Community Gets Ready for Sunday’s CicLAvia: “It’s Going to Be a Good Day for South L.A.”

The East Side Riders' Ride4Love has always been about family, community, and service. Here, ESRBC co-founder Tony August-Jones brings his sons along while nephew Joshua Jones ensures they stay in the carrier. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
The East Side Riders have always been about family, community, and service. Here, ESRBC co-founder Tony August-Jones brings his sons along while nephew Joshua Jones helps ensure they stay in the carrier. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

It was exciting, said Community Health Council’s (CHC) Andres Ramirez Huiztek, that South L.A. would finally have the opportunity to “show [people] what CicLAvia can be” this weekend.

If you’ve attended a CicLAvia event before — a festival that spans and connects communities by temporarily closing the streets to cars and opening them to people for recreation — you might be wondering, “Which people? What kind of CicLAvia? A car-free festival really isn’t that complicated, is it?”

In theory, no.

But, in practice — particularly in the planning of the expansion to new communities — it can be.

As CicLAvia organizers and volunteers have learned while putting together events in Boyle Heights/East L.A. and South L.A., communities that have long been marginalized by the city often have different relationships with their streets and different ideas about what it means to be “livable.” And as these communities often consider their people — their unique identities, heritage, shared experiences, cultures, and aspirations — to be their greatest assets, they are adamant that they be seen as more than just a space people will move through. They want to be respected as partners in the planning of how their streets will be re-purposed for the day. And they want to see themselves reflected in the framing of the event and the messaging around it, both so the event feels welcoming to community members unfamiliar with it and to ensure the community is adequately and accurately represented to potential visitors.

In this way, CicLAvia seems to be transitioning from being an “open streets” event to a kind of “open communities” festival. And while that process is not without its growing pains, the unique opportunity it affords neighborhoods to re-introduce themselves to Angelenos on their own terms may help bridge some of the deep divides that mark what can be a surprisingly segregated city.

Map of the South L.A. route for this weekend's CicLAvia. The 6-mile route runs largely along King Blvd. and has hubs in the historic arts communities of Leimert Park and the Central Ave. Jazz Corridor.
Map of the South L.A. route for this weekend’s CicLAvia. The 6-mile route runs largely along King Blvd. and has hubs in the historic arts communities of Leimert Park and the Central Ave. Jazz Corridor.

At least, I hope so.

For South L.A., that means a chance to counter persistent negative stereotypes by introducing people to the diversity and vibrancy of the neighborhoods that comprise the area, showcasing their powerful artistic heritage and the artists carrying those (and new) legacies forward, and shining a light on those community heroes who have tirelessly worked to strengthen their communities from within.

For South L.A. native and advocate-extraordinaire Tafarai Bayne, this day has been a long time coming.

Growing up, he had always felt the area had something special to offer the rest of the city, he said, but there weren’t too many outlets for positive exchanges to happen. In 2010, when he rode in his first CicLAvia and saw how it was able to both transform the streets and push people to explore unfamiliar neighborhoods, he was inspired to do the same for his community. A similar event in South L.A., he felt, could finally provide the venue for residents and visitors alike to experience the strong sense of place and community that characterize many of the area’s neighborhoods.

He approached the leaders at TRUST South L.A., where he worked at the time, and asked how they could host such an event in the area.

Tafarai Bayne and Andres Ramirez Huiztek sport yellow CicLAvia South L.A. shirts as they lead a group ride up Central Ave. to promote bike lanes. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Tafarai Bayne and Andres Ramirez Huiztek sport yellow CicLAvia South L.A. shirts as they lead a group ride up Central Ave. to promote bike lanes. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

At the time, TRUST — which does fantastic work around housing issues — had done some work on mobility, but mainly in regard to pedestrian issues. Thanks to Bayne’s persistence, they expanded their advocacy efforts to work on a wider range of active transportation issues.

In the last few years, they’ve worked with the LACBC on an Active Streets South L.A. program and (also with CHC) an effort to build momentum around bike lanes for Central Ave., worked with USC on asset mapping, and collaborated with advocates from CHC to regularly convene mobility advocates to discuss issues affecting the area, plan events to advance mobility goals, and ensure advocates’ voices were incorporated into city planning efforts.

