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Spreading the CicLAvia spirit

April 3, 2014

Folks from New Brunswick, New Jersey, above, to Santa Cruz are catching CicLAvia fever. Photo/Frank Villafañe & Rose Rios

Everybody wants to play in the streets these days.

And CicLAvia, a stereotype-busting open streets free-for-all that became an overnight sensation when it rolled into Los Angeles four years ago, has grabbed the handlebars of what’s becoming a nationwide movement, from small towns to big cities.

As 2014’s first CicLAvia prepares to cruise down a car-free Wilshire Boulevard Sunday, L.A. is hosting the first-ever Open Streets National Summit, drawing activists from around the country who want to see how a metropolis allegedly addicted to automobiles is using CicLAvia to reinvent itself.

Summit organizer Michael Samuelson said L.A. was chosen precisely because of the success of CicLAvia, which regularly draws crowds in excess of 100,000.

“L.A.’s got a fantastic thing going,” said Samuelson. “It’s incredibly popular; the streets are packed with people biking and walking every time.”

The Open Streets Project is working in close collaboration with the CicLAvia organization, which will give summit attendees a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most successful open streets initiatives in the nation, said Aaron Paley, executive director and co-founder of CicLAvia. Paley said that the inherent challenges in shutting down major roads in a city like L.A. are a big part of the success story.

“We are the car capital,” Paley said. “There’s this idea that if you can do it in L.A., then the sky’s the limit.”

CicLAvia started in October, 2010, as a once-per-year event inspired by mid-1970s ciclovias in Bogotá, Colombia. (“Ciclovia” translates roughly to “cycleway.”) By 2013, CicLAvia had grown to three events a year. Paley said that he expects L.A. County to get even more open streets events like CicLAvia as funding grows. “There will probably be 10 or 12 events happening around the county each year,” he said.

As CicLAvia gears up to play an even bigger role in L.A., other communities across the country are hopping aboard. As recently as 2007, only eight or nine open streets events were being held across the country, according to Samuelson. Now, they’re taking place in more than 100 cities across North America.

Some of the initiatives, like Sunday Streets in San Francisco and Summer Streets in New York City, have been serving large, bike-savvy populations for years. But the movement is also gaining traction in cities like New Brunswick, New Jersey (pop. 56,000), which held its first ciclovia last October.

“People were asking ‘Why are we doing this?’ They focused on the negative,” said Jaymie Santiago, organizer of the event and director of program operations for New Brunswick Tomorrow. “It exceeded all our expectations. We expected 2,000 people and got 4,500.”

Building on those results, New Brunswick Mayor James Cahill doubled down, partnering with the organization to produce three more ciclovias this year, starting May 4. Santiago is attending this weekend’s summit so he can bring home valuable lessons and perspective.

“Because of the scale of Los Angeles, it sets an example for smaller cities,” Santiago said. “If L.A. can do it, then New Brunswick can do it.”

At the summit, Santiago plans to share some of the early success of his event, which he said is a useful tool in his organization’s fight against poverty in New Brunswick. “One of the symptoms of poverty is isolation,” he said. “By hosting an event like this and reclaiming the streets, it kind of breaks through that.”

Jenn Graham, an organizer for Atlanta Streets Alive in Georgia, hopes the summit will provide her with ideas on how to partner with her city better. “Our event sticks out like a sore thumb because it’s one of the few that’s not organized by the city or in partnership with a city,” she said. While Atlanta Streets Alive has been able to draw some funding from the city of Atlanta, it has relied primarily on cooperation with businesses and nonprofit organizations. Still, Atlanta Streets Alive has grown rapidly, from about 1,500 people in 2010 to 83,000 last October.

Closer to home, Saskia Lucas of Santa Cruz Open Streets said she is “totally excited” to get her first taste of what she called “the largest open streets event in the United States.”

“I’ve watched videos online and it is just so inspiring to see these thousands of Angelenos just taking over major Los Angeles streets with smiles plastered on their faces.”

More of those smiles may be on tap. Last summer, Metro’s Board of Directors invested $2 million in expanding open streets events to all parts of Los Angeles County. A few months later, the board approved a grant program for local groups seeking to produce events.

The Open Streets summit starts on Friday, April 4. About 75 organizers from across the country will gather at the Line Hotel in Koreatown to share ideas, stories and advice on everything from how to grow partnerships with cities to the technical aspects of producing a safe and successful event.

Things culminate with Sunday’s CicLAvia, which will run from downtown to LACMA, in the Miracle Mile district. Locals and visitors alike will be saying so long—for now—to the six-mile long “Iconic Wilshire Boulevard” route, which is going on hiatus as construction of the Purple Line Extension prepares to get underway.

