What happens when you temporarily close areas to cars and open them up to bicyclists and pedestrians? People come out in droves to ride, play, walk, interact with their community and activate their shared space. Ciclovia, a temporary closure of roads to cars, takes this concept to the next level by blocking off entire thoroughfares. Originating in Colombia in the 1980s, Ciclovia has been so well-received that it has spread to countries around the world including Australia, Brazil, Peru, Canada, Mexico, the U.S and more.
Los Angeles has put its own twist on Cyclovia with CicLAvia. Since 2010, CicLAvia has successfully held five road-closing events, each one attracting over 100,000 participants. Most recently, CicLAvia opened a 15 mile route between downtown Los Angeles and Venice Beach to cyclists and pedestrians for a day.
Challenging the stereotype of the car-centric Angeleno, CicLAvia demonstrates the desire of people from all walks of life to get out of the cars and into the streets.
“CicLAvia is successful because people are eager to interact with the city in a way that is impossible to do by car,” says CicLAvia’s executive director Aaron Paley. “They can set their own pace, decide their own means of participating, and enjoy businesses, cultures, architecture and other Angelenos in ways that are not possible when confined to a car.”
Paley notes that there’s a pent up demand for this kind of event in a city so dominated by the car and with such a paucity of real public space.
“Los Angeles is essentially an urban ocean with many neighborhood islands,” he says. “Trying to travel to other islands by foot, bike or public transit and explore what they have to offer is not as easy as it should be.”
CicLAvia offers a way for people to leave their neighborhoods and become more familiar with surrounding areas. “People see what other parts of the city have to offer in terms of culture, business, cuisine, entertainment, outdoor space, etc.,” says Paley. “They are encouraged to return, and they now know it is possible to do by bike, public transit or other non- vehicle means.”
The CicLAvia team works closely with city officials, the transportation department, the police department, emergency officials and business owners to ensure that CicLAvias are safe, well-organized events. There have been no arrests made in any of the CicLAvias and according to Paley, crime is down during CicLAvias. He also points out that many surrounding businesses see a post-CicLAvia increase in business as well as a new customer base.
According to Paley, the biggest challenges when organizing CicLAvia are logistical: making sure the permits are in order, coordinating with public agencies on street closures, making residents and businesses along the route aware that they may have limited access to their driveways, etc.
For those interested in organizing a Ciclovia, Paley stresses the importance of forming strong partnerships and relationships with city officials, government agencies, law and emergency personnel, and local business and community stakeholders.
“Ultimately,” he says, “the success of CicLAvia comes from all of these entities combined with the support and involvement of participants the day of the event.”
The next CicLAvia is scheduled for June 23, when Wilshire Boulevard, one of the main thoroughfares in Los Angeles, will be closed to traffic for the day. Ideally, Paley would like to see monthly CicLAvias throughout Los Angeles County. “We’d like to touch upon diverse communities, geographies and cultures,” he says, “and connect us all as owners and imaginers of our city streets.”