Feet Replacing Fuel – Ciclovia New Brunswick

By: Emily Gibbs and Shawn Sarraf

Feet will replace fuel in downtown New Brunswick on Sunday, April 23 as Ciclovia “opens the streets for active living.” From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., streets will be closed for residents to run, walk, skate, dance, ride bikes, explore and stay active.

In addition to activities along George Street and Joyce Kilmer Avenue, health and wellness information will be available, including screenings, healthy cooking demonstrations and information regarding social services in town.

Participants can arrive anytime during the day and free parking will be provided as New Brunswick is opening the Wellness Deck on Paterson Street. Jennifer Bradshaw, the spokesperson for New Brunswick, advises people who are traveling to the city to use this parking deck, as parking may be a challenge on the side streets. Bradshaw also encourages those who live close enough to walk or ride their bikes to the route.

This is New Brunswick’s fifth year hosting the Ciclovia event, but the initiative for healthy lifestyles did not start here. Ciclovias, meaning cycleways, are weekly events in Colombia. From 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Sunday and public holiday, select major streets in the city of Bogota are closed off to vehicular traffic for residents to walk, cycle or take part in any number of aerobic activities offered along the path.

In December of 1974, cycling enthusiasts in Bogota came together to organize and host weekly ciclovias. Two years later, the city’s mayor signed Decrees 566 and 567, officially promoting the events with backing and resources from the Transportation Department.

Bogota’s ciclovias have come a long way since the mid-70s. What started as two closed streets has grown to 75 miles of public roads being sectioned off. Participation has increased from the original 5,000 residents up to 2,000,000 people a week; nearly a third of the country’s population.

New Brunswick hosted its first Ciclovia in October 2013. The original proposal put forth by the event’s host agency, New Brunswick Tomorrow, gained support from the city, Johnson & Johnson, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and Rutgers University. Organizers were looking for a way to combat the ongoing health issues among the city’s youth. The New Jersey Bicycle and Pedestrian Resource Center found that 48 percent of New Brunswick’s children and adolescents were overweight or obese, while 55 percent of three to 18-year-olds had two or fewer days of physical activity in school.

New Brunswick Tomorrow worked with the Canadian-based organization “8 80 Cities”, to create an exciting environment promoting active and healthy lifestyles. While New Brunswick Ciclovia may share similarities with many other international open street events, Bradshaw says this one is unique in being the only one to measure health metrics. Their idea was to create an event that would not only benefit the city’s youth, but also “improve health outcomes for all residents of the City of New Brunswick.”

And Bradshaw says the goal of this free event is not only to promote physical activity but, “to promote open streets, a national movement that has cities re-imaging their use of urban infrastructure to create new opportunities for residents.”

Ciclovia draws out residents from all parts of the city, children and adults, with the largest crowd coming from the neighborhoods located directly on the route.

Bradshaw says the Rutgers crowd isn’t as large but they are always working to draw more students in and get them involved, “it can be difficult at this time of year with the semester winding down, plus the event’s placement on a weekend. But we do see turnout from the Rutgers community and have engaged student groups to become further involved with it.”

Some students don’t participate because they find it to be an inconvenience, such as student, Joey Lupo, “In theory, it’s a cool idea, but I think it’s a little irritating that they close down main roads.” Students have to find alternative routes, particularly if they are traveling from College Avenue to Douglass campus.

But student, Catherine Carter, finds it to be a great way to get the community out and interacting, “It’s worth it to have the roads closed off for a little while on a Sunday. There are alternative ways to get from campus to campus.” And student Alec Blihar agrees, “I think it’s important to be active and have some level of health maintenance in New Brunswick.”

Besides students, various New Brunswick organizations surrounding the city have helped support this active day. Yet, to make this event a success, Bradshaw says outside volunteers are necessary to help with directing traffic, staffing the information and water stations and overall providing logistical support. Whether a student or local resident, send an email to “CicloviaNB@gmail.com” with your contact information to get involved. Get ready to move, New Brunswick!