Officials in Lompoc are trying something new to spice up the Friday evening Old Town Market events. It’s not really new. It’s actually an ancient concept.

But first, last week’s market event provided a huge surprise for dozens of Lompoc kids, mostly from two local elementary schools — free bicycles, helmets and safe-riding instructions.

The gifts were made possible through the efforts of the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition, SBBIKE for short. The bikes were pieced together from used machines, then carefully and completely refurbished — think repurposing with a good purpose — by members of the coalition, who also sponsor bicycle safety instruction sessions as part of local schools’ physical education programs.

The bike giveaway also highlighted that something very special with which Lompoc officials are experimenting — closing off downtown streets where the Old Town Market in held, letting pedestrians and, as was the case last Friday, allowing young cyclists to explore at will.

The Open Streets idea was brought to Lompoc thanks to a cooperative effort between local organizations, including the Healthy Lompoc Coalition, Lompoc Fire Department, Explore Lompoc, city of Lompoc, SBBIKE, Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, Traffic Solutions and the state Office of Traffic Safety.

That’s a big group with one thing in mind, clearing motorized vehicular traffic off city streets so local families can enjoy what their tax dollars provide.

Open streets for special events is not a novel idea. Many cities across America do it on a regular basis.

The city of Santa Fe, New Mexico cordons off large sections of the town core for several special events each year. Santa Fe residents often complain about the inconveniences associated with shutting off car and truck traffic to key downtown locations, but the fact is that those events are enormously popular and successful, and when locals shed their disagreeable attitudes about the need to drive somewhere, and walk instead, they come to like it.

Americans do far too much of their traveling in motorized vehicles, which may at least partially explain the recent explosion in obesity. Cars are necessary for a wide range of activities, but not for getting a decent amount of exercise, and having fun while doing it.

That’s one of the ideas behind the open-streets concept, getting folks back on their feet, walking, jogging or just strolling around the great outdoors.

If any place in California is well-suited for outdoor, motor-less activities, it’s the Central Coast. We have near-perfect weather most days of the year — as long as you can tolerate a little fog and maybe a wind gust or two. We have the kind of terrain that lends itself to adequate cardio exercise. We have communities in which some kind of special event takes place just about every weekend of the year, and often you can have your pick of which event to enjoy.

The Old Town Market Open Streets experiment was, by all appearances, a huge success, and something that needs to be repeated on a regular basis. Anything officials of any community can do to get people outdoors and moving is a net gain for the community.

This Friday’s market features a Pet Fest, part of which will be a Family Fun Dog Show. That should get residents into the streets.

What do you think? Could more communities latch onto the notion of closing streets to motorized vehicles, thus opening them to safe walking? This is the sort of idea that needs public support, if it’s going to work.

Besides, who among us couldn’t stand to lose a pound or two?