Come Out and Play: Let’s Help CicLAvia Become More Friendly to Kids and Walkers

Image: ##http://fakebadtaste.wordpress.com/2010/10/06/open-streets-will-change-l-a/##Fake Bad Tast##

CicLAvia was amazing last Sunday.  When you think that less than a year ago it wasn’t certain Los Angeles would every have an open street festival and now we’re having over 100,000 people take to the streets, it’s double-amazing.

But if there’s one thing that kept the day from being perfect, it’s that some people who decided to experience CicLAvia on foot, or on a bike ride with small children, were harassed or made to feel imperiled by rude or reckless bicyclists.  I don’t think these isolated incidents should take away from the wonder that is CicLAvia, but this is an event for the entire public, so we should all strive to make everyone feel welcome.

As I’ve said at several places, my walk with family and friends was wonderful, but this quiet drumbeat is something that needs to be addressed.  But if not everyone has that experience, and some of those complaining are good friends, so instead of just kvetching on the Internet, let’s help the CicLAvia team out.  I know they’re already brainstorming ways to make CicLAvia more family and pedestrian friendly, but I know we have a creative group here so leave your suggestions in the comments section.

Some popular suggestions on the Internet so far are to extend the route, so that cyclists and pedestrians will have more room on a longer route, and having spurs to other destinations along the route so that people not interested in riding (or doing anything else) on a bike freeway have places they can play in the street.

Those are good ideas, but as the number of people taking part in CicLAvia grows, just growing the route doesn’t seem to be a long-term fix.  What we need to do is find ways of changing the behavior of the vast minority of cyclists who were creating issues for the slower participants in CicLAvia that were enjoying the route.  I’m guessing signs would be ignored.  However, the guy dressed in a Roman gladiators helmet standing on the decline on 7th leading to Figueroa did a decent job of getting people to slow down.  Maybe we need to get out an entire legion.

Again, leave your thoughts for the CicLAvia team in the comments section.

  • Anonymous

    How about some temporary bulb-outs in the middle of long blocks to help people cross the street? That was the trickiest thing for me as a pedestrian reveler — crossing the street without feeling like frogger.

  • Anonymous

    Allow people to bike on non-ciclovia days so there won’t be so much demand to ride-and-not-be-terrorized on ciclovia days.

  • I started my day at CicLAvia by walking my dog down the middle of Spring Street. Way cool! But as more and more folks came through at fast speeds, I started to feel a bit unwelcome and moved to the sidewalk. (Boring.) I definitely agree there should be more courtesy amongst the modes. Can’t blame folks, though, for their unbridled exuberance! We don’t get to do this every day…. Anyway, at the first CicLAvia on 10/10/10, I geeked out over the cool little pedestrian “plazas” created along the route where side streets that feed into the route are blocked off to through traffic. Several pioneers intuitively colonized these spaces, such as the Eagle Rock Yacht Club dodgeball group. There are just so many of these safe harbors created along the route – it will be interesting to see if more folks get the hint and populate them with activities similarly at upcoming CicLAvias. Word of mouth + a little prodding from event organizers could go a long way; maybe a handy guidebook with tips, like the one ReBar made for Park(ing) Day?

  • F Ron

    It can be a challenging environment for people who don’t ride a bicycle everyday. I’m sure many of the CiLAvia riders are just that. What may have come off as rudeness could in fact be panic on the part of the bike rider –or if the rider was skilled an attempt to protect a panicky friend they were driving with. ‘Get out of the way’ can frequently be translated to mean ‘I urgently need you not to be in front of me at the moment because I don’t feel confident negotiating this situation while on a moving bicycle, I am afraid for my safety and yours’.

  • Anonymous

    I definitely agree (and have heard others comment) that it wasn’t very friendly for non-cyclists. While I did see some speed demons, I think the real problem was more the sheer number of bikes and the “ride the route” mentality. While great fun, there were long sections where it felt much like being on a highway, penned in by traffic moving the same speed where you have to carefully work your way out to the edge to stop or risk being rear ended. I think a lot of this problem has to do with how CicLAvia came about.

    Since CicLAvia was largely brought to reality by bike activists, it has had more bike focus than it ultimately should. Next is the appearance that the majority of people attending so far have been riders. So many bike events are “rides” that have a beginning and an end. I think this caused many to view CicLAvia as a similar type of event. Finally, since so far these have been promoted as a city wide event, I suspect a large number of attendees are not local to the route. Since they travel to get to the space, it reinforces the tendency to go to one end to “begin” and ride to the other end.