But it was Bayne’s push to bring CicLAvia to South L.A. that helped give the area’s budding bike “movement” some much-needed momentum.

Participants from the Complete Streets this ride with the Mobility Advisory Council included representatives of TRUST South LA, Community Health Councils, LA's First Five, the East Side Riders, Los Angeles Walks, the LACBC, city planning, LADOT, Biz-e-Bee Bikers, and a couple extra folks thrown in for good measure. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
Some of the participants in a Complete Streets ride hosted by the South L.A. Mobility Advisory Committee gather outside TRUST South L.A. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

When Bayne had contacted SBLA’s own Joe Linton, one of the original CicLAvia organizers, for help on putting together a South L.A. route back in 2010, Linton (although very enthusiastic) had explained doing so would likely involve a lengthy process. As the organizers were interested in expanding the route but weren’t as familiar with other areas of town, he says Linton suggested setting up a framework and structure as a way to formalize the effort.

Those conversations resulted in the CicLAvia South L.A. Host Committee — a group comprised of residents and representatives of area advocacy organizations that could map potential routes and conduct exploratory rides while gathering local support for hosting such an event in the area.

I met this young man on my first CicLAvia South L.A. exploratory ride. He's practically all grown up now and still riding. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
I met this young Watts native on my first CicLAvia South L.A. exploratory ride in 2012. When I ran into him at the October CicLAvia, he was about 6 inches taller and his voice was an octave deeper. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

I first tagged along with the group on a ride through Watts in early 2012 and got hooked on documenting the momentum the events gave South L.A.’s own brand of bike movement, how they helped the East Side Riders and Los Ryderz bike clubs (who took on the role of marshaling the rides) become powerful ambassadors for the area, and the way the rides instilled a greater sense of family, community, and common cause in participants.

They also spawned an effort to bring ciclovia-style events to the Southeast cities of Huntington Park and South Gate, thanks to the work of former Ovarian Psycos Mayra Fernandez and Yolanda Posada, Andres Ramirez from CHC, and others from the area.

Javier "JP" Partida and some of the youth from Los Ryderz participate in a Healthy Food Ride event co-sponsored by Community Services Unlimited and RideSouthLA. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Javier “JP” Partida and some of the youth from Los Ryderz participate in a Healthy Food Ride event co-sponsored by Community Services Unlimited and RideSouthLA. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

What was so wonderful about watching the wider South L.A. movement grow was seeing it remain organic and true to its roots.

Social justice was always a part of the conversation. Rides were never just about riding bikes. They were about offering the youth of the area something positive to belong to and instilling a culture of giving back, building unity between black and brown residents, raising awareness about police brutality against people of color, feeding the homeless, projecting positive images of South L.A., inspiring the community, raising the profile of riders of color, and/or giving visibility to the so-called “invisible cyclists” (lower-income and/or immigrant riders that bike for transportation and do not easily fit into the “bike community”) so common in the area.

Black & Brown Unity Ride posts up at the Watts Towers. The ride began at Mariachi Plaza. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Black & Brown Unity Ride posts up at the Watts Towers. The ride began at Mariachi Plaza. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

That dedication to community empowerment and social justice will be evident at the hub on Central Ave., CHC’s Ramirez told me.

Which, given current activism in the area and the history of struggle along Central Avenue, seems apt.

The history of the stretch of Central known as the Jazz Corridor is one that is deeply intertwined with the efforts of African-American artists and intellectuals to rise above the constraints that overtly discriminatory policies once imposed upon them. The Dunbar Hotel (at 42nd and Central) — the anchor of the Jazz Park Hub on Sunday — was the only major hotel in the city that welcomed African-Americans in the decades prior to WWII. The Dunbar and its jazz club became the place to see all the greats — Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles — who were welcome to play at hot clubs and hotel lounges around town, but never to stay. The Dunbar’s club drew dignitaries, intellectuals, and writers, as well, including W.E.B Du Bois and Langston Hughes, and could always count on a packed house, as restrictive housing covenants had created ethnic enclaves along the corridor of folks who were hungry for culture but denied access to it elsewhere.

