On Sunday, I rode my bike 15 miles through the heart of Los Angeles, and not a single driver cut me off, swore at me for slowing him down or opened the door of his parked car directly in my path. Dumb, freak luck? No. It was CicLAvia.
Inspired by similar events in Latin America, and especially by the experience of Bogota, Colombia, where streets are closed to cars every Sunday, a group of organizers pulled off a remarkable feat, not only persuading the city to close 71/2 miles of streets from East Hollywood to Boyle Heights but getting the word out to cyclists using a tiny marketing budget. The crowd was estimated at 100,000 bikers, joggers, roller-bladers and walkers — but mostly bikers.
Angelenos are used to street closures for events like the L.A. Marathon, but they’ve never seen anything like CicLAvia. This wasn’t a competition for Bianchi jockeys in Lycra shorts; it was a bike festival for everybody. There were elderly couples on tandems, hobbyists riding weird modified cruisers, and kids on tiny Schwinns with plastic streamers on the handlebars (every single one of them in my way but much too cute to get annoyed with). If nothing else, the event demonstrated the pent-up demand for a safe place to cycle in a car-loving city.
CicLAvia was so successful and worthwhile that it makes one wish it weren’t so expensive and difficult to pull off. There was a big police presence, and though organizers still haven’t gotten the city’s bill, they’re expecting to pay about $120,000 for services, about half the city’s total costs. The event was funded mostly by charitable foundations such as the Annenberg Foundation and the California Endowment, as well as private donations, and fundraising is underway for future CicLAvias — organizers hope to stage five next year and make them a monthly event in 2012. That’s terrific, but a more lasting and economical move would be to build more bike paths.
There are a few nice ones, of course, notably the path along the L.A. River. I’ve seen some wacky proposals for more, including visions of raised biking platforms above L.A.'s streets, sort of like monorails without rails. But there’s at least one better idea. It’s CicLAvia every day on Chandler Boulevard in the Valley, where a bike path was built along the Orange Line dedicated busway. Such busways are another notion we borrowed from Latin America, and they are just as efficient at moving people as light-rail lines, at a fraction of the cost. Let’s build more, with bike lanes attached, and not just in the Valley.