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Cyclists take to car-free streets

Organizers say more people participated in Sunday's CicLAvia than last year's event.

April 11, 2011|Alexandra Zavis

With gas prices on the rise, Cherie Bolger ditched her SUV and started riding a bicycle to work.

It's not a pleasant experience, normally. If a motorist doesn't cut her off, someone opens a car door in front of her, said the 44-year-old mother of two from Silver Lake.

But for five blissful hours Sunday, Bolger, her family and thousands of other self-propelled Angelenos had the run of the road -- not a car in sight.

The city's second CicLAvia event closed 7 1/2 miles of roadway to traffic, turning streets usually choked with cars and exhaust into a playground for bikers, skateboarders, runners, dog-walkers, in-line skaters and hula-hoopers. The sound of roaring engines and blaring horns gave way to the quiet whir of spinning bicycle wheels.

"Oh, my gosh," Bolger said during a lunch stop on Heliotrope Drive in East Hollywood. "Everybody is so nice. There hasn't been any yelling, like: 'Get out of the way!' "

The event, which takes participants along a winding route from East Hollywood to Boyle Heights, is designed to give Angelenos a break from their car-dependent culture and let them reimagine the way public space is used.

"It feels almost like a dream," said Richard Varela, 37, who drove in from Downey with his wife, two young sons and several other family members.

They cycled into downtown from Hollenbeck Park in Boyle Heights, stopping to take in the view from the 4th Street bridge over the Los Angeles River.

"Usually, we just drive by," Varela said. "With no cars, we can pull over and take pictures."

About 100,000 people turned out for the first CicLAvia in October, which cost about $316,000 to stage.

The city picked up more than 60% of the tab, with the rest coming from private sponsors, said Aaron Paley, CicLAvia's producer and a member of its steering committee.

The Los Angeles Police Department could not immediately provide an estimate of Sunday's turnout, but organizers said the streets were more crowded than in October.

Several injuries were reported, but none of them were life-threatening, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.

The event is unstructured by design, with organizers leaving it to participants, businesses and community groups to organize activities along the route. Among the options Sunday were yoga classes, dance performances, a scavenger hunt, dodge ball, political protests and grapefruit picking.

Junue Millan, 29, from Silver Lake, hopped off his bike to hula-hoop near 1st and Spring streets wearing fuzzy faux-fur handmade boots.

"I've been car-free since 2005," he said. "It was hard initially, but eventually it became a breeze."

Some business owners were unhappy about the street closures, but others set up stalls on the pavement or handed out coupons to try to lure people inside.

In Little Tokyo, a free bike valet service went up in front of the Japanese American National Museum to encourage participants to explore the area's cultural attractions or refuel at its sushi restaurants, noodle houses and other eateries.

"We have to take advantage of all these people coming through," said Brian Kito, 54, whose family has operated the Fugetsu-Do sweet shop on 1st Street for more than a century.

His 10-year-old son, Korey, set up a lemonade stand in front of the store and was doing a brisk trade.

The city's road warriors have embraced the event, but there were also many families with young children in tow.

Elena Astilleros, 31, brought her two boys from South Los Angeles. Tony, 7, glided along on a scooter while 4-year-old Diego peddled furiously on a tricycle.

"There's very few places for my son to take a tricycle because the pavements are all messed up," said Astilleros, who was on foot. "It's a real gift."

The event takes its inspiration from the "ciclovia" (bike path) movement, a concept that originated three decades ago in Bogota, Colombia.

Many other cities around the world host similar events. Two more CicLAvias are planned for July 10 and Oct. 9, and organizers hope to turn it into a monthly event in 2012.

"One day, we're going to do this virtually every week," said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who cycled the course with seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. "It starts here."

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alexandra.zavis@latimes.com

Times staff writer Hector Becerra contributed to this report.

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