For Some Riding in CicLAvia, it is about More than Just Having Fun (Although Fun is Allowed)
2:55 PM PDT on April 22, 2013
With each iteration of CicLAvia comes the stress of trying to figure out what new things can be written about it besides, "People rode bikes. And it was good."
I mean, people did ride their bikes.
Lots of them.
More than 150,000 of them, apparently.
And it was good.
So good, in fact, that as I was heading toward downtown at 2:45 p.m., throngs of riders were still headed to the beach, as if the party was just getting started.
And, it brought out the best in people.
People squished in the crowd at a stoplight couldn't really honk at others to get out of their way, cut them off, or give them the finger and shout indelicate things about their mothers. So, they turned to their right and commiserated with whomever was next to them. Which led to questions about where each of them had rode in from, if they had done CicLAvia before, and so forth. And, voilà! In the throes of traffic delays, road rage was thwarted and community was born!
In other words, CicLAvia managed, even if briefly, to convey to Angelenos the sense that we are all in this together.
Within limits, of course.
Some people, annoyed with the hold-ups at lights, would scoot around the barriers and jump in front of those that had waited three or four cycles for their turn to cross. Some of that impatience led to hairy collisions, including a hit-and-run or two.
"I saw the chick that hit you!" a guy said to a dazed girl rubbing her elbow as he helped her pick herself up off the ground.
"She took off!"
Another collision resulted in one of those involved left holding the handlebars -- they had come off the bike -- and the other being treated by paramedics.
Oddly, perhaps, the fun part, for me, is not the biking.
On a very basic level, it is seeing newbies stretching their legs on bikes, people marveling over how fun it can be to pedal to new parts of town, people peacefully rubbing shoulders with those they might not normally cross paths with, and families enjoying the day together.
I was inspired, for example, to meet Sadio Woods, her son, Zahnki, and her mother, Caron Reid (photo at top of page) who had just turned 60 the day before. Woods, who works at Community Health Councils (CHC), said that a lot of her co-workers rode bikes, which helped her decide that it was time for her to get one. Seeing CicLAvia as an opportunity to jumpstart being more active, both she and her mother bought bikes.
Not having ridden for a number of years made the slog up Crenshaw Blvd's major incline over the 10 freeway a little tough for them. But they persevered, smiling, looking unruffled, and declaring it was a beautiful day to be out riding together.
On a much deeper level, I really take heart in seeing how CicLAvia helps people connect the dots between bikes, fun, community, activism, and even social justice.
Of course, there is the oft-overheard mantra of, "We need to have these every weekend!" as people discover they enjoy riding and clamor for more opportunities to have free, communal fun.
But, for groups like those coming from South L.A., the stakes are even higher. The multiple feeder rides sponsored by the Real Rydaz, Los Ryderz, East Side Riders, Southeast Bicycle Alliance, and Black Kids on Bikes (with the aid of the CHC, LACBC, and ECWANDC) were also about crossing boundaries and improving visibility.
With regard to crossing boundaries, enough cannot be said about what a positive experience like CicLAvia can do for youth from the area. In preparation for next week's piece on the first anniversary of Los Ryderz -- a group comprised of youth from tough circumstances -- I had tried to get some of the youth to meet me in other parts of town for interviews. I love Watts deeply, but I know how stressful an environment it can be for them, and I thought they might find it relaxing to get out for a bit.
Nicolas Ruiz, a founding member of Los Ryderz, told me he wasn't comfortable being in public in places that were unfamiliar to him. It's tough enough when he's in Watts, he said, where he has lived all his life. In an unfamiliar environment, he would be exposed and a threat could come from an unexpected direction. His tattoos -- indelible symbols from his past lifestyle -- make him a target. And even though he's a great young man on a straight path now, he's at risk because of what someone might perceive him to be.
Riding as part of the group allows him and the other members to feel relaxed and safe in the streets as well as proud of who they are, what they come from, and their riding family. CicLAvia gives them the additional opportunity to feel accepted as just one more group of riders and fearlessly rub shoulders with people from all across the region, and vice-versa. Many cite it as their all-time favorite event.
All of which ties in to visibility.
Events like CicLAvia offer the clubs an opportunity to turn out cyclists in significant numbers and combat the notion that no one rides in South L.A.
This matters because, the more visible the riders, the more likely their calls for the kinds of infrastructure found in other parts of town will be heard and prioritized. The more infrastructure and opportunities for recreational riding the area has, the clubs hope, the easier it will be for them to reach their larger objective of making South L.A. a destination -- a place people plan rides to, rather than away from, or avoid altogether.
To a degree, CicLAvia also helps raise the visibility of the groups and promote recreational cycling within South L.A. itself. Not as much as a route through the area would, obviously (hint, hint). But taking on the responsibility of doing some of the on-the-ground outreach that CicLAvia hadn't done gave the groups the opening to inform people about the event, feeder rides, and recreational riding opportunities in the area beyond Sunday's event.
Even though many people ride bikes in the area, they often do so out of necessity. Which means that they are usually out of the loop with regard to recreational cycling events, local or otherwise, or haven't considered the possibility of riding for fun or for community. By drawing in a few new riders with the feeder rides, the clubs were able to provide the uninitiated with a wonderful introduction to the idea of building community through cycling and informal fun.
The feeder rides proved very productive for the very plugged-in folks, too. The unique gathering of advocates, cyclists, and community organizers at the Leimert ride kept me busy with comparisons of notes on outreach and discussions of strategies for keeping the momentum for livable streets alive in a form that would meet the community's needs. So much so, in fact, that I think I spent the first 45 minutes of CicLAvia parked at a hub with some of CHC's staff, discussing best practices, opportunities for collaboration, and our hopes for the future of South L.A.
It was much more fun to do it there than via email or in a stuffy meeting room. And, the swirl of cyclists of all shapes, sizes, and origins around us made our plans for South L.A. feel both more tangible and more urgent.
In the end, that is at the heart of what CicLAvia is really about, isn't it? The use of public space to bring people together, inspire them, and empower them to go forth and better their own communities?
I like to think so.
But, it is also entirely possible that I am just not particularly good at having unfettered non-social-justice-related fun anymore.
So, weigh in and let us know. Does CicLAvia inspire you to do more in your community? Tell us all about it.
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