While events and entertainment are planned that will celebrate some of that rich jazz heritage, as many as 25 community-based organizations currently working to transcend the legacy of disinvestment along the corridor will also be on hand as part of a community health expo. They hope to engage residents (and interested visitors) on issues of import to the area, offer information about the services they provide, offer cooking demonstrations and a healthy food tent, promote health and healthcare enrollment, host a “Bike Rodeo” for kids, activate a vacant lot along King Blvd., and lead feeder rides from area schools to ensure that local youth have the opportunity to enjoy open streets in their community.

It’s a way to highlight all the great work groups are doing in the area, Ramirez concluded, while celebrating what the corridor signifies to residents.

“The neighborhoods are going to come out!” he said.

Mask festival procession in honor of the ancestors in Leimert Park. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Mask festival procession in honor of the ancestors in Leimert Park. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Stakeholders in Leimert Park Village — the hub on the other end of the route — are really hoping so.

Since the first community meeting on CicLAvia back in July, they’ve been working steadily with CicLAvia staff and volunteers and local stakeholders to reach out and inform residents about the event and strategize ways to showcase the area’s assets. At their weekly meetings, stakeholders from the 20/20 Vision initiative — an effort to bring about an artistic and cultural renaissance in Leimert Park — regularly discussed ideas about how to take advantage of being put on center stage, so to speak. A herculean effort was made to prepare the People St. Plaza project for kick-off (unfortunately, that couldn’t be managed and it will instead open on King Day in January) Volunteers chased down performing artists and vendors to populate the plaza and Degnan Blvd. Some even braved the rain last weekend to offer CicLAvia Explores tours around the Village so visitors could get a deeper sense of appreciation for its unique history, its contributions to the arts, and its significance as the cultural beating heart of the black community.

Leimert Park had originally been built in the 1920s as a middle-class white planned community. But the lifting of racial covenants, building of the freeways, and ease of access to suburbs via automobiles in the post-WWII era helped fuel “white flight” from Leimert and other inner city neighborhoods. African-Americans and Japanese immigrants were some of the first to move in. Then, unrest in Watts in 1965 and again in South L.A. in 1992 helped make Leimert Park a refuge for African-Americans seeking peace, fellowship, and healing.

Those with an artistic bent often congregated at 5th Street Dick’s Coffee Company (a coffeehouse and performance space) or The World Stage, a non-profit arts, education, and performance gallery on Degnan Blvd. founded by master jazz drummer Billy Higgins and by poet and community arts activist Kamau Daáood. Writers, poets, and activists also flocked to writers’ workshops there, seeking ways to empower themselves and others through the communication of their experiences.

And while the intensity of that scene has since faded, it is not unusual to stumble across some of those incredible artists at workshops, performances, or the Leimert Park Art Walk on the last Sunday of the month.

Dancers and drummers at the Festival of Ancestors in Leimert Park. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Dancers and drummers at the Festival of Ancestors in Leimert Park. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Stakeholders are looking to harness the power of that history as they work to push Leimert Park across the threshold of a creative cultural renaissance and to a place where it can nurture the talents of young black artists and innovators.

Hopefully, visitors to the area on Sunday will be able to see that vision and understand why making space for cultural communities is so important to building a healthier and more vibrant Los Angeles.

Jeremy Swift, one of the founders of Black Kids on Bikes, encourages kids to take up biking and listen to their mothers. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Jeremy Swift, one of the founders of Black Kids on Bikes (which rides out of Leimert Park), encourages kids to take up biking and listen to their mothers at the King Day parade along King Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

South L.A. is changing.

Rapidly.

And it’s doing so in innovative ways that are driven from within. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy working in the community so much.

But the real reason I love covering the area is more basic: it’s the people. The big hearts, the warm smiles, the sense of community, and the desire of people to help others (even when they have very little themselves), combined with the diversity of the neighborhoods and rich cultures make every venture into the area a rewarding one.

I’m so pleased those of us who love the area finally have the opportunity to, as Tafarai Bayne put it, “welcome folks to enjoy [the] neighborhood.” And I’m so grateful for the work that he, CicLAvia staff and volunteers, and other advocates have put in to bringing the event to the community so that residents have a chance to experience their own neighborhood in a new way.

