I came home from Sunday’s
bike ride filled with adrenaline and curiosity for how it might work in Burbank. And if Burbank is ever to try something similar, it has some serious questions to ask itself before inviting more than 100,000 cyclists to try their tires on its streets.
Two friends and I embarked on the 5.5-mile excursion at the North Hollywood Metro train station. This terminus sat a few blocks from Burbank’s section of the Chandler Bikeway, so it drew families and friends who easily used the bikeway to follow the same route we did or extend the distance to deep within Burbank’s neighborhoods.
This was the first CicLAvia held this far north in the city. At the event in East L.A. last year, more than 10 miles of downtown L.A. streets were closed to motor vehicles. This time, it was half as long, affording us cyclists a rare opportunity to take in the sights of Studio City and North Hollywood we would otherwise zip past traveling between here and there.
CicLAvia officials and media reports say 100,000 cyclists joined the trip through the San Fernando Valley. And if you didn’t experience it, riding in that much bike traffic is like visiting a beehive farm: You may have enough equipment to keep you safe but, at some point, something could still fly out of nowhere and sting you.
My two friends and I avoided a few near collisions, but that’s part of the game: none of us — nor the 999,997 other riders — really has much experience with this kind of riding in L.A.
Once you’ve adjusted to the heavy bike traffic, there’s a real benefit at these events. My first time showed me parts of the city I’d never explored before; this event also drew bicycle clubs from all over L.A. County. With the threat of cars and trucks removed, it does change how you see the city; even an overcast sky made signs look somehow brighter and bigger.
The traffic eventually slowed to a stop as the throngs passed through the Universal Metro parking lot. For safety and traffic reasons, riders were asked to dismount and walk through the lot where a little village was set up.
Tents were set up for bike tune-ups, food, first aid and shopping for bike accoutrement. All told, we figured about a quarter-mile of the entire length of the street closure was experienced on foot.
Once back on our bikes, we enjoyed a slow street-glide through the shopping areas and boutiques along Lankershim and Ventura boulevards that reintroduced us to the area.
We also saw it as a neighborhood utterly overcome by bike traffic. I caught one conversation between a neighbor and five or six motorcycle policemen that was basically one long, exhaustive complaint that the main route to her house was blocked for a day.
Some businesses just closed Sunday; some joined the festivities. A Ralphs employee handed out orange slices to riders outside the grocery store and several smaller shops handed out fliers and free coupons.
Stout, a burger joint on Ventura, braved the day and stayed open, albeit without many more staff to accommodate the crowd. We waited for over an hour for food, and it wasn’t for the staff’s lack of hustle.
We looked out at the plaza across the street while we waited. The storefronts were dark.
If Burbank were to host more than 100,000 cyclists here, what would be shuttered? Would it be a boon to Magnolia Park, or would the crowd descend only on its cafes and Porto’s? Would they be taken along San Fernando Boulevard, which has no shortage of dining and shopping but a narrow space in which to fit the ride?
CicLAvia rides to Pasadena in May. I’d say it would be a good litmus test to see how Burbank might organize the ride, but Pasadena already knows how to host thousands of people on Colorado Boulevard with the Tournament of Roses Parade. Burbank has similar experience shutting down Olive Avenue for Burbank on Parade, but that route isn’t nearly the 5 or more miles of CicLAvia.
No, the Valley CicLAvia was the best comparison Burbank might want to make in ever considering hosting the event here.
And then the city would have to answer: What kind of experience does it want to deliver to both its visitors and the people who will be riding the city streets long after they’re gone?