CicLAvia Rules! How Bicyclists Made L.A. a Better Place 

Thursday, Apr 5 2012

Click for "CicLAvia: Real Rydaz, Kings of South L.A. Cycling."

Click for "CicLAvia: Rolling Photo Booth Lets You Snap Yourself."

And here's the CicLAvia Route Map.

click to flip through (23) PHOTOS BY GARY LEONARD AND AARON PALEY
  • Photos by Gary Leonard and Aaron Paley


How to Get to CicLAvia: CicLAvia, happening Sunday, April 15, is free. For a detailed route map, go to bit.ly/LA-Bike-Map. You may join the route anywhere. Take your bike by subway or rail to get closer. See the L.A. Weekly photo contest winners at bit.ly/CicLAvia-Winners. And for more info, go to ciclavia.org.

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They said it would never work here. This wasn't San Francisco, this wasn't New York, and this was most certainly not Portland. This was Los Angeles, where the car is king. To close seven miles of streets — and for what? To the city bureaucracy, it sounded like madness.

"Where does it start?" asked a Department of Transportation representative.

"Um ... ," replied Joe Linton, a bicycle activist.

"And where does it end?"

"It's ... don't think of it that way ... "

It was impossible to describe to someone who hadn't seen it. Not even Linton himself knew what to expect. He would later awake at 4 a.m. on the morning of the first CicLAvia on 10-10-10, panic stricken with the fear that no one would show up, that the streets would be empty and that he would be a laughingstock.

But people did come — tens of thousands of them bicycling or walking (the Los Angeles Times made a probably overly optimistic guess of 100,000). They brought their serious bikes and their crazy bikes, their pets, their children. They were young and old, black, white, Asian and Hispanic. The streets — Sixth, Seventh and Spring — were filled with the soft, ambient sounds of laughter and talking. And nothing else. L.A.'s subtly oppressive white noise — its cars, trucks and buses — was eerily gone. People kept pausing in delight to hear what wasn't there. All motors and engines were banned from the route.

The air felt lighter, as if the city itself had ascended high above the clouds. It was just a few hours on a Sunday, but it felt like a new chapter in L.A. history.

"Open street" initiatives have been around at least since 1965, with Seattle's Bicycle Sundays. The event migrated to New York City, San Francisco and Ottawa before showing up in Bogotá, Colombia, in 1974. They called it "Ciclovía," a portmanteau combining "cycle" and "way."

Somehow in Bogotá, a crime-ridden city of fierce traffic, Ciclovía took root in a way it hadn't in North American cities. It has since become an institution, held every Sunday, spanning roughly 75 miles. On this single day, as many as 1 million Colombians use the route for everything from parades, protests and performances to simply running errands.

In 2007, Clarence Eckerson Jr., a 40-year-old, New York–based videographer, flew to Bogotá, made a nine-minute documentary about Ciclovía and posted it on the website Streetsblog.

Bicycle activists around the country watched the video and wondered, Why not here?

Adonia Lugo was a UC Irvine grad student studying anthropology. She and her then-boyfriend, Bobby Gadda, watched Eckerson's video and decided they had to see it for themselves, in Bogotá. When they did, on a rainy Sunday in 2008, it was nothing short of a revelation.

"The difference between a street that's full of cars and a street that's full of people is just ... it's exciting," Lugo recalls.

They returned from Colombia, buzzing with thoughts of a Ciclovía in Los Angeles. Lugo was 24, Gadda 23. They were too young to grasp the enormous difficulties inherent in what they were about to propose.

They had just moved into the L.A. Eco Village, a housing co-op in Koreatown. There they met Aurisha Smolarski Waters, who suggested they take the idea to an L.A. County Bicycle Coalition meeting. Under the umbrella of the bike coalition, Lugo and Gadda formed a Ciclovía committee and gained two important allies.

Stephen Villavaso, 28, was new to Los Angeles, having just moved from Austin, Texas. He was a civil engineer, working as a contractor for Metro. Jonathan Parfrey was a longtime environmental activist and head of the Green L.A. Coalition, as well as a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power commissioner appointed by the mayor.

They, along with Lugo, Gadda and a few others, began raising money, meeting with neighborhood councils (East Hollywood Neighborhood Council was the first to give its approval, although no route had been mapped yet) and lobbying city officials for what they dubbed "CicLAvia."

In May 2009, Los Angeles magazine ran a cover photograph of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, along with the word Failure in bold lettering. The package included an acid editorial blasting the mayor, as well as suggestions from observers and advocates. One piece of advice was from someone named Aaron Paley, who offered: "Close Wilshire Boulevard on Sundays and other contiguous boulevards to create a Ciclovía modeled on the highly successful example of Bogotá, Colombia."

A big-name public events planner and president of Community Arts Resources, Paley had produced the Glow festival in Santa Monica — an all-night, luminescence-themed arts happening attended by roughly a quarter of a million people — as well as the highly anticipated openings of the Getty Center and Skirball Cultural Center. In 2008, he won a Stanton Fellowship from the Durfee Foundation — $75,000 — to develop ideas for creating better public spaces in Los Angeles.

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