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6 Downtown News

April 18, 2011


Two Wheel Drive With CicLAvia, Downtown Cars Take a Back Seat


t’s the middle of the day in the middle of Spring Street. Not exactly a playground. Yet, look who’s coming our way: A child, no more than 6, carelessly careening southbound on this major Downtown thoroughfare, pedaling her pink tricycle complete with multicolored handlebar streamers. The cutest little white basket attached to the front. Pedals in the shape of flowers. Did I mention the bell? The pig-tailed innocent prepares to execute a sharp westbound turn onto Seventh Street. She appears unfazed, not a care in the world. It’s the same story for everyone else in the general area, some of Howard Leff them on foot, some on skateboard. The biggest contingent is a seemingly endless stream of happy, well- OF ONE mannered bicyclists. Forget the tattooed and scruffy messengers with the Lance Armstrong calves. These folks smile as they breeze around this normally congested corner. It’s called CicLAvia, which is derived from the word ciclovia, which doesn’t help much, since no one knows what that word means either. Turns out ciclovia translates from Spanish as “bike path.” These days, it’s also used whenever someone with a City Hall swipe card gets the wild idea of temporarily banning cars from a bunch of urban streets, creating a friendly swath for anything and anyone without a motor. L.A.’s second CicLAvia took place on Sunday, April 10. The Downtown portion of the “path” extends from Seventh and Figueroa streets east to the Fourth Street Bridge, winding along parts of Spring Street, First Street and Central Avenue. During the five-hour event, you can go in any direction at any time. Or no direction at all. As you can see, there aren’t many rules. Which really isn’t surprising for a happening based on the original Ciclovia,


which started in Bogotá, Colombia Erasing motorized traffic from a handful of major Downtown streets creates quite a spectacle. It’s as if the city undergoes a rock star-like blood transfusion. Instead of smog spewing, carbon chewing combustion engines, all you see are squeaky-clean walkers, bikers and skaters. There’s sort of a post-apocalyptic, “Uh-oh, we’ve all just run out of fossil fuels” vibe in the air, with that soothing click-click-click of bicycle chains quietly replacing the din of car horns, tire squeals and clanging tailpipes. Remarkably, after walking a few blocks surrounded solely by cyclists, the sudden appearance of cars on adjacent nonCicLAvia streets seems positively jarring. Everyday vehicles are almost prehistoric by comparison, lumbering through Downtown Los Angeles like a bunch of soon-to-be extinct creatures battling to get out of the muck. Especially here, since the event creates head-rattling traffic snarls on the streets that do remain open to cars. I’m talking about you, Main. One request: How about including Broadway in future CicLAvias? If any Downtown street begs to be ogled slowly and from all angles, it’s this one filled with a dozen early 20th century movie palaces. Thankfully, the current route encourages participants to check out some of Downtown’s more industrial areas east of Little Tokyo. So many riders, in fact, cruise east down Fourth Street that the often-overlooked bridge has, for a moment anyway, the glamour of the Golden Gate. Riders actually pause to snap pictures of the sweeping Downtown skyline all the way from the ultra-modern Ritz-Carlton tower at one end to the top of the 1940s-era Postal Service Terminal Annex building on the other. So what’s the point of CicLAvia? Amazingly, the whole purpose seems to be a lack of purpose. It’s certainly not a race. There’s nary a food truck in sight. No stages. No concerts. No arts, crafts or wristbands. It’s likely the least commercial Downtown event you’ll ever attend, with the possible exception of jury duty. Outside of an Herbalife booth, a Sprint tent

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photo by Gary Leonard

There aren’t many rules in CicLAvia. You can go in any direction at any time. Or no direction at all.

and a Power 106 radio setup, I don’t recall seeing a single corporate logo. There’s a small food tent area set up next to the south lawn of City Hall. Plus, if you’re hungry, you can always stop at the dozens of Downtown cafes, bars and restaurants that happily remain open along the route. It’s a rare, refreshing day to simply enjoy this area on a bike, rather than hunt down retro hats and gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. As for safety concerns, these cyclists seem like a pretty serene bunch. Still, the LAPD makes a strong showing. After all, the route takes participants directly in front of the department’s shiny $440 million headquarters, so this is a day for law enforcement to sparkle. In fact, the only other way to see so many uniformed officers in one spot is to go to a Dodgers game. With CicLAvia at least, you can get away without a single reminder of Manny Ramirez. The next CicLAvia is set for July 10, unless gas prices go much higher and cars start disappearing on their own. Then, this won’t be a terribly unique event anymore. We’ll just call it Sunday.

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Los Angeles Downtown News is a free weekly newspaper distributed in and around downtown Los Angeles.


Los Angeles Downtown News is a free weekly newspaper distributed in and around downtown Los Angeles.