An estimated 100,000 people enjoyed 9 miles of car-free streets in L.A. yesterday at the fifth CicLAvia, L.A.’s recurring street party. Those who have experienced it understand what an amazing feeling it is to enjoy the city by bicycle, without fear of having to tussle with cars. Those who’ve experienced it understand the pleasure of gliding along some of L.A.’s usually-gridlocked avenues absent the constant thrum of engines, where the only sounds you’ll hear are the whisper of bike gears, laughter, conversation, and the occasional bicycle bell.
One of the things that leaves a lasting impression is the sheer volume of bicycles that are able to move smoothly through the streets of the city during CicLAvia. Consider the traffic nightmare that would result from dumping over 100,000 cars onto 9 miles of L.A. streets all at once and you begin to understand the subtle ways in which CicLAvia changes our perception of what efficient use of street space is. Indeed, that is perhaps the most radical, if not subversive aspect of CicLAvia: it alters our understanding of city streets and what they might be used for. Turns out, if you make some streets for people, not cars, they turn into space for play, exercise, socializing, and efficient transit from one place to another on foot or on two wheels. It’s this re-imagining of urban space that reflects one of CicLAvia’s greatest achievements.
The other achievement is to break down the invisible walls that separate communities when they are bisected by roads that become impassable rivers of steel and concrete. More than one participant I talked to yesterday remarked how they had never noticed L.A.’s people, its neighborhoods, or its architecture like they did from the vantage point of a bicycle. Freed from having to watch for cars, they could look around, listen, and appreciate their surroundings. For my part, CicLAvia has made me feel a deeper connection to L.A. than ever before. I especially like the way CicLAvia provides a means for this middle aged white man from the suburbs to get to know the people and communities in South L.A., Boyle Heights, Little Tokyo, Chinatown, and everywhere in between. It’s not just the places, it’s the people in them that I feel more connected to.
All of which reminds me that, while the automobile has brought certain benefits to society it has also impoverished us in ways we don’t often consider. We are all enriched by the conversion of some street space to car-free space.