By Artoor Minas

Last week, cyclists around Santa Cruz County participated in the 20th annual Bike to Work Week.

The city held different events each day for the cyclist community, encouraging more individuals to embrace biking and spend less time driving, which they hope will result in a more environmentally sound future.

“As an individual, there are a couple simple things we can do to reduce energy consumption,” Bike Week Program Director Piet Canin said. “First is to reduce use of energy in our household and second is to decrease our automobile usage.”

UC Santa Cruz alumna Kt Canin developed the event for a senior Community Studies project 20 years ago. Since its inception, there has been a steady growth in participation in the week’s events, which are coordinated by the Santa Cruz Transportation Management Association (SCTMA). This year, there were an estimated 4,000 participants.

In an attempt to reach its long-term goal of more cycling, the SCTMA is marketing to children, and because of those efforts, almost three-quarters of Bike Week participants are schoolchildren.

“Kids are a willing audience — that’s very important for our goals,” Bike Week Program and Bilingual Outreach Coordinator Liana Harp said. “One of our main focal points is the 29 schools we have participating in our Bike to School Day.”

On Bike to School and Work Day, which took place last Thursday, access to the end of Pacific Street was blocked off to automobiles. Cyclists of all ages enjoyed free SCTMA-hosted breakfasts and massages.

“It’s so much fun when all the other kids are riding bikes,” said twelve-year-old Eli Trustman, a student from Glen Brae School. “It’s also good for the environment since there is no pollution from biking.”

Many sponsors and groups participated in the Bike Week programs, including the advocacy group People Power. The organization previously spoke out against Highway 1 expansion and is now dedicated to helping local government, citizens and businesses overcome their dependency on the automobile while promoting better conditions for cyclists in Santa Cruz.

“We are fighting for better conditions for cycling and walking,” People Power representative Mika Posner said. “It can be done. We can move toward a society where people can start biking more often than driving, since two-thirds of most trips people take in the county are below five miles. One-third are under three miles.”

“I hope to see a future in which more people bike,” Piet Canin said. “There is a lot of potential, especially in Santa Cruz, where most people are aware of environmental issues.”

The outlook for a much larger cycling community looks promising, as an estimated eight percent of the community is already biking throughout Santa Cruz.

“Our society is on a negative cycle because of automobile dependency,” Posner said. “It is considered socially unacceptable in certain locations to not drive, and people don’t realize the alternatives. As a society, we need to gear into a positive cycle for the future.”