    None of that is meant to criticize was has happened so far. I really believe that cyclists work, support, and attendance are a big part of why CicLAvia as become a reality and grown so quickly. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.

    What I DON’T think will help are “signs”, “crossing points” for pedestrians or other approaches that treat CicLAvia like a traffic situation to be managed. What will help is simply more stuff going on that is slow. More kids doing chalk drawings in the street, more people pulling out a couple chairs and sitting in the street. More people walking their dog. More businesses setting up extra chairs and letting their restaurant spill out a little.

    “CicLAvia creates a temporary park for free, simply by removing cars from city streets.” I think this is key. The point is to create undefined space and give people the freedom to use it. Not to try to control and regulate it. This is a new idea for most people, especially in a city like Los Angeles that doesn’t have a strong culture of street life. It is natural for people to revert to the traffic concept even once cars are removed. I think it is critical to actively fight against that tendency. Once the people and activities going on become more varied, the tendency for the area to become a “route” will diminish.

    Here’s a few ideas:
    – Work extra hard (I know you’re already working very hard :) ) to get locals from the neighborhoods to take part. They will tend to use the space more naturally and chaotically.
    – Actively try to set up more non-spaced defined activities. Dodgeball and water ballon fights were great, but they tend to work in set-apart areas that don’t invite people to move through the space. How about things like:
    – handing out chalk to locals to draw with.
    – chess boards (are there local chess groups that would set up a tournament?)
    – Try to find musicians to just set up and play somewhere (note – not is a defined “concert” area. Just try to get people to walk around playing. There are a number of regular drum circle groups in the city. How about extending some invitations.
    – Invite yoga schools to do impromptu classes

    I believe the goal is the space will eventually draw these types of activities organically. Unfortunately, I think we will need to plant some seeds to encourage this type of thing until people start taking the initiative themselves to take over the space.

    I assume there is some hesitation to encourage people to do things IN the street. But I think you need to look at that as a solution and not a problem. It will create awkward slow spots if 150K cyclists are trying to ride from one end to the other. But I don’t think that was the point anyway.

    Finally, I think the event should be described and promoted in ways that don’t reinforce the notion of CicLAvia as a ride or goal based event. Using terms like “route” encourage that kind of thinking. Having instructions like “slower traffic stay right” do so as well.

    Again, I don’t want any of this to be taken as criticism of what has happened so far. It HAS BEEN AMAZING and everyone who has participated has been a part of making it that way. But, like Ubrayj, I will intentionally being going slow at the next CicLAvia, and I hope you will to.

  • Josef Bray-Ali

    The call for “spontaneous” and “grass roots” uses of the streets remind me of Dick Cheney describing democracy arriving in Iraq after the US invaded in 2003. We’re spending our resources to create a bicycle route, which is revolutionary enough for LA, but does not live up to the images and language used to sell the CicLAvia.

    Let’s not call CicLAvia anything more than a bike event until some more work is done and money sunk into organizing block parties, commercial zones with ample outdoor seating and bike parking, play areas, and cultural programming.

    There is a small team of volunteers, and now a tiny paid staff, that work very hard to make these events come together. We need perhaps a bit more sophistication and investment from the local business community (Chambers of Commerce, Neighborhood Councils, etc.) to buy into this event and use the right of way opened up during CicLAvia into something more than a bike freeway.

    I love bikes, and a bike freeway is 1,000,000 times better than a “Secondary Highway” or a “Collector Street” that most streets on CicLAvia play on during their regular hours of operation. I just think that the vision of CicLAvia extends well beyond a bike freeway.

    I look forward to helping fund efforts in this direction.

  • anty

    I agree it was difficult to cross the swarms of bikes (whether you were on bike or foot). At one point on 7th St I stood out in the middle of the street writing with chalk as the bikes flowed around me without any complaints. In a crowd that large there will unfortunately always be some assholes. For the most part people seemed respectful and it was awesome to see so many kids.

    To me the congestion is a sign that the city needs to help expand the cicLAvia route. 7.5 miles for over 100k people isn’t much. Angelenos clearly are hungry to ride/walk/play in car-free streets. It seems like a lot of this conflict arose because the route was so short and everyone was so excited to be out that they packed the streets the whole time.

  • I’d try to incorporate a Farmer’s Market-spur into the route. Not only may it bring more people to the event, but the area would become a natural ‘traffic calming area’ (well all love that catch-phrase, huh?!).

