Sunday Ciclovia: "Bike. Walk. Dance. Breathe."

Clearwater, Florida
Source: Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC)

Problem

The city of Clearwater initiative to stabilize downtown's East Gateway District is focusing on community-building among area residents and businesses — many of which are Hispanic. To this end, the city and the community have jointly planned annual multicultural events to bring people together in festive, social environments. Following successful family-oriented picnics in 2007 and 2008, the community wanted to experiment with a new idea for 2009.

Background

Cleveland Street, Downtown Clearwater’s “Main Street,” was the route for Sunday Ciclovia. Cleveland Street terminates at Clearwater Harbor in the background.

Image: Deborah Lyons

In 2002, Clearwater expanded its downtown redevelopment area to encompass the East Gateway District, a distressed neighborhood standing as gateway to the city's reemerging central business district. The East Gateway's decline began in the 1970s with the exodus of residents and businesses to rapidly expanding suburban locations in Tampa Bay. Soon thereafter, regional growth in hotel and related tourist industries and a corresponding need for a low-wage, reliable and flexible labor force created a favorable environment for Mexican migrants. With an inventory of low-cost rental housing and proximity to jobs and transit, East Gateway became another type of gateway — an international gateway for newly arrived migrants, predominantly from the Hidalgo region of Mexico. Today, East Gateway remains a first stop for individuals and families relocating from Mexico to Pinellas County.

City efforts to stabilize East Gateway continued with the 2008 adoption of a multi-pronged action program with a strong public involvement component. To supplement traditional public involvement methods and capture the attention of a larger, more representative community, the city holds fun annual events with a "get involved" message. There is a concerted effort to make Hispanic residents feel welcome at these and other "outreach" events by producing bilingual invitations and creating event themes that are appealing to Hispanic families. As a street event, Sunday Ciclovia had the added benefit of involving and promoting East Gateway businesses — Hispanic and non-Hispanic — a which are also integral to neighborhood advancement.

Solution

Clearwater hosted its first Sunday Ciclovia on April 26, 2009. The inspiration for the event came from Bogota, Colombia. A Spanish word meaning "bike path", Ciclovia first began in the 1970s, and over the past forty years, it has become a core element of Bogota culture. The city now closes over 70 miles of its streets to motorized vehicles for five hours every Sunday and holiday and opens them to bicyclists, walkers, runners, dancers, and individuals participating in various other activities along the route. Since the early 2000s, Ciclovia has also been held in several cities in the United States, where it is rapidly gaining widespread popularity.

description

Image: Braulio Grajales

Though initially intended as a community building program for the East Gateway neighborhood, Clearwater's Sunday Ciclovia idea quickly found support in city offices and downtown organizations. It grew in scale shortly after, becoming a two-mile route extending from East Gateway to the downtown core. Publicity was provided by city departments and local businesses, and the police were willing to flex their hours at no cost to the event.

Results

"My wife and kids enjoyed riding our bikes right down the middle of the street. We made some new friends, saw some old friends and got to say hello to some of our elected officials. It was a nice Sunday afternoon. As we hold more of these events attendance should grow, businesses should grow, downtown interest should grow and our goal of a safe, fun, vibrant downtown will be reached. From one downtown Clearwater family... thanks!"

Image: Deborah Lyons

Though initially held on March 1, 2009 as a kickoff event for Florida Bike Month, the event had to be cancelled due to inclement weather. It was rescheduled for late April. This date was less ideal because the temperatures are not as comfortable in April, the available police flex hours had been allocated for Spring Break, and the advertising and promotions budget, needed to inform the public of the new date, had been depleted from the earlier effort. Despite setbacks and less than ideal conditions, the city persevered. An event day survey, conducted by a downtown organization, indicated that more events like Sunday Ciclovia were desired and on a more frequent basis.

Comments have been positive and people seemed to enjoy themselves. However, several factors seemed to influence how people participated in the event. Minimal pedestrian comforts (i.e. shade, street enclosure, public space, etc.) in the pre-determined East Gateway neighborhood gave little reason for people to linger there. Given the fact that the route spanned a neighborhood on the rise in the more established downtown core, people tended to congregate in that amenity rich space. There were, however, three activity centers spread evenly throughout the route. Though no counts of pedestrians were taken, the expansive street right-of-way along most of the route may have dispersed the crowd enough to give the impression of a thinner crowd even though it seemed well attended and very well received.

Clearwater's Sunday Ciclovia program was notable for its perseverance and its sensitivity to differences in culture. Event planners found it important to maintain the title, "Ciclovia", for cultural recognition, and information was distributed in both English and Spanish.

A track stand competition was held during Sunday Ciclovia at an East Gateway bike shop.

Image: Lisa Flaherty

Future events could make use of volunteers to monitor traffic. Thirty-three police officers and aids staffed the two-mile course, though afterward it was recognized that 20 percent less staff would have been sufficient. The perceived poor attendance (roughly estimated at 400 persons over the six hour event) coupled with demands on city resources will likely preclude a solely city-sponsored Ciclovia in the future. If Ciclovia were to occur again, event organizers say that event planning will need to be initiated by the community, perhaps in partnership with the city. With community ownership, pride, and control of the event, the prospects for community building and event attendance will be stronger. In the meantime, the city and East Greenway residents will continue to collaborate on other ways of celebrating the neighborhood's diverse cultures.

Contact

Tammy Vrana, AICP Community Development Coordinator
Economic Development & Housing Department
City of Clearwater
112 South Osceola Avenue
P.O. Box 4748
Clearwater, Florida 33758-4748
Phone: 727.562.4047, Fax: 727.562.4075, Mobile: 727.415.1200

Monica Leap, monicaleap@gmail.com

Filed in: Promoting Walking and Bicycling, Case Studies

Back to Search Results