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CicLAvia was mentioned in our last column as one of several events and circumstances that signal a change in how large numbers of people view transportation options here in southern California. Los Angeles' fourth CicLAvia took place on Sunday, April 15, and my wife and I decided to check it out.
In the spirit of saving some greenhouse gases, we took the Metro Blue Line from Florence Avenue to its terminus at 7th Street in downtown L.A. A stunning vision met us as we exited the station, for in one glance at least a hundred bicycle riders presented themselves, coursing down 7th Street, the hum of bicycle tires replacing the usual street sounds of L.A.'s urban core.
We saw bicycles of every imaginable shape and size: racing bikes, beach cruisers, tandems, a surprising number of double-decker bikes, recumbent bikes (giving new meaning to the term "laid-back"), kids' bikes with training wheels, one large-diameter unicycle, and one cyclist carrying a spare--not a spare tire, but an actual spare bike, strapped to the back of his two-wheeler. Teams of riders shared the streets with skateboarders, folks on roller blades and skates, and, always present, dogs on leashes who in most cases were a bit ahead of their masters' bicycles.
Regrettably the event was not without accident, for we came across a woman who appeared to be about 70, sitting on the curb nursing a head injury and being treated by paramedics who had arrived in both a full-size fire engine and a medic truck, the only motorized vehicles in sight. Apparently she was not wearing a helmet, which should be an object lesson for all, especially those of us who've reached our seventh decade, when the joys of an active life should be assiduously protected--despite the fact that most bicycle helmets look a little bit dorky.
Estimates put attendance at about 100,000, with cyclists arriving on Metrolink trains from as far away as Orange and San Bernardino counties. An L.A. Times article following the event quoted Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, himself a cyclist, as follows: "Angelenos are aching for a day without a car. CicLAvia provides us one of those days. But the change doesn't have to be temporary, so we are taking steps to make it easier for Angelenos to get from point A to point B--with or without a car." He also used the Sunday function as a "platform . . . to unveil a privately funded $16-million bike-share program that aims to put 4,000 rental bicycles at 400 kiosks across the city," according to the Times.
CicLAvia, it turns out, is not an isolated event. It takes its name from "Ciclovia," a weekly celebration originating in Bogotá, Columbia, in the mid 1970's. The occasion has enjoyed such popularity in Bogotá that it has expanded to the closure of eighty miles of streets and highways every Sunday, plus holidays, for the use of cyclists, skaters, and pedestrians! More broadly, Ciclovia in Bogotá represents a fundamental culture change there from the automobile dominance of the 1990's, resulting in a city now safe for cycling. In fact, the event has spread not only in South America, but also to Australia and New Zealand, Belgium, Canada, and numerous other cities in the United States.
So what's the significance of CicLAvia/Ciclovia to us in Downey? In simple terms, it's a bellwether of change in how we do transportation. We have yet to examine in this series the several ways in which non-motorized transportation--also increasingly described as "active" transportation--favorably impacts us and our environment. For starters, we can look to the website of the National Center for Safe Routes to School, "walkbiketoschool.org," for a good outline. In answer to the question, "Why walk or bike?" Walk to School Day in the USA offers the following reasons:
1. It's Fun!
2. Healthier Habits
3. Cleaner Environment
4. Promoting Safety
5. Community Benefits
In fact, "Walk to School Day," an international event celebrated in 4,082 cities in the U.S. alone last year, including 549 municipalities in California as nearby as Bell Gardens, aims to bring these benefits into local communities everywhere. This year the same organization is launching a national Bike to School Day, which takes place this coming Wednesday, May 9--appropriately during National Bike to School Month. The Warren High School Cycling Club will be promoting Bike to School Day this year, and during upcoming articles we will further examine the joys and challenges of riding a bicycle.
Published: May 03, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 03