    Another idea – a Street Vendor Area on the street. Get CoLAboration, pupusarias, food trucks on the actual route, rather than adjacent. Lines of people naturally calm things.

    I’d also suggest trying to ‘capture’ more parks – more walking space for pedestrians that are largely inaccessible to bikes.

  • angle

    @shmooth:

    I’m not sure if you know this, but some people actually do bike on city streets on non-Ciclovia days! OMG!

    Joking aside, you bring up a valid point. While a Ciclovia is a wonderful, visionary event, it is not a substitute for city streets that fully accommodate cyclists on an everyday, utilitarian basis. There were probably a number of people biking that day who would never dream of cycling in urban traffic, and they were likely determined to get the most out of the rare opportunity to ride in safety. Zoom!

    Re-imagining our streets as a multi-modal network goes hand-in-hand with CicLAvia becoming the community celebration it should be.

  • I road with three elementary school kids: 2nd and 3rd grade. Never heard anyone complaining about being too slow. It was so crowded. I couldn’t believe we didn’t have an accident. I was very impressed with their ability to adapt, navigate and go with the flow.

    We did have issues at the traffic lights. Even with constant prodding, they’re tough to get going in those dense crowds at the drop of a hat.

    Let’s face it, with a 100k bikers on the road it ain’t safe for pedestrians. I had trouble crossing the streets at rest stops.

    The Roman was helpful. The legion idea makes sense. Maybe the volunteer t-shirts should stress the community (not a race) aspect of the ride. Or bluntly say “Slow Down”.

  • Joe

    You say that “just growing the route doesn’t seem to be a long-term fix”. While I agree that we need to do more than “just” grow the route, I think that growing the route will solve about 90% of the problem.

    Just so you have an idea of what we’re up against, I’m going to do a little math here. Sunday’s route was 7.5 miles, or about 40,000 feet long. A cyclist needs about 8 linear feet, minimum, to ride. There were about 130,000 people there on Sunday. If everyone took to the street at once, we would need to ride THIRTEEN ABREAST EACH WAY.

    Now, of course, not everybody was on a bike, and not everybody was on the road at the same time, so it wasn’t actually as crowded as that. But all the signs and all the traffic cops in the world aren’t going to make it safe for kids to play in that kind of crowd.

    Once we’ve expanded the route enough (perhaps adding parallel streets in particularly crowded sections) that there is space to cruise safely, I think the Roman Legions will have a much easier time shaming the truly reckless into slowing down. But with the crowding like it is now, they’re just going to be overwhelmed by the barbarian hordes.

    Suggestions to implement once you’ve expanded the route:

    * Lose the “Dismount and walk down the hill” signs. Did ANYBODY do that? They just reinforce the impression that Ciclavia’s rules are unreasonable and should be ignored.

    * The rules signs should have as few rules as possible, and be written in a BIG font. Take a look here: http://ciclavia.wordpress.com/2011/04/08/be-nice-be-safe-share-enjoy/ . Can you read that quickly from far away? Me either. If you do start to read it, what do you see? “Ciclavia is FREE!” Great, thanks, I know that, and now I’ve ridden past the sign and I’m not going to turn around to go read the rest. Instead, howabout just one sentence, “RIDE SLOWLY NEAR PEDESTRIANS, CHILDREN, AND SLOWER CYCLISTS”, in a font that fills the entire sign. Maybe another sign, “PEDESTRIANS BELONG IN THE STREET TOO”.

    * Instead of having police standing around in big groups, put them on bikes and have them “patrol” individually or in pairs. Train them so they actually understand what is safe and what isn’t. And then have them ride up to, pull over, and reprimand people who they see doing something stupid. I don’t know why we need so many police there anyways, but since they’re there, they might as well do something useful.

  • Josef Bray-Ali

    It is pretty awesome that CicLAvia is now “too successful” at getting Angelenos to ride bikes. The stress of the day clouded my vision of this fact.

  • Blah

    EARTH TO EVERYONE. The event is called Ciclovia which is spanish for “Bike Path” so………… of course the vast majority of people will expect to RIDE BIKES. The event can be promoted to walkers of course and everyone *should be courteous but lets not trash the bike riders because they were the overwhelming majority. Gather a pedestrian coalition and work on pedestrian events. Some of the areas were lightly traveled. squeeze off the route and create more pedestrian events. The farmers market idea is AWESOME. put it on an inlet or side street. Guerrilla expansion into the side streets if the city won’t let us do it. And someone tell the cops not to “clear people out” at the end of the event. That was just ridiculous.

