Has CicLAvia jumped this shark? Sunday's ride from downtown to the beach was phenomenally popular, more crowded than any Ludo Bites or free-healthcare event, that's for sure. And so -- only in L.A. -- we saw bicycle traffic jams. Really:
Aaron Paley, executive director of CicLAvia, estimates yesterday's crowd at 150,000 to 180,000, which would be a record for the event that started in 2010.
The bike-bound backups that ensued were just a sign of its success, he told the Weekly:
We had a tremendous amount of people, even more we had anticipated. We had an endless flow of people without interruption for 15 miles.
The two-wheeled logjams, however, irked some riders.
The east-to-west route, mostly along the westbound half of Venice Boulevard, saw 31 vehicle crossings, often with red lights for bike riders who ended up bunched and backed up.
The crossings were a lifeline for vehicles in the core of L.A.'s urban basin, especially those headed for the 10 freeway.
CicLAvia fan and USC physics professor Clifford V. Johnson wasn't too happy (via LA Observed):
There were far more people than the event could really support, in both space and time.
Space-wise because there's just not enough space if only half of Venice boulevard is used for the event, and certainly not if so very many of the major cross streets were running their usual traffic light cycle - this produced huge tailbacks of vast amounts of cyclists who then had to crawl slowly through the junction more often than not, pushing their bikes instead of riding them. I worry that this will discourage a lot of people from coming back ...
Actually, says Jonathan Hui of the L.A. Department of Transportation, which controlled streets for the event, traffic lights were purposefully timed in favor of the riders. Three engineers in the traffic control center downtown were dedicated to helping the ride flow, he told us. But:
The sheer volume of cyclists as well as traffic was just pretty overwhelming. To balance that the engineers were favoring cyclists as much as possible.
Police said there was one "minor" arrest during the event and eight "transports" to hospitals, mainly for heat-related illness. LAPD Officer Richard French said, "From a security standpoint it was a complete success."
Joe Linton, a co-founder of the event who has since moved away from L.A., told us:
I suspect that bike traffic jams are good - they slow people down and make the overall event safer. CicLAvia is about slowing down and checking out the city - not about being in a rush to get somewhere.
Paley of CicLAvia says organizers were challenged by a few things:
The sheer number of participants, the fact that many riders wanted to go the whole, 15-mile route (CicLAvia was meant to draw in neighborhoods and was not designed as a marathon ride), unexpected Expo Line construction along the way, and an extra layer of bureaucracy in the form of Caltrans' control of much of the Venice route.
Indeed riders who made it to the beach in Venice turned around only to find that the event was over and they'd have to find public transportation or ride back east alongside vehicles.
We're going to be learning from our success. CicLAvia is growing faster than anyone could have hoped. What I saw on the route is that everyone, the people who I talked to, all took it in stride.
The traffic worked both ways: The Los Angeles Times on Sunday issued a rare breaking news text (the last one, about the Bell city corruption verdicts, came in March) warning of "CicLAvia-related traffic delays."
The next CicLAvia, June 23, heads from downtown to Miracle Mile.
Still, organizers feel that the "to the sea" route along Venice was so popular that "we're definitely going to do this route again," Paley said. "We might extend the hours too."
Next time, however, would likely include fewer vehicle crossings, an idea that might not be popular with motorists.
Says Hui of the LADOT:
There's two different needs, the event and the commuters who needed to cross Venice. We're trying to balance those two needs.