Event lets El Paso enjoy the outdoors — Streets close for biking, hiking

Cyclists, Rollerbladers and pedestrians will have free rein on some Central El Paso streets Sunday when the areas are closed to vehicles and El Pasoans are encouraged to get out and enjoy the sunshine.

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Published May 5, 2007 by The El Paso Times
By Tammy Fonce-Olivas

Cyclists, Rollerbladers and pedestrians will have free rein on some Central El Paso streets Sunday when the areas are closed to vehicles and El Pasoans are encouraged to get out and enjoy the sunshine.

Ciclovia — a program that will temporarily close more than seven miles of some of El Paso's most scenic roads to promote recreation and community — starts this weekend and will continue every Sunday in May.

From 7 to 11 a.m., Rim Road, Scenic Drive, McKelligon Canyon Road and sections of Alabama Street will be closed to motor vehicles to allow for public recreation, including bike riding, skating and hiking.

Central El Paso resident Enzo Baez said he and his friends on Sunday plan to cycle their way through the entire Cicolvia route.

"A lot of people my age complain about there not being anything to do here, so when things like this pop up, we need to support them," said Baez, 32.

Baez said he learned about the event through a flier distributed at Franklin Mountain Cyclery in Northeast El Paso, where he works.

According to city officials, the event is meant to be more than a temporary space to exercise. It is also expected to give El Pasoans a new opportunity to get to know each other.

Mayor John Cook, city representatives, members of the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Round-Up Health and Fitness Initiative will have a ceremony at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at Tom Lea Park at 1203 Schuster to recognize El Paso's first Ciclovia.

The state officials are expected to present the mayor and the City Council with the Governor's Cup Award for this innovative event. Gov. Rick Perry has recognized El Paso's Ciclovia as an official Texas Roundup Fitness Initiative.

"El Paso is one of the pioneers in bringing this exciting event to the United States," said Julie Baldwin, a spokeswoman for the city.

Baldwin said the concept of Ciclovia began in Bogotá, Colombia, more than 20 years ago, when the city reserved selected streets for pedestrian use only. Today, she said, nearly a million people fill the roads Sunday mornings.

The idea has been copied by other cities worldwide. In 2003, Juárez introduced its own Ciclovia. More than 60,000 people participated each Sunday, but the program was eventually discontinued, Baldwin said.

Two years ago, the City Council decided to bring Ciclovia to El Paso. The first event was set to take place in September, but was postponed until spring.

South-West city Rep. Beto O'Rourke said in August, when the City Council decided to postpone the event, that the delay was necessary because of flooding damage to Rim Road and McKelligon Canyon Drive, two of the main streets that were to be part of the Ciclovia route.

Joe Perez, owner of the El Paso Bike Center in Central El Paso, said he's excited about the event.

"It's a good idea. It's very good idea," Perez said. "There are a lot of people who are afraid to ride (bicycles) because they are afraid of the cars."

Perez said what he likes best about the Ciclovia concept is that it promotes a "sense of community."

Central resident Zenaida Servin said she was not opposed to the city trying new ways to entice people to get outdoors. But she doesn't like the fact that the Ciclovia route will pass the front of her neighborhood church, Our Lady of Guadalupe, at 2709 Alabama.

The church has several Sunday services, including four that may be affected by the city's outdoor program, she said.

Servin said the temporary street closings would probably force parishioners to find alternative routes to church. "That or they are going to have to give us time to cross" Alabama, she said.

Servin is particularly concerned about elderly parishioners, who because of their age may view walking across Alabama as a hardship.

"Some people can't walk that far," she said.

Baldwin said city officials have notified businesses and homeowners along the Ciclovia route about the event and have tried to work with the residents to win their support and to respond to any concerns.

Tammy Fonce-Olivas may be reached at tfonce@elpasotimes.com; 546-6362.