CicLAvia

CicLAvia, the cycling event that shuts down a few miles of downtown Los Angeles streets, was held yesterday to an enthusiastic crowd. An estimated 100,000 people attended, most riding bikes, but many rode skateboards, skated (including LA’s roller derby team, the LA Derby Dolls) or just ran. I think of CicLAvia as Critical Mass with manners. CicLAvia gets right all the things that Critical Mass gets wrong: It is an organized event that promotes ridership and receives the full support of the city, right down to police protection. Post-event reports mentioned a few bike thefts (which sucks donkey fur), but not a single injury (which is a bigger miracle than Jesus-in-the-tree). CicLAvia also has a terrific marketing campaign behind it to the point that if there are pissed-off drivers, it’s hard to tell. Better yet, it gets people out on bikes who wouldn’t be caught dead riding in Critical Mass. Where Critical Mass can embarrass even dedicated cyclists, CicLAvia is a PR campaign for cycling that sells the fun of the sport.

That little guy  above is my son, Philip, who turned three in July. His Specialized Hot Rock (yes, that’s him in the photo) is far and away his favorite toy, a detail that gives me unnatural pride and pleasure. My wife and I decided to take him downtown and while we knew we’d see less of the nine miles of closed streets than if we stuck him in the trailer, we knew he’d have more fun riding his own bike and this could be an important step in his education as a rider.

CicLAvia isn’t just about people riding dusty bikes that receive, at best, irregular use. The city takes the opportunity to turn a portion of downtown into a festival of sorts. There were bands and DJs playing and a selection of food trucks with diverse enough offerings to satisfy even the fussiest epicure.

The event is reported to cost an estimated $350k to put on. I haven’t really chased the nature of the cost—which is lazy journalism I admit—but I suspect the vast majority of the cost comes from the police tending the intersections. That number concerns me if only because it seems like a lot of money for a five-hour event. I harbor a deep concern that such an budget item could dry up the instant a new mayor is sworn in; I don’t doubt that the money is well-used or that the event is worth it. My issues is that if it cost less, it would be harder to kill if the city’s next mayor wasn’t as partial to cycling. And let’s face facts: Most city mayors in the United States don’t see cycling with our eyes.

Honestly, with so much going on the sidelines, Philip was easily distracted and there were times when we had to work to keep him focused on riding his bike. Thankfully, he’s not that knowledgeable about bikes, so he wasn’t distracted the way I was when this vintage Bottecchia in Greg LeMond’s Team ADR colors passed us.

While CicLAvia is really meant to get people who don’t ride very often out on bikes—heck, it’s even possible for people who don’t own bikes to rent them at the event, so it really is an excuse-free chance to ride—it is a great opportunity for people who have the bike equivalent of the sideshow freak to come out and make people smile.

October in Los Angeles is a time of year where nearly every spot in the whole of the county enjoys pleasant weather. Yesterday was Exhibit 1 in the case, a day when my friends back East would say to me, “Brag, and you die.”

CicLAvia is now a quarterly event; I missed this summer’s ride because of travel, but aim to attend as often as possible. Why? Well, the easy answer is that it takes a colossal effort on the part of an army of volunteers to make the stars align so that this event happens, not just once, but on a recurring basis. The dividends that it pays can hardly be counted. It’s a prime way to remind people who don’t ride very often just how fun cycling is. So there’s that. Then there’s the reminder people get about how handy a bicycle could be in getting around on a practical basis, especially in these days of $4.99 gas (maybe we should cheer for the oil companies reaping record profits?). So there’s that, too. Then consider the way that all these people might just be more accommodating to seeing cyclists on the road by virtue of the fact that they’ve been on one just recently. What about that? Finally, the way the event is promoted on TV and in local papers helps to remind even those who don’t attend that cyclists are around, that it’s an acceptable activity, not just some kid thing.

