Boyonabike!

Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

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CicLAvia Pasadena

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It has been a while since I’ve attended CicLAvia, but with this one practically in my backyard, I could not resist.  It was the first ever CicLAvia outside the city limits of LA (and not the last) and the first one I attended with my whole family.  As we rode to the event, we encountered others headed to the event.  As we got closer, we saw more people, different ages and cycling abilities (i.e., not “cyclists”), and families with children who were headed to CicLAvia.  We waved, smiled, and exchanged pleasantries.  I always get excited as I see more and more people on different kinds of bikes headed to the open streets, like we are headed to a gathering of the tribes, distant kin on the same pilgrimage.  As always, it seemed everyone had a smile and the crowd represented a huge, diverse cross-section of Southern California.  As always, there were lots of families, lots of people of different ages, colors, backgrounds.

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I loved observing my wife and kids experience the delights of car-free streets and the sense of community that pervades CicLAvia.  My 15-year-old daughter, who rides to school with me each Monday, was awed at the sight and feel of Colorado Blvd filled with cyclists.  “This is so cool,” she said as we cruised the Boulevard.  “I wish it was always like this!”  Uh-huh, I smiled.  My wife, something of a chatty Cathy, particularly seemed to relish the conviviality of the event, striking up conversations with what seemed like every other person on the route.  After lunch at a local restaurant, as we rode up Raymond Ave next to a young couple who were singing a Maroon 5 pop song, my wife spontaneously joined them singing the chorus (much to the embarrassment of my daughter).  I smiled at the serendipitous, joyful human connections people make when they are released from dependence on their rolling isolation chambers.  Just another CicLAvia moment.

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This particular route was only 3.5 miles, the shortest CicLAvia to date, but since we rode there and back home, it didn’t seem too short to us.  There were local “feeder rides,” sponsored by a variety of groups, but I’d like to see a greater effort to get even more people to and from the event on their bikes, so that more of the surrounding streets become informally “CicLAvia-ized” on the day of the event.

I’m a huge fan of such Open Streets events not only because they’re wonderfully fun and allow everyone to connect with their community in ways they cannot in a car, but because they also enable people to experience the freedom of car-free streets.  When I asked my son what he liked best about CicLAvia, he told me it was the freedom of being able to ride around town “and not have to worry about cars.”

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This experience, I believe, is potentially subversive of the domination of our public spaces by the automobile, and offers an immensely popular signal to political leaders that people hunger for car-free streets.  As the open streets movement expands and becomes a regular part of the Southern California landscape it may alter people’s perceptions of what streets can be and expand their understanding of mobility beyond the automobile.

On our ride home, when I asked my son what he thought, his one word answer: “Awesome-tacular.”

Yup.  ‘Nuff said.

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CicLAvia 10.7.12

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.

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