Open Streets Initiatives: A Breath of Fresh Air

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.

Open Streets Initiatives

Taking it to the streets.

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.ciclavia

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.

CicLAviaSaskia 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

5 Responses

  1. MIka

    Would love to know the logistics around this… do all the families drive to the fringe streets and park their cars? Do all the shops in the area get really angry about the roads shutting down as they believe people in cars shop and not people on foot/bike? How do the organisers work with this?

    1. Kent Epperson

      Hello Mika,

      Months in advance, both the businesses and residents have a chance to chime in and voice their concerns or support for any event that requires the closure of a street. Days leading up to the event there is significant publicity informing residents and potential visitors that the street will be closed to auto traffic. On the day of the event, extensive signage and detours including variable message signs on the highway are posted directing people to parking and alternate routes. When all this is done properly there are few headaches. Businesses become advocates for the event and learn how to be a part of it to maximize the exposure and patronage from the event. Residents become supporters because they get to experience the street and its businesses and assets free of auto traffic. Since these events are not commercially driven but instead are a public service designed to encourage physical fitness and public health for all ages, cultures and abilities, they garner much support from organizations and agencies that want to promote public health. At the end of the day, other neighborhoods end up clamoring for an Open Streets in their neighborhood because it brings people, exposure and a positive vibe to their community.

      1. Eric

        Mika,

        We’ve also heard from CicLAvia friends and businesses that on the days the streets get closed, business along the ‘closed’ corridors actually see a jump in their business, and in some cases have hosted events targeting cicLAvia participants. So, a pretty unique opportunity to build community, promote healthy living and even build local economy.

        Thanks for the great questions!

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