For a single Sunday in September, Broadway the commuter street became Broadway the community street. For seven glorious hours, a record 70,209 people made the most of it. Síclovía #9, back to its original route from Alamo Plaza to Lion's Field, with an offshoot to Dignowity Park, did not disappoint.
Low humidity and temperatures in the 60s made for a refreshingly cool morning, giving the 5k race and walk participants perfect conditions for the 8 a.m. start in Alamo Plaza. By 10 a.m. Broadway began to fill with bikes, the side streets crammed with cars that brought people downtown from all over the city for the day.
"It was a great day, and we had a great turnout," said Lisa Ramirez, vice president of strategic partnerships at the YMCA of Greater San Antonio, the event's organizer. "We've grown by several thousand people today. Word is getting out. People were excited it was back on Broadway, friends are telling friends, we worked hard to have good social media around the event and that is working. People are sharing posts and inviting friends."
The new Síclovía mobile app seemed widely used Sunday, making it easy for friends to find friends along the route, to post photos, exchange messages, and track the activities schedule.
After a long, hot September, perfect weather in advance of Sunday evening's Super Blood Moon and lunar eclipse helped. The crowd continued to build steadily toward noon and beyond. Wave after wave of San Antonians moved north and south along Broadway, and east on McCullough Avenue and Nolan Street into Dignowity and Lockwood Parks, both alive with activities. The route was a spectacular mix of seniors, young adults, and children. Often as not, it was the pets who stole the show, with small dogs peeking out of backpacks or ferried in dog trailers. The big dogs pulled owners on skateboards, trotted alongside bikes, or just pranced and looked showy.
Check out the timelapse video below courtesy of Nicolas Rivard/Overland Partners, taken at Dignowity Park. The Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association, Dignowity Doers, and Overland Partners hosted an interactive booth for community input on the future of the Dignowity and Lockwood Parks.
The congestion that brought people traffic to a halt in Southtown at the previous Síclovía in March was somehow more manageable on Broadway. While Síclovía is no place for fast cyclists, there was ample room for people of all shapes, sizes and skill levels, including the smallest cyclists on colorful starter bikes sporting training wheels.
Who would want to go fast with all the distractions lining both sides of Broadway? Presenting sponsor H-E-B drew crowds to its healthy cooking classes, and platinum sponsor Humana's workers danced in the street under the expressway around the company's vintage baby blue pickup truck, handing out free water bottles. There was Body Flow under U.S. 281, Zumba at Alamo Plaza and Lion's Field, Body Combat and Hip Hop at Maverick Park, and Boot Camp, Mat Pilates, Yoga and Belly Dancing in between. There was the Women's 55+ dance at Dignowity Park.
Afternoon temperatures finally reached 90 degrees, and the crowds thinned in the last hour or so. At 3 p.m. another Síclovía was in the books. Come Monday, Broadway once again will become a busy commuter street. If there was a common sentiment heard Sunday, it was a desire to see Síclovía happen more than twice a year. Right now, it's staged the last week in September and the last week in March, unless Easter forces it to wait a week as it will in 2016.
Why can't it happen more frequently? In a word: cost.
"It's definitely budget," the YMCA's Ramirez said Sunday evening. "Each event costs the YMCA just over $150,000, so we are spending more than $300,000 a year right now. We are fortunate because we have partners like H-E-B and Humana."
The Síclovía app, I noticed, has a "Donate Now" button, also available on the website.
"If the 70,000 people on the street would just give a dollar each that would be almost half the cost of an event, Ramirez said, musing about ways to finance Síclovía with greater frequency. "That would be huge for us. We've talked about doing special fundraising events, but those also take manpower. If participants would just donate, we could cover more cost. We also could use a number of smaller partners to join our big partners."
Many participants undoubtedly would donate to make Síclovía a more frequent event. Holding it once a month would cost $1.8 million annually. That seems like a worthy, longer-term goal.
Meanwhile, Centro San Antonio continues to convene a working group of private sector interests along Broadway to discuss how the commuter street can truly become a community street, not one closed to vehicle traffic, but one that offers continuous pedestrian sidewalks, more shade trees, slower traffic, and bike lanes unimpeded by parked cars. Broadway may not be wide enough to become a Complete Street, but it surely can become much more than it is now. Sunday gave 70,209 people, according to the YMCA's count, a glimpse of the possibilities.