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As CicLAvia Grows, Angelenos Do Too

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Photo: Krista Carlson

If you have ever been to CicLAvia, then you have seen Los Angeles in an utterly different way than most of its residents are used to. You know that the city becomes smaller on that day. You know that the streets transform into an organism alive with human interaction and movement. You've caught a glimpse of Los Angeles in the throes of a cultural shift, and you've been implicated.

"I love seeing the community out and having a good time," said Amy Foell, who participated in the first CicLAvia and continues to attend. "It would be beautiful if we could do this every Sunday, where the community doesn't really have to spend a lot of money, do whatever you want to do and just be with your community, be with neighbors and meet new people [...] when CicLAvia takes over a street, you're going to be sold out of whatever you're selling at your shop, because there are so many people that come through -- so it is a positive economic opportunity, and an opportunity for everyone to get out and have a good time."

After 10 events in four years, it's safe to say that CicLAvia has become a civic institution --though it didn't happen with a smile and a handshake. The fact is, the first CicLAvia was simply a pilot: It could work; it might work. With a handful of passionate advocates at the helm, the concept was put to the test. And the results blew everyone's minds. So we kept doing it. And growing it. After this month's Heart of L.A. route, CicLAvia has come to pass in half a dozen different configurations on many of the city's most-traveled streets. The latest route took over Glendale Boulevard from Echo Park Lake onto 2nd Street, and across downtown into Boyle Heights.

"You go through parts of the city you just never experience," said Foell, "and find the nooks and crannies."

Photo: Krista Carlson
Photo: Krista Carlson

Breaching East L.A. brought CicLAvia to a new territory, outside Los Angeles city limits for the first time, and gave participants an opportunity to get acquainted with a neighborhood most never venture into. But the expansion wasn't just geographic -- as the open streets event becomes more familiar and less of a novelty, people are beginning to truly embrace the principles that the concept is founded upon: car-free mobility, community action, and gathering in public space to engage in active recreation, together.

"People should be allowed to have that safe space," said Clyde Malinis, admiring the view of downtown from Echo Park Lake on Sunday morning. "To know that I can bike out here safely, and I'm doing a good thing right now instead of watching out for all the cars. In traffic you're a road warrior, but this really takes a step back; you get to really enjoy what our community is."

Here we have all these happy Angelenos eager to spend a 92-degree day on the asphalt. But as brutal as the sun was -- and it was indeed brutal -- the heat wasn't enough to trump the energy and excitement, all of the anticipation that had built up since the last event in April, and the opportunity to reclaim open space for people and people-driven activities.

"One of the most important things we can instill in our kids, in our friends, and in ourselves is just the importance of community," said author/activist Naomi Klein when she spoke to Angelenos about climate change at the Hammer Museum in the week preceding CicLAvia. "In many ways having strong community is the most important way we can prepare for this rocky future."

CicLAvia is not an original idea; it was inspired by Ciclovía in Bogotá, where the weekly event branches out across 75 miles of road. Still, in Los Angeles, it was pioneering to say the least. Today, CicLAvia is a model for positive social change, and one that is still making converts out of first timers who vow to ride their bikes again, spend more time exploring L.A., disavow traffic, seek out transportation alternatives, and institute health and community as much higher priorities in their day to day lives.

"I see all different age groups and different community members be able to come out and ride their bikes and feel safe without the cars," said Jenn Alonzo. "Sometimes I commute to work and it's been pretty scary -- I've been scuffed, so now it's the opportunity for me to feel safe and be with other riders. I just hope they build more bike lanes now."

Over time the voice of the few becomes majority opinion, and the past becomes nearly unrecognizable. CicLAvia will be back on December 7 to challenge people's perspective on life in Los Angeles further, when a new route will coax us away from streets familiar into another area many tend to skirt around -- South L.A.

"We forget that we can act collectively in movements," said Klein, noting that social movements do in fact change a culture. "They don't reflect the culture back and say 'This is all we can be' -- they dream in public and say we can be more."

CicLAvia is the type of movement that is altering the collective ideology by challenging car culture in L.A., and introducing the sort of lifestyle shifts that come with using your body to move through the city. It is a model of what happens when the status quo is challenged. As impractical as CicLAvia seemed five years ago, it is now an inherent part of what Angelenos, and outsiders, know L.A. to be.

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