By Matt Cutler

Last Thursday, the morning streets were a little quieter than usual.

The high-pitched harmony of rush hour traffic was minimal, as thousands of Santa Cruz denizens opted to make their daily commutes on two wheels instead of four, in recognition of the ninth annual County Fall Bike to Work/School day.

Community members of all ages took part in the event, hosted by Ecology Action, which raised awareness about bicycling as a healthy, cheap, safe, and environmentally friendly alternative to driving.

Free breakfast was offered to participants from 7 to 10 a.m. at a number of locations, including Jamba Juice on Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz News Cafe on Mission Street, and the Bike Co-op on campus. At each site, cyclists socialized — still in their helmets — while munching on bagels, cereal and fruit, and enjoying hot coffee or one of the 4,000 free smoothies provided by Jamba Juice.

“Our biggest motivation was the food — and saving the environment,” said Sage Barca-Hall, 14, who traveled 15 miles to claim her smoothie.

At least 25 grade schools sponsored the event, some of which started classes later in the day to allow kids a little extra time to get to class.

According to Ecology Action, every mile driven in an automobile results in about a pound of carbon dioxide dumped in the atmosphere, with the average person driving around 15 to 20,000 miles a year. Based on those numbers, the group estimates that the bike to school/work event last spring — which was also just one day long — prevented at least 20,000 pounds of the gas from being released into the atmosphere.

Hundreds of UCSC students also enjoyed the crisp morning pedal up the hill to campus.

“It’s a good way to start the day,” remarked second-year Sam Vaughan, who ended his seven-mile journey at the top of the bike path near the Music Center. “It puts you in a whole different mindset.”

Another significant presence throughout the day was People Power, a group working to make Santa Cruz more accessible to bicycles and other forms of people-powered transportation. Volunteers collected signatures throughout the day for a petition to turn King Street into a bicycle boulevard. 	

According to People Power’s Director Micah Posner, adding a bike path to the city’s paved streets would give commuters more motivation to ride around and leave their cars at home.

“If you look at the built environment, people are being told that they should drive cars,” Posner said. “Even things like bike parking posts send a different message to people: that it might be possible to get around in a different way.”

He continued, “That is a small but extremely powerful change.”

Fourth-year Josiah Failing, a member of the Bike Co-op, put the day’s event into perspective. “Bike to school every day,” he said. “The rewards are better than a free breakfast.”