The Coalition for Sustainable Transportation (COAST), a non-profit group advocating non-motorized transport, plans to hold a kickoff party and fundraiser for its 2014 annual Santa Barbara Open Streets, an event promoting health, wellness and sustainable transportation, tonight at the Telegraph Brewing Company downtown.

Open Streets, a free public event that began last year, temporarily closes public roadways to motorized vehicles and opens them to cycling, walking, dancing and general recreation. The project is based off a 30-year-old tradition of weekly road closures in Bogotá, Colombia for the purpose of escaping heavy congestion that was typical of urban commuting.

Tonight’s event is open to people of all ages interested in the Santa Barbara Open Streets project. Last year’s inaugural event drew about 10,000 people within a two and a half mile stretch of Cabrillo Boulevard, which borders the beaches at the edge of downtown Santa Barbara. Although a date and location has not yet been established for this year’s event, Open Streets Coordinator Robin Elander said it will likely take place in October.

According to Open Streets Coordinator Robin Elander, the last year’s festivities included a wide range of activities for those in attendance as well as widespread representation for local businesses and activity providers.

“Pretty much every single yoga studio did a different class right in the middle of the street. We had Zumba classes, salsa dancing, lots of different music, we had over 20 bands performing, we had a skate park in the middle of the street, we had bike mazes for kids, we had all kinds of different stuff,” Elander said.

Elander also said the Bogotá concept has gained global populatrity and was picked up several years ago by a Santa Barbara group called Traffic Solutions, an organization aimed at reducing traffic and improving air quality, which took the initiative to have a local version of the Bogotá event in Santa Barbara.

Kent Epperson, Director of Traffic Solutions, said he had set the goal to bring Open Streets to Santa Barbara within three years based on postive local reception to the idea.

“Our role in Open Streets, once we knew this was actually going to be happening, was a lot of the marketing and outreach. We produced all of the graphics and we did the videos and put together the marketing campaign,” Epperson said.

Epperson also said Open Streets is unique and fun because it offers the chance for people to experience their public roadways in a different way.

“It’s just a blast. You can’t experience a street completely free of cars anywhere else really,” Epperson said. “If you’re on a budget and you want to sample Zumba, if you want to sample yoga, if you want to sample swing dancing, you can come down and enjoy the plethora of free activities offered in the street.”

According to Epperson, Traffic Solutions served as a kind of cheerleader in the early stages of getting political and business support while working with COAST.

COAST Director Alex Pujo said this year’s Open Streets will be different from last year’s, with more emphasis placed on increasing its appeal to college students because of the ubiquity of bicycle transportation among students.

“Last year, we tried to do it more for pedestrians and put less emphasis on bicycles because we wanted to bring different kinds of people in,” Pujo said. “But, I think this year we might go a little heavier on the bicycle access because most people at UCSB like to ride their bicycle.”

According to Pujo, the kickoff party at Telegraph Brewing Company will offer people the chance to get involved in putting on Open Streets later this year and play a role in the future of the event in Santa Barbara.

“It’s a place to volunteer for this event,” Pujo said. “A lot of people are very interested in this event. They’ve seen it happen in Los Angeles where it was really big, and so they want to do it here as well. It’s a place to meet other volunteers and hear from public officials and the organization to see what we want to do.”


This story is a Daily Nexus online exclusive.