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San Mateo County’s “Streets Alive! Parks Alive!” Returns (Mostly In Parks)

South San Francisco opened up a section of downtown Grand Avenue to people for last year's "Streets Alive! Parks Alive!," though the event continues to mostly take place in parks. Photo: San Mateo County News

Editor’s note: Today we welcome Andrew Boone, co-founder of the Peninsula Transportation Alternatives Blog, as our new reporter providing coverage in San Mateo County.

In its fourth year, 16 cities in San Mateo County will take part in this weekend’s Streets Alive! Parks Alive!, an event aimed at getting people outdoors with programmed activities. While most of the events will be held in parks, a few blocks in Millbrae and Burlingame will be temporarily closed to car traffic and opened up for people to walk, bike, skate, dance, and socialize.

Image: Streets Alive! Parks Alive!

“Streets Alive!” was initiated by SM County Supervisor Carole Groom in 2010 as a way to promote community and physical activity, and the event has grown from an initial ten cities to 16 this year. “Parks Alive!” was added to the event’s name in 2012 — and it’s more accurate, given that the event mostly takes place in parks, unlike popular “Ciclovia”-style events such as San Francisco’s Sunday Streets, which are held primarily on the public right-of-way and have spread to hundreds of cities around the world.

Eric Pawlowsky, an aide for Supervisor Groom who helps organize the events, said the relative cost of closing longer sections of urban streets to car traffic has limited cities’ ability to expand beyond park space. Still, he argued that the three blocks in Millbrae and one block in Burlingame that will be opened up for people for Streets Alive! in the spread-out suburbs is substantial. “We don’t define length of street closure as a factor of success,” he said. “Even closing just one or two blocks, when you look at it in terms of square footage, that’s a park.”

Cities will be holding myriad activities coordinated with other ongoing events, from Zumba, Tai Chi, and Hula at the Belmont Farmer’s Market, to riding in an outrigger canoe at Foster City’s Polynesian Festival, to free bike tune-ups from REI at the Pulgas Water Temple at the weekly “Bicycle Sunday” event on Cañada Road.

Check out a map of activities for “Streets Alive! Parks Alive!” throughout the county after the break.

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More Cities to Join San Mateo County’s “Streets Alive” This Year

San Mateo County’s first Streets Alive event may have had bad luck with the weather last April, but many Peninsula cities are eager to get another shot at celebrating car-free streets with an even bigger event in 2011.

“Even though it was rained out, it was pretty popular with residents,” said Eric Pawlowsky, an aide to San Mateo County Supervisor Carole Groom, who declared May 1 Streets Alive Day last week. “There was really some momentum there from the public.”

Thirteen cities are set to participate by allowing people to enjoy healthy activities on open streets, up from eight last year, including Belmont, Brisbane, Burlingame, Daly City, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Millbrae, North Fair Oaks, Pacifica, Redwood City, San Bruno, San Mateo, and South San Francisco.

The Peninsula region will join a global movement of cities from San Francisco to Bogotá, Colombia, where it all started, to close streets to cars and open them up to people for a Sunday afternoon. From Grand Avenue in South San Francisco to Visitacion Avenue in Brisbane to Redwood City’s Courthouse Square, residents will be able to walk, bike, sit, talk, and play in temporary sanctuaries of open public space.

Cities will have community bike rides, fitness activities, and farmers markets as part of their events, said Pawlowsky. Redwood City is said to have the largest event planned, including activities like Bollywood fitness and educational exhibits, while East Palo Alto will tie in their street opening with a Cinco de Mayo celebration.

Even with limited funds available for the budding program, some cities that can’t afford motor vehicle closures are finding creative ways to get people active, said Pawlowsky. Residents can enjoy trail walks in Pacifica, the Serramonte Fair in Daly City, and other outdoor community events in Millbrae and North Fair Oaks.

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Bay Area Cities Open Streets This Sunday for World Health Day

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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."

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