Closing the streets and opening our eyes

I’d ridden bikes with my kids through downtown Brownsville before and the experience was far from relaxing.

I’m not sure what possessed me to keep trying these bike journeys with my then two young boys in tow. Maybe because I had lived in places where families could safely ride bikes with their children; where one could calmly commute on bike or foot to work or school, enjoying the fresh air, waving to neighbors along the way. I wanted my kids to know the world from a bike and how when you are outside of a car, whether walking or biking, you experience your world up close and it comes alive.

It worked out fine while my kids were babies and toddlers, riding in a buggy attached to the back of my bike or in a baby carrier. But when they were just old enough to ride without training wheels, but not experienced enough to make safe decisions in car traffic, it became very stressful. I usually spent the rides clutching onto the back of my younger son’s bike like a mad woman, screaming threats at my older son to “Watch out! Turn now! No, the other way! STOP at the light!”

It was pretty miserable for all of us since bikes and pedestrians don’t tend to get a fair shake around here, no matter what the signs say!

So I gave up my dream of riding through town with my kids. We found safer places to ride our bikes outside of the city, until CycloBia arrived in Brownsville a few years ago! I finally experienced the joy of riding through beautiful, historic Brownsville with my then 5-year-old daughter — on our bikes! I remember the first time the streets were closed for this community event which is now a regular tradition in Brownsville, and a growing trend in cities across the country.

That first day of riding free through the streets of our town was a glorious Sunday afternoon. As we headed down a car-free 6th street, howler monkeys and macaws greeted us from the Zoo. The warm breeze rustled the palms against the bright blue sky. My daughter pointed to the “Farmers Market place” as she liked to call it, at Linear Park and the bright colored sculptures in front of the Museum of Fine Arts. Friendly police explorers, officers and volunteers waved us through intersections and around corners.

At first I was hesitant to relax, incredulous that people, not cars, really ruled the streets. But after a few hundred yards or so, I let my daughter ride up ahead on her pink bike, weaving freely back and forth across the street without a care in the world. We pulled up at Washington Park. She played near the fountain and participated in fun activities at the park making new friends with other kids. Then we took off again, now joined by more families and cyclists.

As we turned onto Elizabeth, we really got into the groove. I love the old brick buildings downtown, the old churches, the Cathedral, the New Orleans style iron balconies on the old buildings. Shoppers from Mexico walked with their carts and bags and I noticed businesses and restaurants and shops I had never seen before. We stopped in for lunch at a downtown restaurant that was smart enough to stay open on this Sunday afternoon knowing hundreds of hungry people on bikes would pass right by. We easily crossed International Blvd., a friendly man in a uniform asked us how we were enjoying the day. My daughter, usually shy with police officers, shouted out “It’s awesome!”

We looped onto the peaceful university campus, a flock of wild parrots chattered in the trees, a graceful whooping crane bowed at the edge of the Resaca. I thought to myself how lucky we are to live in this beautiful, unique place, and how being outside of a vehicle really brings your surroundings to life.

Brownsville became the first city in the Valley (south of San Antonio, actually), to close streets and invite folks out for CycloBia. The City of Brownsville, the UT School of Public Health, Healthy Communities, BISD and many other community groups and sponsors have been putting on these great events which have drawn thousands of people downtown to be active, and get a closer view of the city. I ran into a friend from Harlingen who had come with her son.

“We are always looking for fun ways to spend time together. It’s like being on vacation. These are the activities you look for in big cities, so why not here?”

I also ran into a friend whose daughter has Down syndrome. The young girl was riding in a seat behind her dad’s bike. She was smiling and waving as they rode by. There were strollers and wheelchairs as well. Like I said, the streets belonged to the people — all kinds of people — and it was beautiful.

As my daughter and I took a left turn back onto University Drive we heard music coming from a grassy area on campus, where students and faculty hosted more fun activities. My daughter’s eyes lit up at the site of colorful hula hoops and archery targets. We parked our bikes, drank some water, and raced for the hoops. We wiggled and giggled until our bellies ached, laying on the grass looking up at the clouds. It doesn’t get much better or healthier than this, because Tu Salud ¡Si Cuenta! (Your Health Matters!).


For more information on CycloBia open street events in Brownsville go to the ‘CycloBia Brownsville’ Facebook page. CycloBia events are scheduled this summer for June 10th (evening event), August 19th (evening event) and October 16th (daytime event).