Appeared in Brownsville Herald and Valley Morning Star November 11, 2012
By Lisa Mitchell-Bennett
I’d ridden bikes with my kids through downtown Brownsville before and the experience was far from relaxing. I’m not sure what possessed me to keep trying these bike journeys with my then two young boys in tow. Maybe because I had lived in places where families could safely ride anywhere with their children; where one could calmly commute on bike to work or school, enjoying the fresh air, waving to neighbors along the way, I wanted this experience for my kids. But it didn’t pan out as expected. Instead I usually spent the rides clutching onto the back of my younger son’s bike like a mad woman, screaming threats at my older son to “Watch out! Turn now! No, the other way! STOP at the light!” It was pretty miserable for all of us since bikes and pedestrians don’t have the right of way around here, no matter what the signs say!
So I gave up my dream of riding through town with my kids. We found safer places to ride our bikes further away and that was that. Until this past weekend, that is, when I had the joy of riding through beautiful, historic Brownsville with my 6 year old daughter—on our bikes! It was a glorious Sunday as we headed out of a Dean Porter Park filled with activities including a rock climbing wall, slides, and obstacle courses. Howler monkeys and macaws greeted us from the Zoo as we rode down Ringgold St. The warm breeze rustled the palms against the bright blue sky. My daughter pointed to the “Farmers Market place” at Linear Park and the cool sculptures in front of the Museum of Fine Arts. Friendly police explorers and officers waved us through intersections and around corners. At first I was hesitant to relax, incredulous that people, not cars, really ruled the streets. But after a few hundred yards or so, I let my daughter ride up ahead on her pink bike, weaving freely back and forth across the street without a care in the world. We pulled up at Washington Park. She played near the fountain and I gladly accepted the free bike lights handed out by Bike Texas. Then we took off again, now joined by more families and cyclists. As we turned onto Elizabeth, we really got into the groove. I love the old brick buildings downtown, the old churches, the bustle of shoppers from Mexico walking with their carts and bags. While we easily crossed International Blvd., a friendly man in a uniform asked us how we were enjoying the day. My daughter, usually shy with police officers, shouted out “It’s awesome!” We looped onto the peaceful university campus, a flock of wild parrots chattered in the trees, a graceful heron bowed at the edge of the Resaca. I thought to myself how lucky we are to live in this beautiful, unique place, and how being outside of a vehicle really brings your surroundings to life.
Brownsville became the first city in the Valley (south of San Antonio, actually), to close streets and invite folks out for CycloBia. The City of Brownsville, Bike Texas, and many other community groups and sponsors put on a great event which drew thousands of people downtown to be active, and get a closer view of the city. There were visitors from other towns in the Valley, with hopes this movement will spread and become a regular happening. I ran into a friend from Harlingen who had come with her son. “We are always looking for fun ways to spend time together. It’s like being on vacation. These are the activities you look for in big cities, so why not here?” I also ran into a friend whose daughter has Down’s syndrome. The young girl was riding in a seat behind her dad’s bike. She was smiling and waving as they rode by. There were strollers and wheelchairs as well. Like I said, the streets belonged to the people—all kinds of people—and it was beautiful.
As my daughter and I took a left turn back onto University Drive we heard music coming from the REK center building on campus, where students and faculty hosted more fun activities. My daughter’s eyes lit up at the site of colorful hula hoops and archery targets. We parked our bikes, drank some water, and raced for the hoops. We wiggled and giggled until our bellies ached, laying on the grass looking up at the clouds. It doesn’t get much better or healthier than this, because Tu Salud ¡Si Cuenta! (Your Health Matters!)