CicLAvia Shines Light On L.A.’s Transportation Conundrum
No stranger to such problems, Los Angeles, widely known as the nation’s gridlock capital, decided in 2009 to begin holding its own version of the event, blocking off 10 miles of roads for people to ride their bikes freely, skateboard, and walk. So far, three successful CicLAvias have been staged.
The event is sponsored by the city of Los Angeles. In August 2010, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who had previously shown little involvement in the topic, hosted a bicycle summit after suffering from a bike accident that left him with a broken elbow. During the panel, bicycle advocates stated their concern on the failure of previous projects such as the 1996 plan that aimed to develop bike-riding facilities and alternative transportation support programs. In response, the Department of Transportation assured that the 2010 scheme would this time provide results with the addition of an annual progress mandate.
On the surface of this news, it might appear that the city is headed on an exciting two-wheeled trajectory. But realistically, how much progress is actually being made? As it is, the mayor’s supposedly different 2010 Bike Plan will take a projected 25 years to be fully executed, and even that figure is doubtful to skeptics. In addition, the government has lost faith with many on the issue of transportation, particularly after the much-publicized Expo Line delays.
Villaraigosa has at least acknowledged the need for change in society as a root of the transportation conundrum, calling for a “cultural paradigm shift” requiring drivers to learn to “share the road.”
This view is shared by Dan Dabek, Director of Cyclists Inciting Change thru Live Exchange (C.I.C.L.E.), a non-profit bicycle advocacy group based in Los Angeles. “In terms of changing the culture, we have to address behavior,” Dabek said. “I think that it’s hard for politicians to do things that are politically unpopular. But if people go to events like CicLAvia, or go out on a cycle ride, they’ll really see the benefit of bicycling, and walking, and taking alternative modes of transportation, [and] I think that they’re going to start petitioning for changes in the city, and I think the government will follow what the people want … it’s just that people need to change their perceptions, and then ask for it.”
The director outlined a few policy changes he would make. “I would reduce the amount of available cheap parking in the city. Right now, it’s still very easy to use a car to get around town, but there could be more parking for bicycles, there could be expanded bus routes,” he said. “I think increasing public transportation, because not everyone is going to want to ride their bicycle, like, 20 miles in one day, and that’s something that we understand. So being able to be multi-modal, and making sure that there’s enough accommodation on buses and trains will help people."
He emphasized the importance of scaling back on road and highway infrastructure in a time of growing population density, also pointed out in an annual report by the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC). According to the group's findings, "12% of all trips in the region are made by bicycling and walking, yet only 0.5% of all transportation funding is allocated to bicycle and pedestrian improvements."
That the city holds these singular, one-off events at all demonstrates the problem all on its own. The fact that government clearance and a great campaign are required to simply create a safe space and unclog 10 of the city’s 7,200 miles of roads reflects the seriousness of the conditions in L.A.
Dabek contends although the event might not convey quantitative results, the impact lies in its message, and with a problem that has been associated with societal attitudes, awareness is valuable in and of itself. “CicLAvia has become something that has gone into the mainstream,” he said. “Even [for] people that aren’t adopting bicycling, it’s putting the message out there and I think that’s something that people are growing awareness of. I think that once issues … become embedded in the cultural discussion, it becomes easier to do the work we’re doing.”
Moreover, it appears to be early days still—CicLAvia is only one of the numerous cycling events that various organizations have scheduled for the weeks ahead. The League of American Bicyclists has declared May “Bike Month,” which will include a Bike-to-Work Week as well as a Bike-to-School Day. In the meantime, organizers and sympathetic politicans will keep pushing for that cultural paradigm shift.
Reach Staff Reporter Michelle Toh here.