Sunday morning, May 5th arrived in El Paso with beautiful blue skies, a temperature of 60 degrees and little or no wind. It was a perfect day to “Take the Parks to The People”. Ciclovia is a concept born in Bogota, Columbia just over twenty years ago. Now on any Sunday morning one can find as many as a million people in selected streets of Bogota. Ciclovia is also part of Bogotá’s push to promote public transportation and has increased sales of bicycles nearly 1,000% in the last eight years. In 2003 Ciudad Juarez started a similar program and soon had as many as 60,000 people participating on Sunday mornings, but a change in city administration brought this to an abrupt end just over two years ago. In 2005 the idea of having a Ciclovia in El Paso was born. Then after a two year struggle and many hours of hard work El Paso has become the first city in the United States to boldly host a Ciclovia program.
Outreach Coordinators Durwood Mayfield and Sherman Phillips from Lubbock were fortunate enough to attend the first ever Ciclovia in the United States. Councilman Beto O’Rourke, Mayor John Cook, Shamori Whitt, members of each department involved and the entire city of El Paso should be extremely proud of the “First Ever Ciclovia”.
The El Paso Police Department was present with their Motorcycle Patrol, their Bicycle Patrol and several patrol cars including a really sharp looking Ford Mustang patrol car. The El Paso Fire Department was also on hand with a small bus to give rides back to the starting area for any that walked, biked, skated or skateboarded farther than they realized and needed a ride back. They also had several paramedics on hand but they were not needed as this event unfolded into a very safe and fun chance for the citizens of El Paso to have approximately 10 miles of streets closed to vehicular traffic.
It gave a whole new meaning to the old saying “Go play in the streets”. The El Paso Parks and Recreation Department also deserves a hearty round of applause for their hard work as well as the El Paso Street Department whose responsibility it was to place all of the barricades, cones and barrels to direct all the vehicular traffic away from the “People in the Street Parks”.
Mayfield and Phillips carried their bikes from Lubbock to El Paso and were lucky enough to ride the entire length of closed streets. As they rode they were able to talk to other participants and give them bookmarks showing the Texas bike laws. They distributed over 800 between the two of them. This in no way was the total number of participants as they only saw a small portion of the participants. Even though the route was hilly there was a large number of a cyclists, some dressed in their El Paso Bicycle Club jerseys and on their best bikes, others dressed in jeans and on their only bike and several others who were dressed in cycling apparel. The groups rode together and all seemed to be enjoying the opportunity to ride.
One of the oldest riders they saw on the summit of Scenic Drive was eighty year old former councilman Mr. Fink and the youngest navigating under his own power was a three-year-old young man on a small wooden push bike that is operated by sitting on it and propelling it along by pushing with his feet on the pavement.
After a trip to the turn around at the entrance of McKelligon Canyon and back to the starting point it was time for a ride over the mountain and down the other side to Lower Lea Park for the closing ceremonies to be led by Mayor John Cook and city Councilman Beto O’Rourke. There were four TV stations and numerous dignitaries on hand for the closing ceremony which was also well attended. After a balloon release to signify the close of the first Ciclovia in the United States it was time to ride back over the mountain to the starting point of the day’s events. Every person they spoke with expressed their thanks to the city of El Paso and to all of the sponsors that made it possible for the City to “Bring the Parks to the People”.
The consensus of city officials was, “if the remainder of the events scheduled for May go as well as this one and continue to be as well received, there would be the possibility of having them all summer”. It was their pleasure to meet Mayor Cook, Councilman O’Rourke, Shamori Whitt of the City Manager’s office, Don Disney with EL Paso ISD, Mike Rosson with The Bicycle Company, Penny Wheat with Texas Round-Up Affiliates Program, Matthew Ramirez with the Safety Department of UPS Southwest Region and a host of others who made Ciclovia El Paso 2007 a success. They also expressed a special thank you to Jacquelyn Wehmeyer for all of her help and introductions. Mayfield and Phillips comment was “El Paso, congratulation on a job well done and good luck on the future events of the Ciclovia”.