A race sans spectators

Was Sunday’s downtown criterium worth closing the streets all day?

Who doesn’t enjoy the sight of bicyclists, in their colorful jerseys, racing through downtown streets, leaning into the turns and jockeying for position? Chico is fortunate to host such a race each year, the Steve Harrison Memorial Downtown Criterium, which took place last Sunday (April 14).

The event is held in the memory of Harrison, an avid cyclist and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. executive who died a few years ago. (A bike path connecting East 20th Street and Potter Road is also named after him.)

This was the seventh year for the criterium, and judging by the number of racers who participated, it remains a popular event in the cycling community. Unfortunately, not many people showed up to watch it this year. Attendance was sparse, which raises some questions that the Chico Corsa Cycling Club, which organized the race, and city officials, who agreed to close off downtown to traffic from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., need to answer before it takes place next year.

Why wasn’t attendance better? Were the races adequately publicized? (The CN&R, to cite one example, received no advance notification.) What level of attendance should city officials expect an event to generate before they agree to close downtown to traffic? How do downtown business owners feel about the race, the poor attendance and the street closures?

Because of Lower Bidwell Park, Chico is limited in the number of north-south roadways its residents can use. Downtown’s Main and Broadway are important north-south corridors and should not be shut down without good reason. A well-attended criterium is probably a good reason; a criterium that draws few spectators and seems to exist primarily for the racers to enjoy—well, maybe not.