’re working on it."
At numerous points along the route, community and business sponsors set up booths to give away bike materials or offer assistance for bicycle maintenance. Near the Macafrana tent, Domenick Guida of Behind Bars Inc., a custom bike fabrication company based in San Jose, said he was happy to see a good mixture of the bicycling community out together for an event that promoted more cycling in downtown San Jose. Before building and restoring bicycles, Guida had built custom cars and he said many custom car builders appreciate his bicycles the most.
"A lot of guys can relate to how much work goes into this.
They know what goes into it and they notice the little details," he said.
Guida said he wished he had received more notice about the event from the sponsors, but assumed next years ViaVelos would be more inclusive. When asked how his work fit within the traditional bicycle advocacy efforts, he said, "It’s
all the same thing, they’ve all got two wheels."
One of the more surprising sights was the specter of four Mormon missionaries riding custom fixed-gear bicycles in their standard church attire. One of the missionaries, Dan Bishop, said he had been inspired to ride fixies after seeing bike messengers in San Francisco.
"Most times we get around faster than in cars. We have bus passes, but we
usually ride," he said.
ViaVelo’s founding sponsor was Mattson Technology, whose CEO Dave
Dutton, extolled the value of cycling at a press conference during the
"Why is bicycling important? It unites families, it brings
us all together, it helps us and the environment at the same time," said
"San Jose has done a lot of work in helping make it bike
friendly. We now want to take advantage of that and make use of that so
they can justify and do more."
Also at the press conference were San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, Councilmembers Rose
Herrera and Sam Liccardo, and Supervisors Dave Cortese and Ken Yeager. Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO Carl Guardino said, "It’s nice to see so many people
pedaling what we preach, about getting out of four wheels and onto two
Standing behind the podium in his bicycle racing socks, Guardino tied the ViaVelo event in with last week’s Bike to work Day and the upcoming publicity for cycling that will be generated by the Amgen Tour of California race.
change it from just ‘Bike to Work Day’ to ‘Bike to Work Every Day,’ then
we can change Silicon Valley around," he said.