Thousands of bikes, skateboards, and rollerblades replaced cars this Sunday during the 10th Síclovía in downtown San Antonio. The YMCA of Greater San Antonio’s signature bi-annual health and wellness event drew an estimated 65,000 people, according to organizers, and provided a different perspective of the city many know well by car.

This year the route was slightly longer than recent Síclovías – stretching 3.4 miles from Maverick Park near the Pearl to the Southside’s Roosevelt Park – but it took place during a shorter period of time, from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.  Organizers were expecting more than 70,000 participants this year to take advantage of perfect weather and a car-free environment. The next Síclovía will be on Sunday, Sept. 25.

YMCA and City officials took to the podium Sunday morning at City Hall to laud the event. Sponsor representatives and other prominent guests such as Spurs player Bruce Bowen were also in attendance and gave brief remarks.

“I don’t know about you, but when I am walking on a street or riding my bike, the perspective changes …and that’s what we really hope you’ll enjoy today, the perspective of seeing our city in a new and exciting way,” said Sandy Morander, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater San Antonio.

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) highlighted the unique route through town that Síclovía took this year that took residents and visitors near and through some of the most popular areas of downtown, showcasing the vibrant center city.

“This is the first time (Síclovía is) truly cutting through our downtown and we’re really excited about that, because we are really accessing our urban core,” Treviño said.

“This is really what the city is moving towards, a beautiful recreational space where our people can freely move about,” added Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5). “Siclovía is one of the ways that we are moving our city towards a Vision Zero program, (which strives to) have zero fatalities on our streets, whether you’re a cyclist, a pedestrian or a motorist.”

H-E-B’s new downtown market on South Flores Street was a popular pit stop for attendees in need of a snack or thirst quencher. In addition to putting on cooking demonstrations in the parking lot, water and healthy snacks such as granola and fruit were handed out to passersby.

All the featured Reclovía areas on Maverick, Travis, and Roosevelt parks served as additional stops for attendees and included scheduled wellness activities as well as access to restrooms, water, and first aid stations. Unofficial pop-up parties and events took over other parking lots and front yards throughout Southtown.

SA2020 took over Roosevelt Park, providing games, Zumba, and yoga for all age groups. Outreach Coordinator Shelby Seier explained that one of SA2020’s main goals is to teach people about their cause areas through different activities.

“We wanted to turn this Reclovía into an activation space, so that people have a chance to activate their mind, body, and soul with the help of several vendors,” Seier said.

Camp to Success, Green Spaces Alliance, and the Mayor’s Fitness Council were but a few of the dozens of organizations that set up booths in the Reclovías, highlighting the environment as well as health and wellness initiatives. On the corner of 6th and Broadway streets, the DoSeum, the Woodlawn Theater, and the San Antonio Public Library also set up stations.

With so many options to choose from, participants had no trouble finding an array of vendors to supply food and drinks in addition to activities for the whole family to enjoy. Families, friends, and other groups came together to enjoy a day of endless possibilities.

Christina Reyes, 30, who has lived in San Antonio her whole life, said she didn’t have opportunities like Síclovía growing up. Reyes brought her nephew, who gets to enjoy the city streets with a new perspective and see the advantages of a healthy lifestyle.

“My nephew gets out here, he gets to see, he wants to ride his bike and get up. I’m glad they’re giving out healthy snacks too, we’ve already had bananas, water, and granola bars, it really promotes health a lot,” Reyes said.

Reyes wasn’t the only one who came with loved ones. Attendee Maya Guajardo, came with her whole family. Guajardo commented that she has seen an increase in turnout both in vendors and participants when compared to past Síclovía events.

“I think they should do Síclovía more often. I think they should do it every every three months, because events like this bring more people out to be active,” Reyes added.

Many agree. In my own hometown of Guadalajara, Mexico we have our own cycling tradition called the Vía RecreaActiva, which has been around for 11 years.

But our initiative is not just a special, bi-annual event. The city, with the help of COMUDE (Consejo Municipal del Deporte de Guadalajara), the Municipal Sports Council of Guadalajara, closes down some of the city’s major avenues every single Sunday without fail from 8 a.m-2 p.m. Throngs of citizens pedal around the city on their bikes, jog through major roundabouts connecting the city, and take part in wellness activities that stretch out more than 28 kilometers (17 miles). In addition to city staff, medical assistants, firefighters, and police officers, about 30 of the city’s universities collaborate to provide student volunteers to make the event happen every week without further cost.

Despite Guadalajara’s reputation of a congested city due to heavy traffic and pollution, we have a booming bike culture that has proved to be a transformative experience. La Minerva, the city’s largest roundabout which connects our city to most major streets, is a part of the shutdown every Sunday.

Weekly cycling events take place in other major cities around the world as well, such as in Bogotá, and Rio de Janeiro. Cyclists take over the busiest, biggest, and most important streets. Bogotá’s Ciclovía, which has been around for more than 30 years, closes down 70 miles of downtown streets.

If Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city with a population of more than 1.5 million can do it every Sunday, San Antonio can find a way to do it, too.

Further steps should be taken to encourage bicycling and open up more street space to pedestrians as part of an effort to create a healthier, more livable city. San Antonio needs more public space initiatives that get people moving and events like Síclovía help us visualize how cities should be made for the people – not cars.

When asked if events like Síclovía can become more recurring events, Morander said that putting on more than two Síclovías a year would be beyond the YMCA’s capacity.

“It costs us around $150,000 to put one of these events on, but we continue to have conversations with the City of San Antonio to see if in the future there is a way to expand that, because there is a growing desire,” Morander said.

“We’re exploring all opportunities, but right now we are committed to twice a year,” Morander added.

If Síclovía is going to expand, it will need more volunteers and more sponsors to take up the challenge.

Top Image: An estimated 65,000 people gathered during the 10th Síclovía in downtown San Antonio.  Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

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Rocío Guenther has called San Antonio home for more than a decade. Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, she bridges two countries, two cultures, and two languages. Rocío has demonstrated experience in...