“Any CicLAvia,” Bayne explained, “is about more than what’s in front of you;” it gives you a sense of place, a link to the past, and a sense of the future.

Then he smiled, “It’s going to be a good day for South L.A.”

* * * *

For more on CicLAvia, please click here. The list of events and tips for accessing the event can be found here.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    I admire how the CicLAvia organizers were able to keep the route close to two major transit lines without crossing over any railroad tracks. It looks like a very well thought out route that can attract lots of participants.

    The weather forecast looks very good also. It won’t be too hot or chilly, nor is it supposed to rain–that was what I was concerned about for this particular event since it falls in a month that is in the rainy season. What were the organizers going to do if it was raining on the day of the event like it did yesterday? Postpone it to the next weekend or just hold it anyway?

  • michael macdonald

    In community outreach meetings, the organizers explained that they hoped for the best, but would likely take a rain check and postpone the event by a month in the event of heavy rain. Glad it looks like it won’t come to that!

  • Mmmm

    I feel bad for admitting this, but I likely won’t attend this Ciclavia.

    Why?

    Because, I live near the redline, I’m not going to delude myself into thinking the light rail lines closest to this Ciclavia route will have the capacity for all the people and bikes needed. I also don’t know the streets in this area at ALL, and as a result have no idea what routes would actually be safe to bike along to get to the actual closed Ciclavia route. Then on top of that, the Ciclavia route is rather short at only 6 miles. All of those combined pretty much mean I’d rather bike around my own neighborhood for the day and cut out all the extra unknowns and dealing with dragging my bike on a train. Hope it’s a good day for others, but I’m looking forward to Ciclavia finally being in the San Fernando valley, which up until this point has been ignored, as usual, despite holding an enormous percentage of the population of the actual city of LA.

  • sahra

    I’ll be posting a guide to the day’s activities later this morning, so maybe it will be enough to get you on the train and to one of the hubs just to explore a specific area on foot…? The route is short, but it is anchored in two really vibrant communities. Leimert Park will be going all out with a parade, music, drumming, vendors with ties to the African-American community and African diaspora, spoken word, etc… It’s a good reason to come out and just stay, bike or not…

  • Fantastic work Sahra. People are going to be pleasantly surprised about this event. I’m coming on the Red Line too, but it’s only a couple mile ride if I don’t take the Blue Line connection.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    The Blue and Expo light-rail lines connect to the Red Line at the 7th St Metro Center. If you do not feel comfortable riding on a street in mixed traffic, then ride on a sidewalk to the event–which is no more than a half of a mile south of the 3 Expo Line stations shown on the map and an even shorter distance from the Blue Line San Pedro station.

    There is a lot more to see in a six mile stretch of this part of the city compared to most of the San Fernando Valley because of a much higher population density.

  • HighNoon

    You could walk it instead.

  • Mmmm

    The problem is the cluster**** that the light rail trains become during Ciclavia events since they don’t really have much extra capacity. Not sure if you remember the Ciclavia that went out to the beach, but the Expo line was not reliably ridable for quite a long time because there were so many people + bikes that day trying to get back into LA. We didn’t bike to the end of the route because we knew we would have to bike all the way back to the red line and NOT use the expo train as we had originally planned because it was so full.

    And so then I’m back to the original issue of having to bike at least 4.5 miles from the 7th and metro rail station to the actual Ciclavia route on streets or sidewalks (and let’s be honest, sidewalks in LA aren’t something you can assume are in “good” condition or even exist, ever) that I don’t know. It would have been awesome if someone involved with Ciclavia admitted this would be an issue and offered some guidance on recommended bike routes from major transportation hubs like the 7th and metro station and Union Station.

  • Mmmm

    Not an option. Recent knee injury that can deal with biking, not walking that much.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    The CicLAvia event that went to Venice Beach had a much larger number of participants than all the other dates due to it going to the beach. The number of people participating at this south LA CicLAvia will be much smaller because its a six mile route compared to the fourteen mile route going to the beach. Also its December and not April as it was for the event going to Venice Beach. Not as much people bicycle in December compared to April.

  • Phantom Commuter

    The route should have been extended north on Fig to connect with the Red Line.

