Guest post: Los Angeles could teach Portland a thing or two about open streets

Guest post: Los Angeles could teach Portland a thing or two about open streets

ciclavia bridge

Los Angeles’ answer to Sunday Parkways: welcoming frequent car users with big streets and open arms.
(Photos: Ted Timmons)

This is a guest post from BikePortland reader Ted Timmons, who visited L.A.’s version of Sunday Parkways this year and was moved to write up some of his observations.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Los Angeles was late to the ciclovia scene, even by American standards. However, they have had several per year since late 2010.

While the stereotype of Los Angeles revolves around its infatuation with the car, it’s arguably the densest urban area in the country. The percentage of trips in Portland by means other than car is about 16 percent; in Los Angeles, it’s 25 percent.

So, that leads us back to ciclovias — “Sunday Parkways” in Portland parlance, or “CicLAvia” in Los Angeles. Over 100,000 participants showed up to the very first CicLAvia, and the numbers have been that high ever since. Compare that to Portland’s numbers of 10-20,000 per event.

Perhaps intentionally, CicLAvia routes typically connect through poorer neighborhoods, which caused income classes to interact in an atypical way.

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There’s a problem caused by CicLAvias that is both stereotypically Los Angeles and something that occurs in Portland: while the event is a celebration of humanity without intrusion from cars, large numbers of participants drive to the events. This can be seen in Portland events like the World Naked Bike Ride and the Bridge Pedal. As with those annual Portland events, this habit annoys many Angelenos who feel these people are missing the point of the event.

Further, the CicLAvia events are so popular they suffer from an unusual problem: they aren’t friendly for fast “club riders.” They are so crowded with citizens walking, skateboarding, rollerblading, and cycling that there’s very little room to ride at speeds above 15mph. And as might be expected in Los Angeles, the participants deal with the problems of scale: traffic jams.

ciclavia park

These are two big problems. But they are blessings in disguise. Why? Experienced cyclists don’t need to drive to a car-free event, nor do they need a car-free event to feel safe enough to ride on the streets. Inexperienced cyclists may only take their bike out once or twice a year (as those who ride Sunday Parkways or the Bridge Pedal may have observed). They may have a WalMart Huffy with aging and underinflated tires. They may have packed it into the Canyonero to go five miles to the event. But that means they are riding!

Perhaps riding in a car-free event will inspire our neophyte riders to substitute the bicycle for their car in one trip next week. Maybe they’ll start commuting, or helping their child ride to school. As experienced cyclists, it should be our mission to support these riders, rather than snub them for riding slowly or driving to the event.

The ciclovia declares that streets are for everybody — and everybody’s a lot of people. We should learn from CicLAvia and keep growing Sunday Parkways with that in mind.

Ted has attended Ciclovia-style events in Bogota, Quito, Portland, and Los Angeles.

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