Why Are There CicLAvias I Never Walk Along but Large and Melodious Thoughts Descend upon Me?*

Thanks to all the volunteers that helped make CicLAvia a friendly place. Especially these awesome three, who sang “Hakuna Matata” and dispensed free hugs in Little Tokyo. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“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.

A man carts his new piñata purchase back to Boyle Heights. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

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)

“This view is amazing!” Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

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.”

“Wow, that’s a lot of bike people!” Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“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)

DanceLAvia was so much fun, I wondered why I had never considered adding sequined booty shorts to my list of must-have wardrobe items. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“You know you want it. Hey! You know you want it!” (small child singing loudly to himself)

Treats ‘n Beats raffles off a bike and runs into last year’s winner. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“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!”

Speaking of God… People direct a passive Jesus on how to hold their bikes up for pictures. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

And, of course, my favorite overheard comment of the day, said by children and fuddy-duddies alike, “Wheeeeeeeeee!”

A man films his tiny daughter as she gleefully rides along 7th St. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

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).

Run LA! Just don’t do it here! Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

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!”

Boys take advantage of the empty street to kick a ball around. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

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.

“Jealous much?” Bikers riding over the 110 waved at those stuck in traffic. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
*The title refers to Walt Whitman: ”Why are there trees I never walk under but large and melodious thoughts descend upon me?”
  • Was at a NJ ciclovia this weekend (same day). I noticed many of the participants were hyper-local, ie, they lived a block away. Im sure the same in LA. You can have ciclovia going for 5 years and it will still be new to people when the route passes by their home for the first time.

  • sahra

    Yeah, you see some of that same sort of thing happening here, like in Westlake or Boyle Heights where families might have very young kids or lots of kids and want to stick close to home but still enjoy the day. I do think that, here, at least, we need to do more with regard to outreach in marginalized neighborhoods. There’s lots of people in South L.A. that have still never heard of it, and probably won’t until it comes through their neighborhood.

  • Fireweed

    Jass,

    Actually, my co-worker here at LACBC commented that it was surprising the number of people she spoke with her who weren’t even from Los Angeles County!

  • sahra

    Yep, I saw a lot of that, too. Which again makes it pretty ironic that the word it not getting out into many of our own communities within LA. I think moving it around to different areas within LA could do a lot to help people understand both what a ciclovia is and how it can benefit communities. I know South LA really, really wants it and it could do so much good there, given how much of a challenge it is to create safe spaces for recreation there.

  • Anonymous

    In the last month, I’ve spoken to dozens of people that I have met riding across the San Fernando Valley on the bike paths and nine out of ten of them had never heard of CicLAvia.

    Its great to see a tiny tot riding along smiling in one of your pictures. I was a little hesitant in mentioning the event to parents with pre-kindergarten aged kids on bikes. The previous CicLAvia’s seemed too crowded for little ones. This event seemed to have a lot more children when I went to Chinatown, Macarthur Park and Grand Park.

    In my experience of handing out hundreds of LACBC stickers at a couple of CicLAvia events people told me that they had traveled from San Diego, Orange County, Riverside county and Ventura. Two guys said that they came from Palm Springs and the woman with them said that she traveled from Austria just for the event. CicLAvia is definitely not just for locals.

    My favorite picture above is the guy carrying the pinata on his bicycle.

  • Anonymous

    Here in Portland, OR, the “Sunday Parkways” event moves around thru all 5 quadrants (yeah, 5) of the city, each month around summer. The one area that tends to miss out is the core of downtown, in contrast to CicLAvia. I think it would be great ti CicLAvia could go have a route in 4 different neighborhoods next year, in addition to the Wilshire and Downtown routes. There could be a route in the Valley (N Hollywood), in East LA, in South LA, and in West LA. And in 2015 they could add more: San Pedro, NELA, Northridge, and perhaps a collaboration with Santa Monica and Beverly Hills all the way down Wilshire. Even Mulholland Drive in the Hills would work as a recreational destination.

  • Anonymous

    I like the idea of CicLAvia moving around, but I also like the idea of the Heart of LA routes becoming so regular that someone installs gates that can be closed on CicLAvia dates, and are permanent reminders of the event.

  • Rogue Cyclist

    This was a much better walking experience than CicLAvia – To the Sea last April. I walked most of that route got yelled at and harassed by cyclists for being in the way. Pedestrians were in the minority that day. It was not in the spirit of ciclavia at all.

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