Los Angeles is famous for its clogged roadways and its love affair with the car. It’s an unlikely place for vibrant bike culture, livable communities and grassroots community building. However, a new initiative called CicLAvia encourages Angelinos to get out of their cars by temporarily closing major downtown roadways.
CicLAvia started in 2010 and is a biannual event that temporarily closes down streets on 10 miles of major arterial roads through downtown L.A. It repurposes the space as a ‘public park’ for the community to enjoy. Common activities include bicycling, walking, dancing and fitness classes, shared art, music, sports, games, public talks and more. More than 100,000 people from all walks of life attended the most recent CicLAvia, held in October 2012. Plans are now underway to expand CicLAvia to other locations throughout L.A. County, such as Long Beach and Santa Monica. Four events are planned for 2013 and six are planned for 2014.
The concept of CicLAvia is not a new one. The name CicLAvia is an L.A. adaptation of the term Ciclovia (Spanish for ‘bike path’) that was first coined in Bogota, Columbia in the late 1970s. Thirty years later, more than two million Colombians enjoy 120 kilometers of car-free streets every Sunday. In the past five years, this concept has spread around the world including over 80 similar events in the United States. The new term for these initiatives is Open Streets.
Open Streets initiatives look very different from place to place, but all events share a car-free environment that encourages exercise and the exploration of a city without a car. In addition to the many physical activities found at Open Streets, there is an important do-it-yourself element to these events. Opening up the streets provides an opportunity for locals to invent creative activities to share with their community, such as sand boxes, chalk drawing, giant chess boards, yoga classes and anything else they can dream up.
Saskia Lucas, the organizer of Santa Cruz Open Streets, finds the family-friendly aspect to be one of the more magical qualities of these events. “It was amazing how many families with children showed up, including many very young children on scoot bikes who you’d never normally see riding in the road,” said Lucas.
For all the time we spend in our cars on a daily basis, Open Streets provides a refreshing alternative. It helps us get out in the fresh air and establish new ties to the places we live. If you are interested in bringing an Open Streets initiative to your community, find out more at www.OpenStreetsProject.org.
The article above first appeared in LoaLiving Magazine, vol. 2, winter 2013.
By Kent Epperson, LoaLiving Magazine Contributor