When The Streets Are Closed, The Bikes Roam Free: CicLAvia

by Justin Loeb

This Sunday, three and a half miles of highly trafficked city streets deep in the heart of Los Angeles will be completely closed to cars in what will be the city’s 18th CicLAvia.  

Between the hours of 9am and 4pm tens of thousands of men, women, and children will pour into the streets on their bicycles to participate in the country’s largest closed-street community event.  

In only five short years, CicLAvia has grown from an annual event into a semi-quarterly tradition in which over a million people have participated.  As the movement has grown in popularity, similar events have popped up all over the world, including dozens in the United States alone.

LA’s Hottest Colombian Import

CircLAviaThe idea of car free streets is not new but its popularity is increasing in the United States. What began as an experiment borrowed from Bogota, Colombia (known as Ciclovia, or “bike path”) quickly became a symbol of the car-free utopia many cyclist dream about.  

CicLAvia, as we know it today, was co-founded by a Civil Engineer from Texas who works for the Metro; a “street anthropologist” with a University of California Ph.D; and a handful of other bike activists and non-profit experts who directly lobbied City Hall to make the streets of Los Angeles safe for cyclists, at least for half a day, one day a year.  

What came to Los Angeles in 2010, now averages over 150,000 participants.

Global On Two Wheels

Dozens of cities across the world have adopted Cicvovia’s model of “car-free” bike holidays. Mexico City and Lima, Peru both hold similar events every single Sunday. Many American cities have tried, but none have succeeded in the permanent recurring installation of an open-streets bicycle festival.

Baltimore hosts a Ciclovia regularly, and Houston morphed theirs into more general “open streets festival.”  In Los Angeles, CicLAvia occurs about every three months, and both its organizers and the Mayor of Los Angeles himself have stated that their goal is to reach 12 times a year.  

Does your city have a closed street festival?  What about bike lanes?

Kinetic Community

CircLAviaCicLAvia is obsessed with inclusiveness. Its founders have strived to make CicLAvia accessible to every Angeleno, no easy task given LA’s signature bike-prohibitive sprawl. They accomplish this by selecting each route with two things in mind: Exposing new neighborhoods to CicLAvia; and the route’s accessibility by mass-transit. Neighborhoods without bike lanes and lower bicycle engagement are chosen specifically for the purpose of evangelizing new participants.  

CicLAvia also encourages bicycle enthusiasts to discover neighborhoods they didn’t previously know existed. Exploring a new neighborhood on a bicycle or on foot provides an intimacy that is quite rare in LA’s car culture.  CicLAvia brings communities together 100,000 bicycles at a time.

Peddling to Peddlers

Local business LOVE having CicLAvia come through town. Who wouldn’t welcome a 100,000% increase in foot traffic on an otherwise sleepy Sunday afternoon?! Businesses are encouraged to remain open during the event, some even move out onto the sidewalk provided they allow ample passage for bikes.  

In addition to the plethora of food-trucks, many restaurants along the route offer flyers and coupons to the cyclists and pedestrians.  It is a great chance for businesses to endear themselves to the “bike tourists” who may only live a few miles away.  

With millennial’s changing attitudes about alternative transportation and a well documented resistance to vehicle ownership, perhaps the future of our city streets belongs to those on two wheels. CicLAvia, and similar events all over the world, signal a growing desire to be free from cars and a wide ranging embrace of the benefits of bicycling.  

Not only does it promote personal health, it promotes the health of the environment.  As our planet gets hotter and more crowded, the more bicycles the better. So lets park our cars, strap on our helmets, and get out there, for the health of our hearts and our earth.   
Photo Source: CircLAvia

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