Back in February, when I first wrote about CicLAvia in Public Space = Public Health my hope was that the piece would help call attention to a terrific civic idea that marries fitness and physical activity with an enlightened vision of how we use our public streets. With LA's first CicLAvia planned for Sunday, I feel like an expectant uncle.
It is the smart, lean and tireless team of public space activists who get credit for pulling off what earlier this year didn't always look like a done deal. After all, it will cost the city some money to provide police, sanitation and street services for the event and as Angelenos know too well, there is not a lot of that lying around unclaimed these days. Given their superior organizing skills, perhaps for their next act the CicLAvia team can turn its attention to making public transportation the way most Angelenos get around. We can sure use the help.
To its credit, the City of LA recognized in CicLAvia an opportunity to give Angelenos a taste of what LA can be like, at least for a bit, without cars. As with the LA Marathon which also closes parts of LA to motorized traffic, for those who participate CicLAvia will be a chance to recalibrate and rethink our usual Sunday routine. And it will temporarily turn the streets over to those who deserve them the most. Us.
So what is CicLAvia anyway? Perhaps the best way to get a sense of the event, which will limit seven miles of otherwise busy streets to walkers, skaters and bikers between the hours of 10 am and 3 pm this Sunday, is to look at some of the short films that reveal what other cities have made of similar events. All this week, the civic-minded site la.streetsblog has been running great shorts that capture the spirit of the event in places like Bogotá, Colombia where the program originated and occurs each Sunday, and New York City, where the Department of Transportation has created Summer Streets. While the likes of Madison Avenue gave New York's event a nice name, I am partial to CicLAvia, a riff on Bogotá's Ciclovía and an obvious acknowledgement of El Pueblo de la Reyna de los Angeles' Spanish heritage and culture.
But CicLAvia will not just be fun. In a not to be underestimated way, it is part of a critical public health strategy for altering the way Angelenos live and spend their free time.
Like Bogotá, where up to 1.5 million people or 30 percent of the population routinely participate in Ciclovía, LA is plagued by polluted air and a growing epidemic of childhood obesity and diabetes. According to the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, in parts of Los Angeles, 36.8 percent of children are overweight and do not get the regular exercise they need. In CicLAvia there is a easy-to-enjoy and overdue way to get out from in front of the TV and away from Facebook, while getting a look at the city from a perspective we all too rarely get to experience.
As I wrote in February, I loved CicLAvia from the moment I learned about it because I grew up riding my bike along New York's closed Bronx River Parkway on warm Sunday mornings. That I am sure is why I can't wait to ride through LA's People's Park and plan to continue to dream about and work for other visionary changes to LA's streetscape. My short list includes the Park 101 plan to cap part of the 101 Freeway with a park, Santa Monica's Palisades Garden Walk & Town Square project and most importantly, the 30/10 Initiative which will build thirty years of overdue public transportation projects within a decade. The 101 and Santa Monica projects will give LA two parks like NY's much loved High Line while 30/10 will give Angelenos the public transportation they have long deserved.
As CicLAvia's Stephen Villavaso told me in February, in a park poor city like LA, "CicLAvia creates a park by removing motorized traffic from city streets, and encourages people to come out and carve a new landscape for themselves."
Even in this tough economic environment, CicLAvia is an idea that will sell itself. Which is why the Bogotá-born concept has also spread to Mexico City, Guadalajara, Santiago, Quito, El Paso, Portland, Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Miami. Joining them, LA will be in great company and, if the gods and weather are with us, there will be no going back to all cars, all of the time.
Click on the 7 mile route map to see where the fun will take place and please take Metro to get to CicLAvia if you are not within biking or walking distance. Rain or shine, on Sunday I will be there. To not be there, would be to miss out on the chance to take in LA's streets as they should be more often.
Follow Joel Epstein on Twitter: www.twitter.com/thejoelepstein