I’m not even sure what to say about the device above; it and its riders (?) fascinated me. The pedaled dinner party, complete with chandelier (look closely) was one of the most exuberant expressions of the day’s rolling party and the only thing I saw photographed more fervently than my kiddo.

This shot above will be my abiding memory from this edition. Philip’s first group ride. Nearly everyone asked how old he was as they passed. And he got crazy amounts of encouragement, which while he thoroughly enjoyed, was also a distraction to him and often saw him swerve off his line, an ongoing challenge that required no outside input.

Societal changes take place over generations. When my parents were kids, public transportation was something most people used at least occasionally if not nearly daily. Renting out rooms of your home to a complete stranger wasn’t uncommon either, at least not to the social strata of my family. Clearly, that’s not the world I live in. CicLAvia is an event that may help reintroduce my son’s generation to the idea that the bike isn’t just a play thing. Many of the bikes I saw yesterday were commuter types: Flying Pigeons, Linuses and the like. This shot of him riding in that mass of bikes has the most profound effect on me; I get choked up seeing it. I’d really like his world to be one in which the bicycle is better accepted.

 

11 comments

  1. slappy

    very nice, your comment about room rental reminded me that I just updated my Warmshowers.org account. if you don’t know, it’s a couchsurfer site for touring cyclists. sign yourself up on it, and you’ll have the occasional call to put up a tourer which is great for all. and for the record, fat tire bikes are a great way to ride with kids, because they have such a wide footprint you can maintain strider pace without being overly twitchy.

  2. Harold

    “…with so much going on the sidelines, Philip was easily distracted and there were times when we had to work to keep him focused on riding his bike.” Thank you for this. I am always a bit incredulous over parents who give little to no instruction/direction to their young cyclists.

  3. Dan Busby

    Greetings! I’m the proud wrangler of the table contraption that you photographed. I knew there were hundreds of photos of us pedaling and dining yesterday, so I started searching for some. And I found yours first. I hope you don’t mind if I give you a little background on the thing. It’s called A Moveable Feast. My friends and I built the kinetic sculpture this past year after a successful Kickstarter campaign to help fund it. We’ve taken it to the Pasadena Doo Dah Parade, a few festivals over the summer and most recently Burning Man. We only brought tea service for CicLAvia, but we’ve had some pretty elaborate meals while pedaling around. We managed to pedal that thing 6 miles through the streets of LA yesterday, and we had a blast sharing it with everyone.

    Glad to see you and your kid had such a great time out there. It was my first CicLAvia, and I won’t miss the next one. :)

  4. Braze-on Dropout

    Thanks for the well-written report. I have never seen a more inviting empty saddle than the one attached to the rolling dinner party! Isn’t it grand to see streets dominated by PEOPLE instead of impersonal motor vehicles? While you’ve ably noted the contrast between an event like this and the controversial Critical Mass, I can’t help but think “same team!” Despite CritMass’s pitfalls, that type of horizontal organization has several obvious advantages over a city-sanctioned $350,000 event. No mayor can pull the plug on funding for a fundless ride, for example. While I tend to favor Critical Manners rides, I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone who is engaged in humanizing the streets.

  5. Marc

    Nice piece, Padraig. As one who has ridden all but one of the CicLAvias, I can say that it is one of the most fun, transformative events I’ve ever been part of. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to be on the city streets — sans cars — with approximately 100,000 Angelenos from every walk of life, every age, every ethnicity… you name it, all enjoying what is effectively a giant block party. Amazing.

    Two thoughts:
    1. If this can happen in Los Angeles, world center of car culture, it can happen anywhere.
    2. One thing you learn as you pass by (or are passed by) all those people: bicycles are unbelievably long-lasting. I can’t believe how many people I saw on (literally) 50-year old bikes that had rarely if ever been given any care, not even a little lubricant. And many of them were largely junk to begin with– old Royce Unions, Huffys, and the like. Imagine if you were to find a 1962 Rambler in your garage, untouched for all that time. What’s the likelihood you could jump in, turn the key, and drive away? It’s more evidence that short of walking, the bicycle is the cheapest, easiest, most reliable form of transportation on the planet, and one of the greatest inventions of the Industrial Age.

