CicLAvia reminds us what city streets would look like without all the cars.
In early October, 10 miles of roads in East Hollywood, Downtown L.A., East L.A. and in between were closed down for regular traffic. Instead of cars and SUVs, cyclists, skateboarders and pedestrians took over the streets for a day of clean, fossil fuel-free fun. An estimated 130,000 people hit the streets for this third edition of CicLAvia, which has become a day of celebration for Angelenos from all walks of life. Even the city’s Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, put on his helmet and pedaled along, calling the event a good break for a city that’s “addicted to the single-passenger automobile.” All along the now-expanded course was music, food and games, like dodge ball and street chess. That certainly sounds like more fun than being stuck in traffic behind an angry SUV driver, don’t you think?
In a city so dependent on its ever-growing web of freeways CicLAvia serves as an important reminder what a future without cars may look like. Participants ranged from avid cyclists happy to be able to ride through their city without fearing for their lives to families who see it as an opportunity to have some fun-time together while getting some exercise. “This is so fun for us, being able to get out here on our bikes and enjoy the streets of our city without having to constantly be on the watch for cars and buses. The kids love it, and I feel good knowing that they’re safe,” said one father who was riding with his two kids.
I asked Joe Linton, Organizer for CicLAvia, why an event like this is important for the people of LA? “There are quite a few reasons,” he says. “Generally, CicLAvia is seen as promoting greener transportation choices and promoting public health through physical activity. It also promotes local business. The biggest reason is just getting folks to experience public space — bringing people together, where we can all look each other in the eye and interact with each other, all in the same egalitarian public realm.”
Joe also shared his best tip for Angelenos who are looking to use their bikes for transportation rather than pleasure: “Bicycling and walking, do both at once — it’s pleasure and transportation. I’d encourage beginner bicyclists to start small. Most of our trips are fairly short and very easy to bike — try biking a couple miles to get to a restaurant, a video store, or a movie theater.”
Speaking of walking, this event also marked the launch of CicLAvia Walks, a new initiative intended to “provide participants with opportunities to slow down and discover the many architectural, cultural, and culinary gems along the route.” Including walkers is a good step in the right direction, since it also involves people who may not have access to or be able to ride a bike. From the looks of the crowds yesterday, CicLAvia Walks seems like a welcome addition to the festivities.
So, were the streets being shut down or were they actually being opened up? That’s the big question here. I think we can guess what the 130,000 people who attended will say. Giving people access to the streets of their city is important not only to promote alternative forms of exhaust-free transportation, it also provides residents with a sense of community — well-needed in a city where most people spend a large part of their day alone in cars. What if every major city center was transformed into a car-free zone on weekends? “It’s already happening,” says Joe Linton. “Bogota, Quito, Guadalajara, Mexico City and others all do weekly events. Lots of cities in the U.S. and Canada are following suit.”
So what can we do to make that happen locally? “Get involved in your local open streets event — donate, volunteer, organize,” says Linton.
CicLAvia was inspired by the ciclovía (which means “bike path” in Spanish) movement in Bogota, Colombia, which began nearly 30 years ago and is now a weekly event with 80 miles of car-free streets. Los Angeles launched its first CicLAvia, which attracted an estimated 100,000 participants, exactly one year ago today. This third edition of the event was successfully crowd-funded through Kickstarter, which tells us that people are behind the car-free cities movement in a big way.
Participant photos courtesty of CicLAvia’s Facebook page.