The first ciclovías, or open streets attempts, occurred in Bogotá, Colombia in 1974 and 1976. Today many open streets projects are popping up throughout the U.S. A ciclovía, otherwise known as closing a stretch of public streets to vehicle motorists so that visitors and residents can enjoy physically active play and socialize, can boost community health and engagement. A youth-led committee in Salinas thought the city would benefit from an open streets project and launched Ciclovía Salinas in 2013.

Open Streets Project initiatives temporarily close streets to automobile traffic to allow people to use them for walking, bicycling, dancing, playing and socializing. With approximately 100 initiatives in North America, Open Streets programs are becoming increasingly common in cities looking to achieve environmental, social, and economic and public health goals. Unique among Open Streets projects, Ciclovía Salinas is a youth-led initiative.

A diverse coalition of individuals and organizations team up in a variety of ways to make Ciclovía Salinas successful. The youth planning committee enlists the help of government, foundations, media outlets, nonprofits, neighborhood associations, faith-based entities, as well as large, medium and small businesses.

Provided in their own words, Salinas’ youth identified five impacts:

  1. Salinas for too long has been viewed negatively and seen only through the media’s portrayal, while many valuable assets in the community go unnoticed. Youth want to show others that there is more to Salinas than the routinely depicted violence. It is a vibrant community, and it is our hope that people will not fear the city but learn to love it the way residents do. At Ciclovía Salinas, people can see it is a safe community.
  2. Ciclovía Salinas promotes health and well-being; it allows residents an accessible space to practice physical activity. There are not very many safe, open spaces for residents to exercise and this provides a unique, free opportunity for the entire family to have fun while doing physical activity.
  3. The event route, East to West Alisal Street, has been strategically chosen because it bridges two historically segregated parts of the city. It is quite common for people from the East side to have never stepped foot in downtown or South Salinas and vice versa. The idea is to unite the community and to gradually, overtime encourage people to feel safe and welcomed on either side of town.
  4. Ciclovías also attract tourism and stimulate the local economy. The idea is to have people from different parts of the city and its surroundings explore businesses along the route, which in turn boosts the economy.
  5. Lastly, because this is the only Open Streets Project that is youth-led, it is deeply rooted in youth empowerment. The goal of Ciclovía is to foster youth leadership development and demonstrate that youth have the ability to accomplish anything they set their minds to. There are so many talented youth in our community and we want to allow them to find a means to express their love for their community and the opportunity to make a difference.

Thirteen high school students and a hand full of college students coordinated the first Annual Ciclovía Salinas in 2013. The event featured 35 community partner organizations and 2,500 attendees. The second year, more than 50 students from four different high schools formed the planning team with a youth captain and coordinator for each committee, with more than 50 community partner organizations participating and 3,000 people attending.

Volunteers run every aspect of the event from the disc jockey playing music to the professionals providing physical activity classes, and agencies with informational booths. Each event day also relies on more than 100 youth volunteers.

Along the route are free activities such as open-air salsa, baile folklorico, and Zumba dancing; bike polo demonstrations; CrossFit activities; hula hoop games; face painting; kids’ zone with tricycles and the educational “Wheelie Mobilee;” cheerleading clinic; football game, bookmobile; plus live music, art, and more.

A free valet parking station is made available during the event for bicycles, bike trailers and strollers. This makes it easier to stop and patronize local businesses along the route. Youth communicate directly with business owners, whom due to an appropriate event permit, are allowed to setup on the street.

Ciclovía Salinas received a 2013 Transportation Excellence Award from the Transportation Agency for Monterey County (TAMC). TAMC board members and others also expressed their eagerness for more Ciclovía Salinas dates to be scheduled. The Monterey County Commission on the Status of Women recognizes the value of Open Streets in improving quality of life. In March 2014, the commission honored one of the Ciclovía Salinas Youth Leaders as an Outstanding Woman of Monterey County.

City leaders caught the vision of this youth-led initiative and now provide tangible support to help youth turn their dream into reality. Ciclovía Salinas maintains support from the Salinas City Council, which was unanimous in approving an allocation of $5,000 for the initiative. The cost to the city for the first annual event was $5,000 and for the second, larger event was $10,000, plus some in-kind services. The youth’s success in securing contributions of financial sponsorships from two local hospitals, local and statewide foundations, local businesses, and the Monterey Salinas Transit, plus significant in-kind donations and the numerous barricade and other volunteers has been the key to keeping costs down.

This initiative is paying off by inspiring participating youth to become more involved with the city. Several alumni have become members of the Parks and Recreation, Traffic and Transportation and Library commissions.

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Originally posted at the League of California Cities.