CicLAvia to the Sea
Sunday 4.21.13 was the sixth CicLAvia (not sixth annual as many corporate media outlets erroneously reported), this time along a new route from downtown to Venice beach. The route was a bit longer this time, 15 miles one way as opposed to 10-12 miles in the past, and offered CicLAvia’s first direct connection with the west side. What follows are some reflections as CicLAvia continues to mature and grow as an L.A. event.
First, the good. CicLAvia continues to introduce people to a new way of thinking about experiencing the city. Yesterday, I met two first-timers on the Gold Line to downtown. Neither had ever been downtown on their bikes and neither had ever been on the Gold Line. I could see the excitement in their eyes and told them they’d be in for an unforgettable experience. CicLAvia to the Sea also allowed me to see parts of L.A. I was unfamiliar with, and connected downtown with the beach, which seems a natural connection to me (DTLA to Long Beach, anyone?). First-timer JustAdventures shared her sense of wonder and totally gets CicLAvia.
I’ve been to all six of the CicLAvias, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them all. Moreover, I’m not going to rant on the organizers who have a herculean task of managing this growing beast. However, I have a small critique along the same lines as blogger Asymptotia. I’ve always had time to bike the entire route and back, but this time the route was longer (which was fine with me) and the delays along the route much longer (which was problematic for a number of reasons). The crowd, conservatively estimated by organizers at 150,000, but probably closer to 200,000, was simply too large for the amount of road space we had. For much of Venice Blvd., LADOT gave us only half of the roadway, which led to major bottlenecks and long waits in the hot sun at traffic lights. At least twice riders had to wait for four red light cycles before being able to proceed. With these delays, the ride simply took too long.
I started my CicLAvia at La PLacita downtown at 10:00 am, and estimated riding at a moderate pace I’d be in Venice by 11:30, 12 noon at the latest. I had arranged to meet a Venice friend at the hub there. Unfortunately, because of the long delays at traffic lights I did not get to Venice until about 1:00 pm. Three hours to complete a 15-mile course is an average speed of 5 miles an hour. Once I got to Venice, I had to cancel with my friend because I did not think I would have had enough time to get back to Union Station before the route closed at 3:00 pm unless I immediately turned around and started back. I grabbed a quick bite to eat, watching the clock the whole time and began my return. As it was, I rode the bike lane on the eastbound side of Venice Blvd. much of the way back to Culver City rather than get stuck at traffic lights on the CicLAvia side of Venice Blvd. I felt like I had to ride fast to beat the clock, and that is not the spirit in which CicLAvia should be experienced. I decided to take the Expo Line from Culver City back to downtown, which I’d never ridden, but I really would have preferred to ride my bike all the way back.
I trust this isn’t what organizers had in mind when they planned this new route, and I also hope some changes will be made next time. I would start the event an hour earlier (or end it an hour later) to give people more time to explore the longer route and work with LADOT to reduce the number of traffic stops along the way. I think the overwhelming popularity of the event and its purpose (to get us out of our cars and connect us with our city and each other) provide ample reason for these changes.
Despite these glitches, I’m still a huge CicLAvia supporter. It really has changed the way I perceive my city. Perhaps it is a measure of the fundamental shift in consciousness that CicLAvia has wrought that I am no longer blown away by 15 miles of L.A. streets open for people instead of cars. Experiencing city streets without cars seems almost normal now. I’m no longer surprised when nearly a quarter of a million (a quarter of a million!) Angelinos of all races and colors and ages show up to enjoy these open streets. A quarter of a million of us showed up and voted with our feet, with out bodies, with our bikes. We want safe, car-free space to ride our bikes for everyday transportation, for health, and for fun. The era when the automobile held unquestioned sway over our public space in the most car-centric city in America is coming to an end. Elected leaders, are you listening?