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.