But never fear: This is Los Angeles, where another CicLAvia always seems to be right around the corner. The next one is coming on October 5 in the “Heart of L.A.” Then, on December 7, the route will focus primarily on South L.A. for the first time ever.

Cyclists glide down a car-free Wilshire Boulevard in the Miracle Mile last year.

Posted 4/3/4

Metro’s bicycle brain trust

February 25, 2014

Bikes now have more room on rail cars, thanks to Metro's Bicycle Roundtable.

There was once a time, not long ago, when bicyclists weren’t much more than a squeaky wheel to Metro—and not in a good way.

What a difference four years makes.

On February 19, 2010, the cycling community got a seat at the transit table when Metro hosted its first Bicycle Roundtable meeting.

It was the beginning of an important collaboration—one that would lead to some major improvements for cyclists within the Metro system. But you wouldn’t have known it from the rocky start of the process, as cyclists started engaging warily with a government agency that hadn’t always been so welcoming.

“They distrusted us and were very assertive about issues we needed to address and policies we needed to embrace,” said Diego Cardoso, Metro’s executive officer in charge of the bicycle and pedestrian program. “Those were the days when Metro was transitioning as an agency in terms of mobility and bicycling in L.A. County.”

Intended as a forum for bike advocates to exchange ideas with the transit agency, the meetings grew out of a rising tide of vocal cycling activism. “The bicycle community was demanding in terms of getting Metro, cities and the county to deal with issues of how to improve mobility for bicycles,” Cardoso said. “We said ‘Well, let’s bring them together.’ ”

Though contentious at first, the discussions soon evolved in ways that have helped shape the emergence of cycling as a major mode of transportation in the county.

One of the earliest results was the end of a ban that kept bikes off trains during peak periods of travel. What’s more, the agency has even removed seats from rail cars to clear more room for cyclists to bring their rides aboard. And Metro has more than doubled the share that bicycles get in its competitive Call for Projects program, which funds local initiatives with regional significance. (Cycling programs now get 15% of the pot, which in the last cycle totaled $199.4 million.)

The collaboration also has led to new public education programs promoting safety. The highly visible “Every Lane is a Bike Lane” campaign grew out of roundtable discussions, and last summer, Metro launched bicycle safety classes taught by advocacy groups that attend the meetings.

On the political side of things, Metro’s Board of Directors has provided support as well, officially recognizing bicycling as an official “mode of transportation,” putting it on equal footing with motorized travel.

Next up: bike-sharing.

“Bike share is a good example where they basically asked ‘What do you think?’”  said Eric Bruins, director of policy and planning for the L.A. County Bicycle Coalition. “Feedback from the roundtable was very clear—there should be one regional vendor and we want to see a strong leadership role from Metro.”

The agency, spurred by a  motion by Mayor Eric Garcetti, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and others, stepped in after the city of L.A.’s bike share program foundered and took the lead in creating a county-wide bike sharing plan. In December, Metro’s board expanded the agency’s role, directing it to fund the plan by teaming up with local jurisdictions.

An update on the bike share project’s progress—including input from the roundtable group—is scheduled to come before Metro’s board in April. According to Cardoso, the agency is in the process of contracting with an outside company to help implement the program, with Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Pasadena serving as pilot cities.

Another upcoming project aims to build five new “bike hubs,” structures that will offer secure parking, repairs and other resources, at major public transportation hotspots. The first one, at El Monte Station, will open later this year. Other hubs are planned for Union Station, Culver City Expo Line Station and two Red Line stations—Hollywood/Vine and North Hollywood.

The roundtable’s most recent meeting earlier this month drew a mix of cycling aficionados, staff from government agencies and  the offices of elected officials and even a couple of unaffiliated members of the public. Attendees came from all over: Santa Monica, Montebello, even Orange County.

One regular participant, Dennis Hindman, 61, of Toluca Lake, said he’d like to see more folks from the public take part in helping the agency get more of a grassroots perspective. “It gives you the insight of actual experience,” he said. “You may have missed something from a practical standpoint that just won’t work in real life.”

Miguel Ramos, a volunteer for Multicultural Communities for Mobility, was attending for the first time. Ramos’ mission is to promote inclusion of all of the region’s diverse communities in bicycle projects—something he said is simply “not happening in low income communities” nationwide.

“These communities already have a growing bicycle culture,” Ramos said. “It’s about recognizing that fact and allowing their voices to be heard.” To achieve that, he said, Metro must increase outreach in multiple languages.

