Santa Ana 5k/Ciclovia Recap: “It’s the Apocalypse Over There.”

For four hours, roughly three miles were opened up for bikes and pedestrians in Santa Ana's 5k/Ciclovia event in downtown Santa Ana. Yet, there were not many people there. Photo by Kristopher Fortin
For four hours, roughly three miles of streets were opened up for bikes and pedestrians in Santa Ana’s 5K/Ciclovia event in downtown Santa Ana. A common sight along the route were City of Santa Ana vans, as pictured above, and Santa Ana Police Department patrol cars either stationed or traveling on the route, at times at high speeds. Photo by Kristopher Fortin

I dreaded writing this story.

For four hours on August 20, Santa Ana opened its downtown streets for bicyclists and pedestrians. Yet it was more ghost town than open street.

This is the first year Santa Ana’s Ciclovia was combined with its annual 5K. The last two years, the Ciclovia was called Sunday On Main Open Streets, or SOMOS, with the route following solely Main Street. For the past three years, the 5K route has snaked through downtown Santa Ana, and this year’s Ciclovia followed that looping route.

When the 5K ended and the Ciclovia began, it became clear this event would be a failure. That was unfortunate, because the past two years have been relative successes, with more than 7,000 people coming to the first event.

The lead-up to this year’s Ciclovia was plagued with warning signs, and many of them were sadly realized:

  • Information about the 5K/Ciclovia didn’t go live on the city’s website until late July. In addition, the information was not hosted on the city’s webpage, but on its Parks and Recreation page—the Parks department has been the lead organizer for every 5K and Ciclovia event.
  • The event organizers had a logistical hurdle to overcome in converting the route from a 5K run to a Ciclovia and they handily failed to overcome it. They didn’t take down the barriers that created portions of the 5K course until an hour into the Ciclovia, they added no signs to guide people along the route, and only posted only a couple of maps for participants to consult. The route included some tight loops with streets that paralleled each other, but few people could figure it out. So participants wandered the route aimlessly.
  • The route location in downtown Santa Ana required folks to travel to get to the area. The previous SOMOS route had the benefit of going three miles solely on Main Street, which allowed folks who lived as far north as downtown Santa Ana and as far south as Warner Avenue to jump onto the route right from home. Limited parking and insufficient bike route connections made it difficult for participants to arrive to the downtown route by car or bike.

I was prepared for the worst, but really did hope for the best. However, the actual event itself was something else altogether.

I drove to the Ciclovia instead of taking the Metrolink, because I planned to get there a little early to catch the 5K. After parking my car at the Santa Ana Train Station and hopping on my bike toward the 5K/Ciclovia route, I saw folks in running gear walking along Santa Ana Boulevard. The 5k had already ended, so my car trip proved to be somewhat pointless.

After riding only a block past the train station, I noticed an older lady on a long board, riding slowly and then stopping to talk to a handful of passersby. The folks she was talking to pointed toward downtown. She mirrored their movement, pointing as well.

She’s lost, I thought, and I had a hunch what she was looking for.

The route for this year's 5k/Ciclovia. Image: City of Santa Ana
The route for this year’s 5K/Ciclovia. Image: City of Santa Ana

I did a quick—illegal—u-turn at the end of the block and found out that she was indeed lost. She had ridden Metrolink from Los Angeles, specifically from the San Gabriel Valley, to go to the Santa Ana Ciclovia. After a bit of back and forth, I offered to ride with her and guide her to the route. She grabbed onto the back of my bike rack and I towed her along.

It’s only about a mile from the train station to the Ciclovia route, and as we got closer we saw more folks in running gear with numbers pinned to their shirts. A few glanced at us; some smiled and waved as we rode by. I was stoked.

Participants from the 5k gather to hear who had the race's fastest times. Photo by Kristopher Fortin.
Participants from the 5K gather to hear who had the race’s fastest times. Photo by Kristopher Fortin.

