Dear old friends, new friends, and future friends:
We apologize for our inability to host a Something Monday social, informational bike ride last Monday. Our Director, Robert Rivard, and I both had scheduling conflicts and a lack of a plan.
But fear not! This was not the end of Something Monday, just a minor pause. This coming Monday, Aug. 26, we’ve been graced with the opportunity to tour Main Plaza, “The Heart of the City,” with Bike World’s Bonnie Simons and Main Plaza Conservancy (MPC)’s Ashley Quinn.
Let’s start to gather this Monday, 6:15 p.m. at the Blue Star Arts Complex B-cycle station at 1414 S. Alamo St. and we’ll depart at 6:30 p.m. to South Flores Street (avoiding the seemingly endless construction in the area) up towards Main Plaza. Budget a little extra time to get there if street crews are working on the roadway and detours are still in effect.
Main Plaza is a short, 1.5 mile ride away. As usual, we’ll leave it up to a casual majority rule as to where we meet up afterwards for “drinks” (alcoholic beverages are optional). All ages, experience levels, and bicycle styles are welcome. Our partners at San Antonio B-cycle will ensure a full station of bikes for rent.
An RSVP is not required, but a “going” response to our Facebook Event Page (Something Monday Vol. V: The Four Cs of Main Plaza) is greatly appreciated.
Also, keep your eyes peeled for some fancy new B-cycles at the Blue Star station on Monday …
So what’s the big deal about Main Plaza? Well, you’ll just have to join us to find out – or you could just Google it, but that seems a bit … boring, right? Might be better to get an in-person tour of the city’s first plaza from local experts, no?
Well, to whet your appetite, Main Plaza is home to the oldest operational sanctuary in North America, San Fernando Cathedral, and the oldest municipality building in Texas, the Bexar County Courthouse – the “Four C’s” are all there: Cathedral, county, city, and, thanks to the MPC, conservancy. Though there is a lot of “old” in that sentence, there’s also a lot of new in the plaza.
Unlike Alamo Plaza or many other public spaces downtown (*cough* the River Walk), Main Plaza – while interesting to some tourists – is really more for the residents of San Antonio, said Quinn. The functions of the surrounding buildings – offices, courthouses, city hall, local business – are to serve the citizens of San Antonio.
While there are tours and exhibits within the plaza which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors a year, San Fernando also is an active parish that welcomes 5,000 members a week for weekend Masses. According to its website, San Fernando was founded in 1731 and hosts “over 900 baptisms, 100 weddings, 100 funerals … Symphonies, concerts, and television specials are but a few of the special events held in the cathedral regularly.” The cathedral itself was completed in 1749.
Find out more when Simons leads our tour around and through the cathedral. She is co-vice president of the Professional Tour Guide Association of San Antonio and naturally works closely with Bike World co-owner Bill Simons, her husband, and San Antonio Bike Share, the non-profit that operates San Antonio B-cycle.
Simons said has been an avid cyclist for about 40 years, but mainly as a “utilitarian rider,” as her husband says. Like many urbanists, she uses her bike to visit friends and run errands – smaller trips. Simons has a special passion for the Spanish Missions and cathedrals and is eager to share her knowledge with Something Monday riders – utilitarian, recreational, professional, newbies.
MPC Programs Manager Ashley Quinn will be guiding us through a historical and contemporary overview of the plaza and what it is the MPC does to preserve that history while engaging the public to learn, play, and relax on its grounds. (And by the way: Yes, Quinn confirmed, people ARE allowed to play in and fully enjoy the fountains.)
“The beautiful thing about this space – what was so attractive to me … is that this has been the urban core of San Antonio for about 300 years,” she said. “Technically, 291 years.”
A plaque in the Plaza (on the cathedral wall) marks the literal, geographic center of San Antonio. “The space is really unique because historically, this is the place where people came to hear music, meet vendors, trade, (etc.),” Quinn said. “And that’s the same structure we want to follow in modern times … Over the past six years or so we (the MPC) have become innovators.”
Main Plaza, Quin said, was one of the first downtown public venues that started hosting free outdoor movies, street musicians, and activities to engage the public space.
Former Mayor Phil Hardberger paved the way – literally – for this reactivation of public space. The restoration project closed portions of Main, Main Plaza, Dolorosa and Commerce streets to create a more pedestrian-friendly atmosphere in 2008.
“There is some serious history going on here, so it’s fun to create programming that’s free to the community – it’s ‘the people’s plaza’ after all,” she said, using Hardberger’s phrase.
Main Plaza has found a friend and ally in the cycling community as the plaza isn’t surrounded by heavy traffic like you’d see in downtown Austin or Houston. Add to that, parking isn’t exactly plentiful and many residents still aren’t keen on the idea to pay for parking lots and garages.
“With all the new urban dwellings coming in, (downtown) lends itself to become a bike friendly community,” Quinn said. So when she was thinking of ways to engage Main Plaza further, she thought: “Oh, right! I ride a bike. Bikes are easy, it’s a greener lifestyle and – why not? It’s economical.”
Ever since, she’s been programming more bike-centric activities (like the ongoing Cycle-in Cinema series and the recent Bike Beat festival) to promote bike safety and use.
“We’re so fortunate in our office,” she said. “From (the window) I can see people stop, get off their bikes and pray in front of the cathedral … I can’t tell you how many people just come to sit – to meditate – and watch the fountain, the birds, and the people … We get to see all of the plaza from our windows. I look out the window and daydream about what to do next.”
Quinn, like Simons, is energetic and passionate. They laugh easily but genuinely. Both women will be welcome, entertaining guides for Something Monday riders. Hope to see you there.