  • The dude abides

    earth to Blah

    It is called ciclovia which in Spanish means bike path, NOT BIKE FREEWAY!!!

  • I like the idea of people riding the route, but not so sure about police. I think volunteers wearing CicLAvia shirts would create a more friendly atmosphere, and they are the people who understand the spirit of the event more likely than a police officer, who may get it, or may just see it as another day at work and a crowd control situation.

  • El Ciclovisto

    Maybe it would help if we used a wider street? Why not switch to Wilshire all the way from Downtown to Santa Monica? (Or Olympic or Pico or Venice?) Then we could save the right-hand lane primarily for pedestrians?

  • The route has to be planned out a long time in advance. The routes for the rest of this year have already been set.

    Also, one long stretch of a street is less appealing, I think, than the current route, which has variety and goes through lots of neighborhoods.

  • The route has to be planned out a long time in advance. The routes for the rest of this year have already been set.

    Also, one long stretch of a street is less appealing, I think, than the current route, which has variety and goes through lots of neighborhoods.

  • In Bogota, where the term Ciclovia originated, there are 80 miles of expressways and boulevards on the route every sunday, all year long. Bogota has a population similar to that of LA county, though it is more dense. Ciclovia is a whole network, with a street (usually a major expressway or wide boulevard) every 2 to 4 miles in a network, both east-west and north-south: http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=209582850025375035802.000492af3b445a736496d&ll=4.656502,-74.085274&spn=0.19539,0.247879&z=12

    If the Ciclovia routes in Bogota wer projected on Los Angeles (rotated 90 degrees on the map), it would look like this (yes, I’m a geek): http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=209582850025375035802.000492bc7a8ed86337e85&z=11

    But if you want LA to have a Ciclavia route every 4 miles, like in Bogota, it would take a much bigger network of at least 120 miles, just for central and west LA: http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=209582850025375035802.000492ea3f7f19ac3baeb&ll=34.136815,-118.274689&spn=0.324519,0.495758&z=11&iwloc=000492ebe712330348cc2

  • El Ciclovisto

    Great map Joesph — thanks! What would be cool would be extending the route just slightly so it hooks up to either the Ballona Creek bike trail or the bike path along the beach in Santa Monica?

  • Sarah

    I agree that in the long term changing the route and holding more CicLAvias will help ease demand. Since the route for the next few CicLAvias is already fixed, let’s focus on traffic calming. Can we apply the same techniques we use to slow down cars to slowing down bikes?

    The first ciclovia in Oakland had several events set up in the middle of the street. I don’t know if that would work here in LA — the streets are wider, the route is longer and there are a lot more people — but some kind of street narrowing might help. I love previous commenters’ ideas for pedestrian-friendly bulb-outs and more block parties and business activity along the route.

  • Dennis Hindman

    Moving CicLAvia away from easy access to numerous mass transit rail line stops will reduce the number of participants, increasing space more for more pedestrians. If the next CicLAvia happens in July as planned, at this same location, then it’s bound to attract more people still. Which will put the squeeze on slow moving pedestrians and children even more than this one.

  • Not Josef Bray-Ali

    Reducing the number of participants by moving away from mass transit? That doesn’t sound like a good idea – it makes it even harder for people trying to be car-free.

  • Brayj02

    I don’t think it would be cool to hook the route up to an off-street bike path. Repurposing our streets is more important than being part of some charity-riders weekend jaunt into the city. This day should, first and foremost, be about LA residents re-taking their streets, learning how to live a more human-scale life in the city, and showing how much better things can be when we shift away from car-oriented development and road design. You don’t achieve that with an off-street bike path based event.

  • Simply place more events smack in the middle of the roads. Food trucks with chairs and tables, water booths, volleyball etc. Make biking about getting from one even to the other, not a race course.

    And yes, make it a bit longer.

  • Awesome to see all the comments… I’ll try to reply to specific ones briefly… but keep ’em coming. One thing that I would note, that’s a bit counter-intuitive, is that increased attendance actually does result in slowing (think of increased volumes of cars on freeways at rush hour.) If more people do show up in July it will overall move slower. On 4/10 bike traffic moved slower at noonish than it did at 10-ish.

    We are hoping to address this in a fun way – ie: have marching bands, parades, samba dances down the streets… maybe pedestrians in gorilla suits, etc. Please help us think about fun, festive ways to minimize these relatively-minor conflicts!

    Joe Linton, CicLAvia

  • Wilshire is more disruptive to bus service – for the busiest bus route in the United States. (It’s also hilly in the condo canyon area.) For special events, City of L.A. requires a permit application 4 months in advance – so the July permits have already been filed.