The 5K race, which ended at 10 a.m., was wrapping up as we arrived. Folks arriving at the finish line near French and Fourth Streets milled around nearby Plaza Santa Ana, and some started heading toward the corner of Main and Fourth Streets to hear the results of the race.

It was a little past 10:20 a.m. at this point and I saw a handful of cyclists arriving, including Mark Anthony R. Paredes, a Garden Grove resident that I met during the City’s Active Transportation Leadership Program. We talked about how Fourth Street seemed to be full of people who stuck around from the 5K event, but not many cyclists. He told me he rode to the route from the west, and what he saw from the western part of the route wasn’t pretty.

“It’s the apocalypse over there,” said Paredes.

His words lingered with me throughout the event. It sounded like hyperbole, but I could see what he meant–although it was less apocalyptic and more post-apocalyptic. The streets to the west were completely empty of people, as if a neutron bomb had been dropped. I hoped that throughout the day more people would fill the route, but that hope was never realized.

A common sight was City of Santa Ana vans and Santa Ana Police Department squad cars cruising along the route or parked in the middle of intersections. When I made a stop at the City of Santa Ana’s planning and building agency booth on Fifth Street and Broadway, a city-owned van sped west on Fifth Street.

I spent the rest of the day riding parts of the route that weren’t Fourth Street, and found them almost always completely empty. The above video was taken at roughly 11:30 a.m., and that was the story for the entire route except for Fourth Street.

It was a challenge to find out what the route was on the day of the event. Chris Hall, a Santa Ana business owner and resident, invited her friend to ride the route but when she did a Google search, only last year’s SOMOS event popped up (this screenshot was taken two days after this year’s event, and the first year’s open streets event, SOMOS, was still the top search result).

Finding and navigating the route during the event was equally difficult. Many of the closed streets paralleled each other, and there was no signage guiding people along the route. While the idea sounds cool—wandering around streets that are closed to cars—it also contributed to a feeling of emptiness, like everyone must have gone to a different party somewhere else.

For a standalone event that boasted 7,000 people in its first year, this was a fall from grace. What could have been done to prevent this? That’s for another post.

Santa Ana's Planning and Building Agency's booth on Fifth Street and Broadway. Photo by Kristopher Fortin.
Santa Ana’s Planning and Building Agency’s booth on Fifth Street and Broadway. Photo by Kristopher Fortin.
Santa Ana Police Department squad car at the intersection of Fifth and Main Streets. Photo by Kristopher Fortin.
Jesus Rodriguez, 35, and his family at Santa Ana's 5k/Ciclovia. Rodriguez said he learned about the event through a City sponsored parent's group he's a part of. Photo by Kristopher Fortin.
Jesus Rodriguez, 35, and his family at Santa Ana’s 5K/Ciclovia. Rodriguez said he learned about the event through a city-sponsored parent’s group that he’s a part of. Photo by Kristopher Fortin.
OCTA's OC Streetcar booth at Santa Ana's 5k/Ciclovia. Photo by Kristopher Fortin.
OCTA’s OC Streetcar booth at Santa Ana’s 5K/Ciclovia. Photo by Kristopher Fortin.
Rockwall at the corner of Civic Center Drive and Flower Street during this year's 5k/Ciclovia. Photo by Kristopher Fortin.
Climbing wall at the corner of Civic Center Drive and Ross Street during this year’s 5K/Ciclovia. Photo by Kristopher Fortin.
Stilt performers on Fourth Street. The barriers from the 5k that happened earlier in the day completely taken down until 11 a.m., an hour after the start of the open street event. Photo by Kristopher Fortin.
Stilt performers on Fourth Street. The barriers from the earlier 5K weren’t completely taken down until 11 a.m., an hour after the start of the open streets event. Photo by Kristopher Fortin.
City of Santa Ana staff and volunteers give out helmets to passersby. Photo by Kristopher Fortin.
City of Santa Ana staff and volunteers give out helmets to passersby. Photo by Kristopher Fortin.
  • Bernard Finucane

    Not too surprising considering what a wasteland of office buildings there are in the area.

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