  6. Pingback: A Moveable Feast Goes to CicLAvia


  7. Author
    Padraig

    Everyone: Thanks for your comments.

    Harold: We had a big responsibility not to ruin other riders’ fun and if anything had happened to Philip, he wouldn’t have remembered it fondly.

    Dan Busby: I LOVE the Moveable Feast. I laughed out loud when you wrote that you only brought a tea service. Well done and I hope we cross paths again soon.

    Braze-on Dropout: While I like that Critical Mass is a group of cyclists, which is to say, my peeps, I hate that it is ultimately and fairly uniformly a bad reflection on cycling culture to everyone who isn’t a cyclist. In terms of making cycling cool to non-cyclists, it is a complete PR fail. Epic. And other cyclists ought to speak up more about how it isn’t helping our cause.

    Marc: Yes, absolutely, if this can happen in LA, it can happen anywhere. This is the city where people said cycling advocacy isn’t possible. Ha to that.

  8. VeloCanman

    Great story and thanks for sharing! I can’t wait until my little girl is riding a bike. She already says “Ride it” whenever she sees a bicycle–whether it is a photo, sketch, or the real thing.

    I also hope to provide a positive example to her by demonstrating that we can use a bike for practical purposes. I tend to think Bikes for Kids programs are the best focus of cycling advocacy efforts. We can’t really change the current generation–but if we positively influence their kids, everyone benefits.

  9. Harold

    “..it is ultimately and fairly uniformly a bad reflection on cycling culture to everyone who isn’t a cyclist”…couldn’t agree more. How is doing the very things that non-cyclists hate helping the cause? How much more impressive and effective would it be to see a hundred cyclists riding down city streets in rush hour, single file and obeying traffic laws? Would it be frustrationg as hell? You bet and not nearly as fun as bombing down streets flipping the figurative bird to motorists but it would make a more impressive statement.

  10. Braze-on Dropout

    Events like cicLAvia have a PR downside as well. There is a message here that in order for cycling on the road to be safe and enjoyable, the roads must be closed to automobiles. On “normal” days, cyclists should just stay home. Wait for your parade, where you belong.

    In terms of diplomacy, there is hard and soft power. Trying to enhance people’s perception of cyclists through sanctioned events is an example of soft power. This is important work, but I am not convinced that this expression of power alone will do much to change the fundamental social structures that support car culture and oppress non-motoring road users. Governments, corporations, and lobbyists have too much invested in the status quo to respond to soft power alone. That is where hard power comes in. Direct, defiant, and confrontational expressions of power also have a place in diplomacy. If motoring culture perceives no threat, negotiation is off the table. However, if expressions of hard power threaten motoring culture’s grip on our public roads, then cyclists are in a much better bargaining position. Hard power makes real and lasting concessions possible.

    When motorists endanger our lives on our public roads, no one is worried about the bad PR for motoring culture. In the words of Chris Carlsson, CritMass is bicycling’s defiant celebration. If cyclists want revolutionary change, then they ought not be afraid of cyclists acting like revolutionaries.

  11. ciclista

    I think that an open streets event is as much about healthy lifestyles in general as it is about getting more people on bikes. However, I have never heard a single positive comment about critical mass from anyone who wasn’t already a part of it. So act like revolutionaries if you must, but don’t do it expecting it to help any cause that would get cyclists more respect or that would get more people on bikes. Now KIDICAL mass is a different thing all together. I have participated in two of these family and youth oriented rides, and it is amazing how friendly drivers become when the riders include young cyclists, many of whom are riding on the road for the first time, ringing their bells as they go. Personally, I would rather “catch more flies with honey”

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