  • Joe Linton

    It’s a short ride (3 miles) from the Red Line 7th Street station to Figueroa and King. No pressure though – for any route selected there are hundreds of thousands of people within easy walk/bike distance – so routes that are inconvenient for you are convenient for others.

    (Bogota, Colombia, does 80 miles of open streets every sunday of the year – so doing more distance more often will make it convenient for more people.)

  • Joe Linton

    Meant to include directions, too: intrepid folks can ride straight down Figueroa (shouldn’t be hella crazy on a Sunday?) but for a quieter bike-friendly way to bike to the route from Red Line 7th Street station: go east on 7th Street to Grand. Go right/south on Grand until it ends at 39th. Turn left on 39th, then right on Broadway and in one block you’re there.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    The problem with that is the Expo Line light-rail tracks which bicyclists would have to cross on Figueroa St. Lots of bicycle wheels could get caught in the tracks and cause some nasty spills.

  • Got Map

    Expo tunnels under Figueroa. No tracks to cross there.

  • sahra

    The tracks are underground at Fig… it is likely more a question of some of the major stakeholders along that stretch, including USC, some of the car dealerships, etc. But the tracks have been an issue in the past (hence no crossing at Central) and is one of the reasons it is a wholly South LA route this time around.

  • Mmmm

    “Dismount” zones have been in the Ciclavia routes…. so far they usually seem to be because of hills, but I don’t see why that couldn’t be used for tracks instead.

  • Joe Linton

    To date, Metro has steadfastly opposed CicLAvia events crossing active rail tracks, even with dismount or other features.

  • Tomorrow I will be hosting comedy on stage on 43rd Pl in front of the
    Vision Theater and Kaos Network in Leimert Park (9qm – 3pm) Have tons of
    funny comedians lined up…there’s going to be music, food, folks and
    fun!

    Street parking or Metro Rail, as this is a Cycling/Walking event.

  • Spencer

    You could always use google maps, or the global strava heatmap if you don’t know how to ride in areas you’ve never ridden in before.

  • Mmmm

    Thanks for the suggestion of the heatmap. I’ve used the google maps for bike trips, but I don’t trust it enough to blindly accept the results if I know nothing about an area. I’ve ended up on some truly terrible streets that were suggested by google maps. It’s not all their fault though… streets are in such bad condition and even where there are bike lanes, they aren’t placed/maintained to the standards necessary to make the resulting trips safe for bicyclists.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

CicLAvia: Where’s Next?

|
It seems as though each CicLAvia is attracting more and more people to the carfree festival that connects ten neighborhoods bordering and including Downtown.  After past CicLAvia’s, we’ve asked where’s next? But as CicLAvia has become such a powerful symbol of what Los Angeles can be, the chorus calling for a local CicLAvia is growing. […]

CicLAvia Heading Deeper Through the Eastside, but When?

|
For CicLAvia, figuring out how, when and where to expand has been its biggest challenge.  While CicLAvia is free to attend, it costs a lot of money to push past the current 10-mile route, closing streets to cars, providing police support and re-routing car drivers who find entrences and exits from the freeway blocked.  Despite […]

Advocates Gather in Leimert Park to Hear about CicLAvia Route through South L.A. Planned for December

|
South L.A. residents and advocates gathered at the KAOS Network in Leimert Park last night to learn more about CicLAvia and how the 6-mile route planned through the area on December 7th, 2014, would affect the community. Staff from CicLAvia gave presentations explaining “ciclovias” and describing how the car-free, open streets events had first originated in […]

Extend Your Hours of Cyclo-topia: Start CicLAvia in South L.A.

|
Just one week after Angelenos proved they could happily bike and walk their way through Carmageddon, they get to put their freshly honed skills to the test at the nation’s biggest car-free festival. CicLAvia‘s back, y’all! Grab your bike, your family, and/or some friends and experience almost ten miles of cyclo-topia in the heart of […]

Beutner, Garcetti, James, Perry and Greuel on CicLAvia

|
Before CicLAvia, Streetsblog reached out to the five major declared candidates for Mayor of Los Angeles in the March 2013 elections.  All five wrote responses of some sort, and they are listed below in the order in which they are received.  We asked the candidates to describe their day on Sunday, but not all were […]