Local 21 Members Throw Citywide Block Party

Photo above:  CAMP Members Ryan Smith and Ed Solis help plan Viva CalleSJ 2018, which closes six miles of San José streets annually to traffic so people can walk, bike, run, stroll and scoot around neighborhoods.



For five hours on a recent Sunday, six miles of San José streets were shut down to vehicle traffic.  Instead, seniors ran a 5k, families pushed strollers, cyclists biked the path from downtown’s SoFA neighborhood to Martial Cottle Park. 

In its fourth year, Viva CalleSJ draws 100,000 people to San José’s streets.  Children and adults alike turn the old adage on its head, and “play in the street.”  This year, residents visited Monterey Highway, which was transformed from a six-lane commuter thoroughfare.  People rediscovered taquerias, shopping markets and City parks.  Children rode training-wheeled bikes, adults visited breweries, and everyone took in food trucks and event tents.

The idea started with Recreation Superintendent Ed Solis after he visited similar events, including ones in Los Angeles and Guadalajara, Mexico.

“(Guadalajara representatives) wanted to give the area people safe access to roads,” said Ed, a Member of Local 21’s CAMP chapter.  “It helped lower crimes, people spent money at local businesses.”

Viva CalleSJ is a marquis program of the City’s Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services department.  Ed describes Viva CalleSJ has a six-mile linear park.

“We want to connect parts of the City that are disconnected from each other,” said Ryan Smith, San José Transportation Specialist and CAMP Member.  “We want to showcase part of the City, the architecture, the culture, the cool places that not a lot of people know about.  Show them some love.”

Organizers remember the eve of their first Viva CalleSJ, the anxiety they had about community and business reception.  Would anyone attend?

“A lot of people were concerned.  We were closing six miles of City streets.  That had never been done before,” Ryan said.  “We had Chinese dancers in the middle of Story Road.  There were thousands of people.  Vietnamese restaurants were holding food eating contests.  It was the San José community in full force.”

Several Local 21 Members are part of the group of City workers that plans the event.  Ed leads the group, Ryan is the map guru, and Associate Structure/Land Designer and AEA Member David McCormic secured some of Viva CalleSJ’s grant funding.

In the past, Ryan has worked with other transportation agencies, such as the Valley Transportation Association to help plan the Viva CalleSJ route. The hardest part is redirecting public buses, “since people rely on the service for getting to work,” he said.

To make Viva CalleSJ a success, workers from many City departments assist – transportation, police, fire, economic development and cultural affairs.

With sustained success, organizers are hoping to hold Viva CalleSJ more than once a year.  Probably not as often as Guadalajara – Ed’s inspiration closes 42 miles of streets every Sunday.

Viva CalleSJ, like many parks and rec programs, aims to improve the quality of life of residents.

“Viva CalleSJ positively effects the economy, effects people’s well-being,” Ed said. “At the heart of a lot of people’s happiness is parks and trails.”