Have you ever seen LA’s major thoroughfares devoid of traffic for 7 hours straight? This is Hollywood Blvd. at Vermont Ave. on Sunday, August 18th at 1:30pm.
The occasion? CicLAvia: an event presented by Metro and produced by the CicLAvia organization to activate the streets in a way that the car-centered city is not used to seeing.
A half dozen Sundays per year between 6-7am, sometimes before the sun comes up, staff and volunteers in turquoise shirts are diligently unloading vans, setting up booths, tables, chairs, and posting signage along the CicLAvia route. The event officially begins at 9am, but there are always early birds excited to enjoy the calm of a car-free LA street before the storm of thousands of bikes and pedestrians. On this particular day, 6 1/2 miles of roads between West Hollywood and Hollywood were inaccessible to cars, prioritizing people and encouraging them to explore the dynamic communities in between.
CicLAvia’s Director of Production, Rachel Burke, gives a little history about the event.
“A group of people were working together for a few years to bring the idea of Open Streets to LA,” says Burke. “In Bogota, they close almost 80 miles of streets to cars every Sunday – why couldn’t we do that in LA? They brought the idea to the mayor at the time, who decided to give it a chance. The City [of LA] helped fund the event and after several months of planning, the first CicLAvia took place.” That event closed 7 1/2 miles of streets between East Hollywood and Boyle Heights in 2010. “This was a small grassroots effort and we had no idea what the turnout would be, but it was a huge success! Tens of thousands of people showed up and city officials saw this as a positive way for LA to encourage people to use alternate forms of transportation.” Its wild success is proof that residents of LA do care more about meaningful interaction with their neighbors than wasting away hours of their lives in cars when given the space and the opportunity.
Modeled after Ciclovía that began 45 years ago in Bogotá, Colombia, and adapting the name to include LA’s identity, the event that began here in 2010 now routinely closes miles of streets to auto traffic and reclaims the space for bicycles, pedestrians, roller skates, and any other self-propelled mode of transportation with one rule: no motorized vehicles on the route. The event also invites vendors and community groups to set up booths along the route to encourage community engagement, socialization, business, and active participation.
According to Burke the biggest challenge for CicLAvia is “finding solid routes with as little negative impact to residents and businesses as possible. We try our best to select wide, flat routes that travel along commercial corridors and connect different communities. But we also try to make sure that people who aren’t participating can still get to where they need to go – for example, we don’t want block a major grocery store, church, hotel, or an apartment complex. We do our best to accommodate everyone.”
CicLAvia couldn’t have come at a better time. We’re victims of our infrastructure in LA. The very systems that were designed for convenience, including suburban communities with freeways, wide boulevards, and a complete emphasis on the automobile have in turn limited us at the cost of an interconnected, rich community fabric across the entire region. Rather than using these systems to explore and discover the diversity of communities and cultures around us, it presented ways to avoid connection altogether. But with rising concern for the environment, the popularity of alternative modes of transportation, and growing numbers of Millennials and Generation Z’ers giving up on car culture, the unique social fabric of individual communities across LA finally may be finding ways to commingle.
With exponential population growth in our city, increased traffic is always the biggest fear. Theoretically it takes 20 minutes to get anywhere in LA, but gridlocked streets and freeways can turn a 20-minute ride into an hour and a half of bumper-to-bumper torture. The lesson that we’re still learning? If we’re more mindful in how we guide our infrastructure, encouraging more local interactions, engagement, and experiences through pedestrian exploration, we can reclaim Los Angeles as a fiercely connected city. If our neighborhoods boast a wide array of jobs, amenities, and a promising sense of community for the people who call them home, we might then see intra-community travel serve a better purpose; perhaps as a conduit of connectivity for exploration, learning, and new experiences.
Although we’re not quite there, events like CicLAvia that create a space where there seemingly isn’t one and continue to bring people together, keep reminding us of what we’re striving for and surely move us further down the line to a more culturally connected city. Burke shares that hope. “I see CicLAvia as an important part of LA’s culture,” she explains. “I hope our events continue to attract participants and change daily behavior, maybe getting folks to walk a few blocks rather than drive, and get people out of their neighborhood bubble to explore new parts of the county.”
CicLAvia currently happens 6 times per year throughout LA County. “The goal is to connect communities, introducing participants to different parts of LA while getting them out of their cars for a day. We want to turn public streets into recreational spaces,” says Burke. “You see so much more when you’re outside of your car. Our routes go down streets that I’ve traveled on hundreds of times by car, and I always discover something new when traveling by foot or bike during CicLAvia.” What motivates her to keep doing it? Burke explains that she loves “seeing LA from a different perspective and discovering new places, architecture, signage, and other hidden gems along the way.”
CicLAvia couldn’t happen without collaboration. According to Burke, a signifiant amount of city resources and personnel are responsible for the planning and production, including police, transportation, sanitation, and the Fire Department. “We couldn’t do our events without their support and hard work,” says Burke. “We’re lucky that most of the city staff that work on the events actually enjoy it. CicLAvia is such a happy day and I think many of them see and feel that joy and enjoy being a part of making it happen.”
Having worked at CicLAvia events in the past myself, I never received anything but positive feedback from participants, and of course the most common question; “when is the next event?” Luckily, it’s not too far around the corner. On October 6th CicLAvia will be back with its iconic “Heart of LA” route that ventures through MacArthur Park, the city’s Historic Core, the Arts District, Little Tokyo, Chinatown, and Boyle Heights. It will celebrate UCLA turning 100 years old this year (on what happens to be USC’s 139th birthday for those who are keeping track). More info on the event here.
Interested in bringing CicLAvia to your neighborhood? According to Burke Metro created an Open Streets Grant program to continue to make these events happen due to their positive impact. “Any city in LA County can apply for funding to produce an open street event,” she says. “As a nonprofit organization, we partner with different cities in the county to apply for this funding to produce more events.” Looks like we can count on them to continue CicLAvia for years to come!
All photos by Farris•Reel unless otherwise noted.