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CicLAvia tries to attract other cities

More than 100,000 pedalers and walkers are expected to descend on a 10-mile swath of city streets closed to motor vehicles as the third CicLAvia launches Sunday.

The first CicLAvia was held last October and was instantly popular, and it appears the event may be expanded to other parts of greater Los Angeles as part of an effort to combat childhood obesity.

The county Department of Public Health is sponsoring a behind-the-scenes tour during CicLAvia this weekend for representatives from six cities, including South Gate and Huntington Park, where more than a quarter of the child population was ranked as obese, according to a report from the agency.

Dr. Paul Simon of the county health department said CicLAvia is “a phenomenal opportunity to expand our efforts around obesity prevention.” The department approved a $100,000 grant for the event organizers to teach at least five cities how to begin their own cycling and walking event.

The other cities included in Sunday’s tour are La Puente, Lynwood, San Fernando and Pomona. Representatives will be given an orientation, a walking tour from City Hall and lunch.

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“That doesn’t mean that in six months they’ll have a CicLAvia done, but we’re hoping to spread the seeds of how to do this,” said Aaron Paley, one of the leaders of Community Arts Resources and CicLAvia’s producer. “We’re hoping to get CicLAvia beyond the boundaries of the city as well.”

Daryl Grigsby, Pomona’s director of public works, said holding a cycling event was “an exciting prospect.... Anything that we can do to promote bicycling as a healthy alternative [for] mobility and transportation would be good....” We’re glad to be considered for this technical assistance. I think it has a lot of promise.”

Grigsby, a CicLAvia veteran, said that though Pomona recently designed its first citywide bike plan, it was unclear whether city leaders would develop their own event.

Simon said one reason those cities were chosen for Sunday’s tour was because tough economic conditions make it difficult for many residents there to join gyms or find safe, accessible places to exercise in their neighborhoods.

In many parts of the county, Simon said, “the streets are also perceived as a place that’s not safe because of the traffic.” Car-free events like CicLAvia are good ways to “raise awareness of the value of streets for all types of users.”

Organizers stress CicLAvia is not just for bicyclists and have billed Sunday’s 10 a.m.-3 p.m. free event as “LA’s biggest block party.”

The car-free area during the first two events was 7.5 miles from East Hollywood to Boyle Heights. This year organizers have expanded another 2.5 miles around downtown from El Pueblo to the African American Firefighter Museum on Central Avenue.

Organizers have also included activities for participants around the car-free zone, including musical performances. There will also be food trucks and neighborhood guides showing participants local gems along the route.

City officials have already given hundreds of thousands of dollars to CicLAvia and last week approved $200,000 more. Councilman Eric Garcetti, a candidate for mayor, said at a news conference promoting the event last week that he was interested in exploring the economic benefits of CicLAvia because there are so many businesses and shops that receive new streams of customers.

The idea of shutting down part of a city to motor vehicles first appeared as a weekly Ciclovia event in Colombia almost four decades ago and was later adopted by several cities in Latin America and the United States.

Many people, including Simon, were skeptical when it was first repurposed in L.A. because the idea seemed so contrary to the city’s car-centric reputation.

“I somehow didn’t think it would work all that well in Los Angeles,” Simon said. “I was very surprised and happy to see that it drew some 50, 60, 70,000.... So the second time, I decided I’d have to do it,” he said.

Simon and his wife rode their bicycles during the second event in April, which organizers estimated drew about double the participants of the first event.

“It was just so invigorating,” Simon said. “Not only did we feel great because there was exercise, there was a sense of camaraderie, a sense of community that you don’t often feel in Los Angeles because we’re all spread out and we’re often isolated in our cars.”

He said CicLAvia was an important “incremental step in trying to change our culture.”

“You have to start small and grow it by expanding the breadth of events and the frequency of events,” Simon said. “Over time you hope it just spills over into the day-to-day activities of people.”

ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com


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