“Wow! That’s a lot of bike people!” exclaimed a security guard at a plaza in Little Tokyo.
I wasn’t sure if he meant it or if it was for my benefit. It was now 2 pm, and if he hadn’t noticed the bikes that were stacked up in the plaza and had been flowing past his station for the past several hours, then it would seem his powers of observation were perhaps not what they should have been.
And, there weren’t nearly as many bikes as I expected.
Having remembered how intense the crush of people could be through downtown at past events, especially along Spring St., I figured this time I would avoid all that by walking the route.
I needn’t have worried — there were spacious stretches where I was able to walk in the road completely unmolested.
That is, minus the nice grandpa-like gentleman (I thought) in his sixties who pedaled up to me only to snark, “Nice bike!”
That was a little weird.
Also weird? Getting my TAP card checked by three different sets of Sheriffs within three Metro stops on my way to Mariachi Plaza, where I began my walk.
“That means we’re doing our job,” said one when I mentioned he was the third to check my card since Union Station.
That’s not exactly what I was thinking.
Much like the confused family who were stopped before getting on the train at Union Station because they hadn’t seen the TAP validator, I thought that resources might be better invested in putting the validators in passengers’ paths. Sitting as they do along the wall now, they go unnoticed when it’s busy.
But don’t take my word for it. Take the Sheriff’s. The one who sent the father scurrying back down to the find the validator with 5 TAP cards in his hand exclaimed, “Man, it’s getting worse!”
When a new set of Sheriffs boarded the train with us so they could check everybody who had just been checked, I could see the family tense up and hold their collective breath, hoping Dad had gotten it right this time.
Yes, it definitely is getting worse, I thought.
Outside of feeling like the trains had become very big brother-ish, walking CicLAvia turned out to be a very luxurious experience. I love walking, but don’t get to do it as often as I would like when covering stories. A closet eavesdropper, I was in heaven overhearing out-of-context snippets of conversations wafting my way as people pedaled by.
While CicLAvia is now almost old hat and non-news for those of us who are long-time cyclists and/or advocates, the idea of taking to the city streets by bicycle is still new to an awful lot of people. Expressions of wonderment at the event, about getting to see L.A. by bike, and at the riders’ own ability to ride more than a few miles probably comprised at least half of what I heard.
“I wasn’t too excited about it [CicLAvia], but now that I’m here, I gotta admit, it’s pretty cool…”
“Can you believe it? I think we’ve biked 26 miles today!!”
“Oh my gosh, this works!” (woman swinging legs for momentum on downhill instead of pedaling)
“Watch out! Watch out! I’m riding my bike!” (a four or five-year old on a wee bike)
“I’m going so fast I am going to fall on my head and break my face!” and “My legs are, like, falling out!” (excited teen girls)
“This view is amazing!” (4th St. bridge)
Other overheard bits were a little stranger.
“Why are you standing up in your seat?” a woman asked her companion as they rode up the 4th St. bridge.
“Don’t you know anything? All the professional bike riders do it.”
“Are you wearing a racoon? From the side it looks like you’re wearing a raccoon.” (traffic cop asked a man sporting a bushy tail on his bag)
“You know you want it. Hey! You know you want it!” (small child singing loudly to himself)
“I’m too lazy to put my eye up to the camera [to look through viewfinder].” (young guy holding expensive camera)
“I’m at the mall right now. I just found my mom.”
“America! God Bless this country!”
And, of course, my favorite overheard comment of the day, said by children and fuddy-duddies alike, “Wheeeeeeeeee!”
Walking the route also gave me time to really breathe in different neighborhoods and contemplate what events like CicLAvia mean to Los Angeles as a whole.
For one, it makes a pretty convincing case for how hungry people are to have more recreational opportunities just outside their front doors. We may have a beach and mountains, but there’s no reason that everything that lies in between shouldn’t be seen as a potential playground.
For another, it makes a good case that people are interested in getting to know each other. So many folks I eavesdropped on were remarking on having never visited this or that neighborhood or not having expected a place to be as nice as it was. Without CicLAvia, it is doubtful that many of them would have visited AND explored those neighborhoods on their own. Which is why creating a route through South L.A. is so important.
Hell, at 80 square miles, the whole route could be set in South L.A., running from Exposition Park to the Watts Towers to Leimert Park. And, since everything falls south of the Expo Line, they wouldn’t have to worry about the route crossing those pesky train tracks (which has been said to be the hold-up before).
CicLAvia also serves to highlight how much more still needs to be done for many of L.A.’s neighborhoods to be livable. I passed a number of filthy vacant lots along 7th that were screaming out for some sort of intervention, including one (above) whose mural was probably well-intended but seemed more like a taunt to residents. Namely, “You can’t run here! Heh heh heh!”
But, while we may have some distance to go on the livability front, CicLAvia is a welcome reminder that a better Los Angeles is possible. The more we get out and play together, the happier, kinder, more tolerant, and more unified neighbors and community members we become.
Because it is really hard to build community when you are stuck in traffic.