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South L.A. wonders if CicLAvia will bring traffic or business

CicLAvia is coming to South L.A., raising concerns that it will generate traffic and hurt business

Thousands of bike riders will spill onto the streets of South Los Angeles this weekend, bringing new eyes to a part of the city that often feels overlooked and neglected.

But whether CicLAvia, a virtual city of cyclists, will bring in fresh buyers or scare off regular customers is being debated from Leimert Park to Central Avenue.

"I see people riding bikes and not shopping in stores," said James Fugate, owner of Eso Won Books in Leimert Park. "I don't like that our customers will not have access to our store."

As CicLAvia has rotated its route through Los Angeles' neighborhoods, it has been greeted with enthusiasm as well as doubt. Sometimes drawing up to 150,000 cyclists, CicLAvia is capable of being a wave of commerce and an instant traffic jam.

When CicLAvia came to Los Angeles, some residents even feared that a horde of hipster bicyclists would speed up gentrification in neighborhoods trying to hold on to their identity.

In South Los Angeles, where CicLAvia will arrive for the first time Sunday, merchants are already feeling beaten down from weeks of road closures for the new Metro line construction. To some, the timing of the cycling event could not be worse.

The organizers and participants said it's a small sacrifice for an event that brings together the community by getting people out of their cars.

"Some of them may be in traffic 5 to 10 minutes more that day because of CicLAvia," said Aaron Paley, the organization's executive director. "But there are tens of thousands of people who are having one of the best days of the year by participating in it."

Others have been trying to figure out how to capitalize on the influx of participants Sunday.

Magali Barbosa, the shopkeeper of General Discount Store on Central Avenue, plans to open two hours early. Sika and several other Leimert Park businesses will have live music to entice shoppers. And Marilyn Beckford, owner of Ackee Bamboo restaurant in Leimert Park, has asked her daughters to work the counter of a cozy family-owned cafe near her Caribbean restaurant.

"This is a very quiet community," Beckford said. "And to have that many people here should be good for business."

Studies show that CicLAvia could be a boom or bust for shops along the bike route.

About two-thirds of a sample of 76 businesses experienced a gain during the 2013 and 2014 Wilshire cycling events, according to a study released by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. On average, those merchants experienced a 55% increase in sales compared to non-CicLAvia event days, the study found.

The other third reported a loss, averaging a 31% decline, compared to a non-CicLAvia workday.

Community leaders in Leimert Park and on Central Avenue have spent months trying to figure out how to provide an experience for the cyclists so they will come back.

James V. Burks, director of special projects for the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, recalled how the 1984 Olympics had a profound economic impact on Los Angeles, but did little to help the African American community that hosted the games at Exposition Park.

"We got no spinoff from all those people who came to South L.A.," he said.

Still, he said CicLAvia "is an opportunity to look at an area that is a good neighborhood. We have to step up and market our community."

The six-mile ride will include historic Central Avenue, once the heart of the African American jazz scene. The strip is now lined with carnicerias and bodegas, a reflection of the thriving Latino population that makes up more than half of South Los Angeles.

"One day is not going to kill us," said Francisco Juarez, who was still trying to decide whether to close the little market and used appliance shop his family owns on Central Avenue. "But it will affect us."

angel.jennings@latimes.com

@LATangel

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