A father towing his daughter on his bike while they ride down Maclay Avenue during the Move Your Way Festival Sept. 23, checking out the vendors and activities along the way. (G. Arizon/SFVS)

Under the hot Saturday morning sun, around 4.5 miles of road were closed off to vehicles in the Northeast San Fernando Valley, allowing dozens and dozens of bicyclists, skaters and rollerbladers to cruise from Sylmar, through the City of San Fernando and into Pacoima.

The Move Your Way Festival began in the morning Sept. 23, closing miles of San Fernando Road for Angelenos — from Bledsoe Street in Sylmar to Van Nuys Boulevard in Pacoima. Six hubs dotted the route, each with their own activities and vendors for neighbors to check out – West Lakeside Street Park and San Fernando Road Park in Sylmar, the Lopez Adobe and Maclay Avenue hub in San Fernando and Pacoima City Hall and Bradley Green Alley Plaza.

The festival has been in the works since May, after the aptly named The Very Creative Firm won a bid from the city of San Fernando — which received a grant from the Metro Open Streets Grant Program — to hold this type of event. While the event itself was already decided, the firm came up with the idea for the activities.

At West Lakeside Street Park, for instance, neighbors could come and participate in a Zumba class and watch a wildlife presentation, while a mariachi band would perform for those over at Pacoima City Hall. And in San Fernando, festival goers were treated to performances from Danzone Dance Studio and could meet a few LA Rams cheerleaders walking about.

Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez taking a picture with Puro Pinche Papi – a group of cyclists that elevate the voices of Black, Indigenous and people of color – in the San Fernando Mall for the Move Your Way Festival. (G. Arizon/SFVS)

“The idea was to engage the communities with the local businesses and then also make a connection between the different cities,” said Martin van der Werff, the firm’s co-founder and creative director, “because obviously San Fernando is a different city than LA … and gives people a way [to move between the areas around them].

“We didn’t want people to just cycle from Sylmar to Pacoima. There needed to be something to do along the way, whether that was food related or whether it was activity related.”

A similar event was held in 2018 in San Fernando, but it didn’t include any surrounding neighborhoods. Fransiska Weckesser, the firm’s co-founder and CEO, acknowledged the similarities between this event and those organized by the nonprofit CicLAvia, which also closes streets for bicyclists, and how the firm learned from them.

“We used CicLAvia as one of our consultants because they have so much knowledge, but they were, unfortunately, too busy to be part of the production,” Weckesser said. “The only thing [that’s different] is our hubs have more entertainment and art and music and bike education. We’re really making small festival grounds of the hubs.”

And by what bicyclists had to say about the event, the day was a success.

“You can feel the community presence and the bonds here, which is really good. I was glad to see everybody come out,” said Jason Alvarez, who lives in Palmdale but came to San Fernando with his girlfriend, who lives locally. “[The route] was a decent commute, I would say. I thought it was going to be a lot smaller, but it was awesome.”

He did say that the festival didn’t seem as populated as those organized by CicLAvia but attributed that to the festival not being around nearly as long. He added that, while he thought the event was well organized, he would have liked to see clearer signs in the pedestrian areas telling cyclists to get off their bikes.

Cyclists Henry Paz and Nancy Rivas came from Simi Valley after learning about the event on social media.

“I thought it was a decent route,” Paz said. “It reminds people that we have to get out and be active. … I prefer these smaller events because if they become more community based, you get to meet the local small businesses and you get to shop small at the end of the day.”

“[The event had] a good route, decent size,” Rivas said. “We got from one side to the other within less than an hour, and we stopped by a lot of these vendors.”

Rivas did say that next time, there could be a better job at blocking off the street, as she recounted how a car came through and was driving right at them and how they had to move out of the way. Beyond that one incident, she felt that the police and security did a good job blocking off the streets and keeping the riders safe.

Paz added that for this event to grow, it should be done more consistently — perhaps even once a month. While there were skaters and cyclists riding between the hubs, their numbers were significantly lower compared to what one would see at a CicLAvia event.

“They reserved a lot of space for us today, and a lot of it was empty,” Paz said. “It kind of sucks when you have all this space and it’s not being utilized.”

It’s a critique that van der Werff seemed to be aware of.

“I would like to improve the stretches between the three areas and to make something extra, like a marathon or add an element to get it to connect better,” he said.

While attendees could start at any point along the route, the event kickoff was held in the San Fernando Mall with opening remarks by Mayor Celeste Rodriguez.

“We’re so lucky to be here in the heart of the valley surrounded by the city of Los Angeles, which we are always connected with every day,” Rodriguez said. “All of our families, our businesses, we cross through one another all the time, but today, we really get to be connected throughout our community and come together … and enjoy the beautiful day and this beautiful open space.”

Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez also spoke, “I want to thank Metro for the financial support that enables us to show how connected our communities are that we are able to shut down these streets to major thorough-fare traffic and invite the community to take stock of what is really special and unique about our communities.”

Despite some need for improvement, van der Werff said that the response from those attending the festival has been very positive and he’s sure this won’t be the only time this kind of event is held in the area.

“The city of Los Angeles, Metro and San Fernando took the challenge of doing this because it is quite challenging in terms of getting all the permits and road closures,” he said. “I think that it worked really well, and this is a great setup for a yearly tradition.”