CicLAvia Means Business

03/23/2015 12:20 pm ET | Updated May 23, 2015

There are lots of reasons to love CicLAvia. Just ask the tens of thousands of participants who thronged to Studio City, Universal City and North Hollywood to take advantage of the car-free streets this weekend. And be sure to ask a good many store owners as well.

CicLAvia in the San Fernando Valley was another testament to Los Angeles at its best. Once again, LA's longest block party has won over communities where the closing of major streets would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. While not every shopkeeper along Ventura and Lankershim Boulevards loved the attention, countless others embraced the celebration and joined in the fun, often to their economic advantage. Just last week I heard Seleta Reynolds, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation's new General Manager talking about the widespread misperception among business owners that they need parking to bring in customers. CicLAvia in the San Fernando Valley was an important data point in that debate and I hope someone was measuring.

Tell the canard that they need parking to bring in customers to the dozens of stores, stands and food trucks still counting their haul from the bicyclers, walkers, skaters and skateboarders who filled their registers during CicLAvia.

While it is clear that CicLAvia has won over the hearts and minds of Angelenos across the rainbow that is Los Angeles, as well as major sponsors from the public, business and philanthropic realms, each new event is an opportunity to demonstrate that participants come with their wallets open in ways that can extend beyond the day's festivities.

Why my focus on the economics when so much of CicLAvia is about the fun? Don't we all just need a good party at the start of Spring? Of course we do. But the day is also a chance to quantify what would be possible if more of our major arteries looked more like CicLAvia's streets more of the time.

I am sure an economist with more letters after their name than mine will email me soon explaining that I must be smoking something from one of the dispensaries on Ventura Blvd. I am also sure that he or she didn't take part in yesterday's event.

For the record, I am not smoking anything and that is not what one saw of the businesses smart enough to open their doors for CicLAvia. And some, like Jones on Third, the 99 Cents Only Store, Pitfire Pizza, The Federal Bar and Bow & Truss probably thought Christmas had come early this year.

Of course the financial data on today's event will take some time to collect and crunch. But in the interim skeptics should read a 2013 report from UCLA's Lewis Center that considered the economic impacts of an earlier CicLAvia.

The study which looked at how storefront businesses performed during CicLAvia's June 2013 car-free event along Wilshire Boulevard found measurable gains to local businesses. Specifically, businesses along the CicLAvia route experienced a 10 percent bump in sales on the day of the event, compared to a non-CicLAvia Sunday earlier that month.

The study found that "the increase was greater among those businesses that engaged with CicLAvia participants such as with a vending table or music. 'Active participant' businesses saw their sales increase 57 percent, or $2,715 per business."

This CicLAvia I brought three newbies to the event. My guests included Bob Rollins, an old friend from the Bay Area, that bastion of perfection to the north that all too often looks down its nose at us. My other guests were my youngest, nearly 16 and a friend of hers. Bob and I rode bikes while my daughter and her friend participated in WalkLAvia.

From an economic perspective, there is a multiplier effect to these newcomers participating, and shopping, along the route that should not be discounted. They will be back and in all likelihood, they will be bringing others to the party.

Of course, it is a balancing act. For the foreseeable future LA will continue to need many of its freeways and accidental freeways - local streets that have come to function as de facto rush hour freeways.

But with five new transit lines under construction and many other transit projects in the works maybe someday soon we will be able to convert more streets and boulevards to complete streets, or Great Streets as LA is calling them, amenable to pedestrians, bikers and transit riders as well as drivers.

Just imagine the impact of making more of our streets like CicLAvia all of the time. It will be great.

Yours in transit,