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CicLAvia Traffic Jams

April 22, 2013 1 comment

Celebrated by an estimated 150,000 participants (or maybe 500,000?), yesterday’s CicLAvia featured a new route, from Union Station to Venice Beach, mostly along Venice Boulevard. While these rides have always been popular, this one brought L.A. freeway-sized rush-hour issues, with backups at cross-traffic stoplights being blocks long. There was much Twittering to-and-fro about problems, but these are delicious problems to have, and Clifford Johnson at Asymptotia gave a delicate analysis. Like Johnson, I found myself unable to complete a full out-and-back in the time allotted, and had to cut off the ride at Centinela after a quick but late lunch. Like Johnson, I agree that the solutions won’t be easy to find, and I was overall delighted with the ride. Most of the problems can be laid to the simple issue that the event was too popular. Popularity is a fickle friend. Small changes (weather, competing events, etc.) could have kept many people home, leaving event organizers in a very different situation.

A few more observations:

1) Westbound traffic was consistently heavier than eastbound, with volumes at points in large multiples. While crossing a downtown intersection around 10:30 AM, I was one of a handful of riders headed towards Union Station, with those going the opposite direction forming a massive and barely penetrable phalanx across the entire road. The unequal traffic volume was unique to this CicLAvia. I don’t know what to lay it to, other than the idea that people like going to the beach.

Your chariot awaits

2) It was refreshing to see Union Station as a major feeder point to the ride. For the few minutes I spent there while waiting for my passenger, people with bicycles poured out of the station to the exasperated and ineffective “keep moving” pleas of a security officer.

3) Cargo bikes were a bigger presence than I’ve seen before. I ran into two other Bullitt riders, one Workcycles Bakfiets, and a couple of Niholas. My “chariot” carried a passenger unsure about riding in crowded conditions, while others were transporting children, dogs, and the like.

4) Where separated by a concrete and raised median strip, event organizers used the westbound lanes of Venice Boulevard as the CicLAvia route, while allowing cars on the eastbound lanes. The capacity difference of the boulevard between cars and bicycles couldn’t have been starker. For any given block, the cars numbered in the tens, while bicycles numbered in the hundreds, perhaps thousands. It’s possible, perhaps likely, that the boulevard carried more people on bikes during CicLAvia’s few hours than it carries on jammed days.

5) That event organizers saw fit to separate bicycles from cars using a concrete median strip should be a reminder that people and their children are happy to ride in close proximity to cars when it feels safe. There were lots of cars just a few feet away, but they were kept away from cyclists by more than paint.

CicLAvia’s website has a countdown clock to the next one, called “Iconic Wilshire Boulevard,” just sixty-one days from now. It’s hard to imagine a more important street to Los Angeles than Wilshire, which connects downtown with Santa Monica and many prominent landmarks between. My personal definition of cycling success in this city is a separated path running the length of the Boulevard. It’s really great to see that we’ll have a taste of that soon.

CicLAvia Celebrating

It was a beautiful fall Sunday six months ago exactly, on 10/10/10, when I crossed from Germany into the Netherlands. The wind was at my back, the sun in my face, and the roads were full of cyclists. A young couple held hands, headed into town on a date, an older couple chatted amiably, children and parents — all of Holland, it seemed — were out enjoying the day. It was also the day, as it happened, that Los Angeles’ first CicLAvia went down. I was sorry to miss it, but if 10/10/10 looked anything like the streets of Los Angeles looked today, on 04/10/11, you might say that a little bit of Holland has arrived.

Oakwood Street

Of course, CicLAvia has its roots in Columbia, not Holland, where every Sunday (and holidays) the streets are given over to human-powered traffic. The first one was held there in 1976, and if I may be a little snarky, I’d have to ask — why did it take THIRTY-FOUR years to make its way north?

CicLAvia is wonderful! It’s a celebration without purpose, a party without cause. And all you have to do is shut down some streets to automobiles and tell people, “Enjoy yourself.” How many times today did I stop in the middle of some five-lane expressway just to admire a bit of Angeleno architecture, or photograph a mural? How many times did other people wave and say hello? How many families spent quality time together, soaking in the joy of simple things? How many children, that rarest of cyclist on our streets, did I see?

I had to snicker at the typically curmudgeonly comments posted below a Times story on the event. This “complete waste of time” and “laughable” celebration of life somehow drew thousands of people, maybe tens of thousands, all with a synchronicity of purpose, to enjoy their city. Prose can’t do it justice, even poetry may miss the mark. It’s only in the experience itself that one can understand. And if rumor has it correct — that the mayor wants to increase the number to one per month by next year — we’re going to have plenty of opportunities. I can’t wait!

Enjoying a Beautiful Sunday

March 7, 2011 2 comments

Shall I let you in on a little secret?

Despite what you may think from reading my musings, I really don’t cycle all that much, and certainly not on a daily basis. I walk to work, so that takes out a big reason to ride, and the one regular drive I take weekly is too cumbersome to go by bicycle. I am probably best grouped into the class of “weekend warriors.” I take my bicycle to the streets of Los Angeles in off hours and do my best, like the rest of weekend warriors, to maintain a shred of whatever conditioning I may have had in my twenties.

This kind of riding must be far and away the dominant mode in Los Angeles. The L.A. Times pointed out last week that only 9,000 people in this city of millions regularly cycle to work. (The Times says an additional “50% of L.A. adults ride a bicycle ‘sometimes,'” whatever that means.) If I somehow have to square that number with the widely given “one-percent” mode share, which would mean at the very least 30,000 total riders, the remaining 21,000 cyclists must be pursuing goals other than commuting. I’d like to think those other riders are doing grocery runs, but I can say with some certainty that they’re not. I almost never see any other cyclists when I wheel my Bullitt to the market, even to the Trader Joe’s near UCLA, where you’d think there would be tons of cyclists. So what to think? I have to assume that the balance is made up of “recreationalists,” those riders who soak up the sun and warmth of Southern California with little other purpose. In other words, people who mostly ride bicycles just about like me.

Of course, the city council’s approval of the bike plan last week may help change that. Or maybe not. I recognize the vote as a “victory for cyclists,” but I have to be skeptical of its unanimous passage. If the plan actually did anything, there would have been a real fight, with vitriol and venom, the likes of which NY City is having right now. I’ll believe the effectiveness of the plan on the day we convert street parking or travel lanes to protected bicycle lanes, when we start having protests on, say, San Vicente or Wilshire Boulevard.

Whatever the case, I wanted to post a little video I made yesterday about one of my favorite rides, a seventy-mile loop that took me from West L.A. to Latigo Canyon Road in Malibu and back again. We had perfect outdoor weather, some of the best of the season so far, and it was a great day to go into the mountains:

If you’re curious, here’s a map of the route.