An artist's rendition of a Vermont Avenue free of cars from CicLAvia. (Colleen Corcoran )
Imagine L.A. without cars. A town where people ride their bikes and walk in the streets, and the smell of tacos and veggie burgers drifts through the air instead of exhaust.
Sound like a pipe dream? Not if a group called cicLAvia is successful. The volunteer coalition of bicycle advocates, transportation experts, artists and academics wants to make Sundays in L.A. virtually car-free -- transforming the city's streets into giant bike lanes.
"This city is so park-poor and so car-dependent," says Jonathan Parfrey, cicLAvia member and director of the Green LA Institute. "Air pollution is awful, and childhood obesity is epidemic. But building new parks for people to get out of their cars and exercise can be prohibitively expensive. We want to create public space using the infrastructure we already have -- our roads."
The idea, called a "ciclovia," isn't new. A phenomenon across Latin America, the ciclovia was born in the Colombian city of Bogotá 30 years ago. The city is car-choked and polluted, but every Sunday, Bogotá's major avenues are shut down to cars, and hundreds of thousands of cyclists take to the streets. CicLAvia wants to replicate that success.
Los Angeles is currently host to two recurring guerrilla-style activist group rides, one known as Midnight Ridazz and the other Critical Mass, which draw scores of cyclists out to reclaim city streets -- but without closing them. On Friday night, the monthly Critical Mass ride will convene at the Purple Line Metro Station at Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue, and move through central L.A.
Joe Linton, one of the original conveners of Critical Mass in L.A., says these events are different from a ciclovia. "With Critical Mass, you get fearless folks who bike all the time," he said. "A ciclovia is more families, people walking, walking their dogs, people jogging, kids out riding Big Wheels and stuff in the streets."
However, says Parfrey, shutting down city streets to traffic isn't something a small group can accomplish on its own. "This is something that will be impossible to pull off without involvement from the city," Parfrey said.
Members of cicLAvia met with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's office on Oct. 7. Both sides came away encouraged.
"We're excited by the idea, and we're looking for ways to support it," says Romel Pascual, L.A.'s associate director of energy and the environment. "Making events like this happen is always in the details -- what neighborhoods to start with, the routes involved."
The California Foundation, whose mission is to eradicate poverty in underserved communities, has conditionally agreed to provide $20,000 to fund a ciclovia in Boyle Heights -- an event that could prove a trial balloon of sorts.
"We don't have to close 80 miles of streets all at one time," says Aaron Paley, cicLAvia member and president of Community Arts Resources. "We can start small and build incrementally."
The mayor's office agrees with this approach, and plans are being negotiated for a test run in the spring.
The exact route is still being determined.
Critical Mass bike ride Where: Purple Line Metro Station, Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue
When: 7 p.m. Friday, ride at 7:30 p.m. sharp