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Los Angeles Like You've Never Seen It Before

4/11/2011 5:10:19 PM

Tags: open streets, cicLAvia, los angeles, Carolyn Szczepanski


A few months ago, I wrote in awe of Madison, Wisconsin. With a little help from local advocates, the city hosted an open streets event that closed off popular roads to cars and drew 50,000 cyclists and pedestrians to fill the space with a community-building celebration of active transportation.

Well, I hadn't seen nothing yet.

Yesterday, Los Angeles hosted it's first open streets event of 2011 and hundreds of thousands of folks showed up to pedal and play on the liberated pavement. Unfortunately, I wasn't there to partake of the festivities — but my boss, Jeff Miller, president of the Alliance for Biking & Walking, sent me a report from the road. Yep, that's him posing with Lance Armstrong. But, as he outlines below, the beauty of the event was the mainstream majority.

Here's what he said...

"For more than six hours I soaked up as much as I could: the sun, the views, the smiles, the sheer beauty of seeing hundreds of thousands connecting with their neighbors and city in a wonderfully unique and natural way. Los Angeles is known to most of us for its tangle of congested highways and smog from the millions of cars. But yesterday, during CicLAvia,I saw an amazing city of cyclists!

Estimates put the crowd at 200,000-500,000 people and I think every demographic was represented among the masses. Sure, there were plenty of folks wearing lycra on expensive bikes — Lance Armstrong included — but they were out numbered by the hipsters on their fixies, sporting tattoos and U locks hanging from belts. Really the largest numbers were everyday people, wearing normal clothes on a wide range of bikes. There were small kids on scooters or riding bikes with training wheels; young boys and girls on BMX bikes, parents with toddlers in seats and trailers; couples on tandems (and a few tandems ridden solo with signs offer the seat up for a small fee or smile); teenagers riding with their cliques; men with long beards; ladies with fashionable skirts and fancy hats; and people of every ethnic and social background together. All of them were viewing their city and fellow citizens like they had never seen it before — free of dominating and oppressive automobiles.

ciclaviaCops were grinning with all the “thank yous” and reveling in the people watching. Gear geeks were astonished at the range of cargo bikes, antiques, high-end rigs, Pedersens, custom “big wheel” style bikes and homemade, custom-painted bikes. Dozens of homemade giraffe bikes stood over the crowds, but none more so than the four-frame-high beast (including a tandem frame for the foundation) that supported it’s cape-wearing captain 10 feet above the crowds. In short, it was a bicycle advocate’s dream — everyone you could imagine riding back and forth across the city, excited at the possibility never before conceived and happening at that moment.

Open streets events (Sunday Parkways, Ciclavias, etc.) have a magical ability to open the hearts and minds of people from shop owners to politicians. A hundred times the size of the biggest San Francisco Critical Mass ride I’ve ridden, it has none of the rancor or controversy. Kids have the safety and freedom to again play in the street while parents admire and laugh. Couples kiss at red lights, beaming with the joy around them. Families even cruise comfortably down streets they never would think of being on for fear of gangs. And the overwhelming threat of swarming two-ton SUVs and the noise and exhaust they emit are distant enough to forget. Everyone is having so much fun it almost escapes them that this is how it could be. Except it doesn’t.

Everyone gets a glimpse of how it could be. Young and old, thin and “not so thin,” rich and poor, all connect and realize they have a community they didn’t know existed. That is the power of the bicycle, and open streets events like this help open the possibilities and prospects of safer and complete streets."

Click here to see Jeff's pictures from the event.

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