Cycling event gets Angelenos out of cars
After serving as the epicenter of California car culture for more than half a century, itâs no wonder Los Angeles residents only take to the streets for Lakers championships and riots.
Sunday, however, will hopefully change all that as a seven-and-a-half-mile stretch of Los Angeles asphalt gets closed off to cars and opened up to the people.
Inspired by BogotĂĄ, Colombiaâs decades-old open-streets event CiclovĂa, Los Angelesâ version â dubbed CicLAvia â will turn a zigzagged route from Boyle Heights to East Hollywood into a public park where Angelenos can, as CicLAviaâs most recent advertising campaign says, âCome out and play.â
The event has become an institution in BogotĂĄ, where every Sunday 2 million residents take over 70 miles of normally congested streets with bikes, skateboards, frisbees, exercise gear, picnic baskets and music. The temporary open space is designated for recreational activities, and residents of all ages, races, shapes and sizes come out to utilize it. It is a welcomed relief from BogotĂĄâs weekday streets, Â which are usually overrun with cars and trucks, and from the smog-clogged skies that loom above the dense urban center.
As a response to our own overcrowded streets and smog-filled skyline, a hodgepodge group of community activists came together last year to determine if a similar street-takeover would be possible in Los Angeles. To their surprise, the city wanted in.
Earlier this year, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa pledged to cover all city-related expenses (law enforcement, traffic control, etc.), and the team created a public funding website, receiving all the necessary money through citizen pledges over the summer.
Originally planned for Sept. 12, CicLAviaâs inaugural test run was pushed back to Oct. 10 to allow for more thorough promotion and alliterated-date addition (10-10-10). By starting the route in Boyle Heights and running it through the heart of Downtown, Westlake and Koreatown, CicLAvia is catering specifically to Los Angelesâ underserved citizens. And with bilingual advertising permeating its recent marketing strategies, the extra month has proven invaluable in getting word of the free event out to Los Angelesâ ethnic communities.
Instead of plotting its haphazard course around recognizable city landmarks, much like the Los Angeles Marathon does each year, the CicLAvia route is scheduled to go through neighborhoods many Angelenos have never seen outside of a car, if even at all. This will allow participants to not only explore these parts of the city from a street-level perspective, but to also experience the diverse neighborhoods that are often hidden from mainstream Los Angeles.
In addition to its ability to foster physical and social networks between Los Angelesâ multicultural populations, CicLAvia is also about public space.
The city has been making strides to improve its public spaces in recent years, but an open-streets event does more than just convert a shopping mall into an outdoor plaza. It redefines the space in peopleâs minds so that what has always been thought of as a street suddenly becomes a field to play soccer. A store that was once a blur on someoneâs morning commute can turn into a favorite sidewalk cafe.
But CicLAvia is also a way to introduce alternative modes of transportation to hard-headed Angelenos. Similar open-streets events have been formed in Seattle, San Francisco and Portland, Ore. where their popularity is aided by functional cycling infastructures and copious public transit.
In Los Angeles, unfortunately, the situation is more dire. Public transportation, cycling and even walking are foreign concepts to many locals. By removing cars as an option, however, residents will be free to try alternate modes of transporation in a safe, secure environment, the result hopefully spurring positive transportation habits when the streets reopen to cars.
This first CicLAvia is an experiment on all fronts. If it is successful in fulfilling its multi-faceted uses â and all the buzz indicates that it will â the goal is Â for CicLavia to become a weekly event. And with year-round outdoor weather, there is no reason CicLAvia cannot become a new Sunday tradition.
With an act as simple as removing cars from the streets, Los Angeles will create options for healthier lifestyles, bridge disparate communities, generate social change and laugh in the face of the cityâs longtime car culture.
Sarah Bennett is a senior majoring in communication. Her column, âFake Bad Taste,â runs Wednesdays.