  • I’m just gonna paste the comments I already wrote on Josef Bray-Ali’s blog to save time :)

    I totally agree [we need to make CicLAvia more pedestrian-friendly], even as a cyclist too.

    I would have to admit I was trying to rush through the entire route and back on Sunday, mainly because I only had 2 hours to enjoy CicLAvia as I had other commitments that morning. If it were longer than five hours, people would probably take it slower and not want to rush.

    Cyclists are the majority at CicLAvia because there’s various branches of an overall “bike culture” (be it the Ridazz/Critical Mass crowd or the numerous spandex-wearing sport cyclist clubs) that have automatically tapped into the event.

    They will always go to CicLAvia. There could be a CicLAvia on a 3 a.m. on a Wednesday night and they will be there.

    There needs to be more marketing of the event towards pedestrians, runners and joggers. CicLAvia should be a PERFECT venue for beginning marathon/half marathon/10k runners. The current CicLAvia route is practically a 10k run!
    There are scores of runners clubs, most of them do the LA Marathon each March…They need to be shown the CicLAvia welcome mat.

    Maybe encourage groups to hold walking tours of longer stretches of the course. Maybe even encourage pedestrians to start a mass “Walkazz” group walk.

    There should also be more official activity centers other than Hel-Mel, MacArthur Park, City Hall and Hollenbeck to draw people out of the route and make it more manageable. How about Shatto Park? LaFayette Park? How about Flower street between 7th and 8th? (That block is empty anyway since it’s a one-way street and the incoming traffic flow is cut off). Maybe make that one a kids/youth-oriented zone.

    But a big part of this is the novelty effect. The event is still new, people are still curious about it. As it becomes more and more frequent, and with an inevitably longer route, the congestion will eventually level off to where user flow is quite manageable.

  • Zak

    This is exactly what needs to be done. Ciclavia was great but it as more about A to B and not stopping in between. Need to change that in my opinion.

  • Thanks for providing a place for this discussion, Damien, and Thank you, commenters, for helping with solutions.

    Although Joe L. already stated this, I’ll re-iterate. The CicLAvia team is taking this very seriously. We spent a good portion of our meeting Wednesday night discussing possible solutions. We came up with a list of ideas and I see a lot of new ideas presented here that are really good. We will compile them and consider them all.

    Here is a quick run down of some ideas from our meeting:

    better messaging – “not just bikes” “not a route, call it space” (web, press, printed outreach materials)
    cross street banners
    bigger signs with bigger type
    fun enforcement – costumed crossing guards with stop signs, sign spinners
    vounteers at every closed intersection to assist crossing street and funforce the message
    more activities
    more bike valet stations
    lengthen the space to reduce participant density
    create a ped-only circuit
    space lengthening in non linear/circular form create dead ends forcing double backs by intersecting lines thus discouraging cycling end to end or around the whole thing.

    Thanks,
    Stephen Villavaso, CicLAvia

  • Longer hours is a good idea. The hours were 10-3 right?

    If they did 9-3:30, you could designate 9-10 as more of a bike time, and 10-3:30 as more of a pedestrian time.

    That way, the spandex crew can enjoy one hour of totally empty streets (enough time to do the 14 miles) and then everyone else can enjoy the rest at a slower pace.

    You could even announce it as follows:

    Streets closed to cars: 9-4pm
    Streets open to all: 10-3:30.

    That way, those “in the know” can take advantage of 9-10 without confusing other guests.

  • Great suggestions on here. My favorites are to expand the route, as well as traffic calming. I believe bulb outs might be a good idea and definitely more street based events would be great. It’s really exciting that we’re discovering problems with too many cyclists. Cars are of course the worst option but we’re finding that everyone biking isn’t perfect either. My suggestion is we use the upcoming CicLAvias to test pedestrian crossing and traffic calming on a bike dominated route. For example, intersections could have multiple funnels with safe area between the funnels and some sections could be blocked off to create a safe island for pedestrians to play in the middle of the street while bikes are able to cruise around it. In areas that are important that cyclists and pedestrian constantly merge, maybe a meandering path would be a good idea rather than the straight shot wide drag strip it currently is. Part of the problem is that road is ULTRA wide and rather than 4 lanes of cars to deal with, pedestrians see 15 lanes of bikes. Maybe just reducing the width of the road using traffic calming will do the trick. In either case, we’ve got an amazing opportunity to test different ideas, VERY exciting stuff.