For his part, Bruins of the Bicycle Coalition said he would like to see a higher level of participation by a broader range of Metro staffers.

“Metro has many departments,” Bruins said. “We’d like to see other departments come to the bike roundtable because it’s really that exchange of ideas that’s helpful. The folks that are designing the next set of light rail vehicles came and presented designs of how bikes can be stored on board. Those are great discussions because they allow departments that don’t usually deal with the bike community to interface with us.”

Even today, bicyclists and the agency don’t always see eye-to-eye. Many cyclists are pushing for the installation in rail stations of “bike channels”—deep grooves next to stairways to make it easier for bikes to get up and down. That, however, would be expensive, and retrofitting existing stations with the channels would be even costlier, said Laura Cornejo, who oversees Metro’s Active Transportation Program and has led the past two roundtable discussions.

“Advocates are pushing for Metro to do more and be a little more aggressive,” Cornejo said, “but we have to be strategic and take baby steps to get to the final destination.”

But, she added, the days of bicycles as an afterthought in L.A. are long gone.

“All the trends point to bicycling growing,” Cornejo said. “We’ve seen it on rail, where bicycle boarding has increased about 40% in just one year. I don’t see the trend reversing or slowing.”

Metro's Diego Cardoso, second from left, with team for roundtable-inspired safety campaign.

Posted 2/25/14

Cycling’s marquee player

January 29, 2014

Greg Laemmle, an avid cyclist and bike advocate, enjoys a moment at the Hansen Dam.

A “Super Bowl Sunday Funday Warm-Up Ride” offers a healthy diversion before the coming onslaught of game day nachos, truck ads and football.

Next month, a benefit screening of the 1979 feel-good cycling flick “Breaking Away” gives a boost to “Operation Firefly,” a program of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) that provides bike lights to folks who need them to ride safely at night.

And in April, “Climate Ride California” spins through the northern part of the state, raising funds for non-profit environmental and alternative transportation organizations, including the LACBC, which is sending a team.

A common denominator in all three events? Greg Laemmle, president of the 75-year-old local theater chain and an increasingly visible advocate for bicycling in Los Angeles.

These days, in fact, it’s hard to miss him: he’ll be the guy leading that Super Bowl Sunday ride from the North Hollywood Red Line station to Griffith Park and back. (He did it last Super Bowl Sunday, too, with an L.A. football history-themed itinerary stretching from the Coliseum to the Rose Bowl.)

He’ll also be at the “Breaking Away” fundraiser, which takes place Feb. 12 at Laemmle’s NoHo 7. And he’s captaining the LACBC’s team for the Climate Ride, which is being promoted with a “Ride with Greg Laemmle Contest” featuring movie pass prizes and contributions toward riders’ fundraising goals.

In other words, he may be an off-screen player in the movie biz, but in the local cycling world, he’s an above-the-line star.

“He’s a great face for our cause and the set of causes he supports,” said LACBC executive director Jennifer Klausner, noting that the Laemmle name is “synonymous with Los Angeles,” especially among art film devotees.

“We feed on the passion that he has for a wonderful future vision of a liveable Los Angeles,” Klausner said.

Although Laemmle, 48, has early memories of riding his bicycle at the beach and to Franklin Elementary School in Santa Monica, it wasn’t until gas prices spiked in 2007 that he felt moved to take things to the next level. He became a bicycle commuter between his home in Century City and his company’s office over the Royal Theater in West L.A.

Since that time, he has joined the LACBC board and become something of a two-wheeling role model, hoping to persuade fellow Angelenos to give cycling a try, particularly for the most common trips of three miles or less.

Beyond his daily bike commute, Laemmle and his wife, Tish, a top fundraiser for the popular annual River Ride, bicycle all over town.

“It’s crazy to get to the Hollywood Bowl by car, and sometimes it’s a lot of fun to ride your bike there,” Laemmle said. “I ride to Dodger Stadium and, to their credit, the Dodgers have added bike parking. We rode downtown to see a play yesterday at the Ahmanson.”

The couple ended up taking the Expo Line home from that one—making it a “multi-modal” outing involving both bikes and light rail.

“As Metro expands, the opportunity to combine Metro transit with bicycling really opens up a lot of possibilities for getting around,” Laemmle said.

He acknowledges that there are dangers out there for cyclists interacting with cars on L.A. streets, although he said he hasn’t personally experienced any mishaps.

“I have almost never encountered a situation where a driver is aggressively acting in a dangerous manner,” Laemmle said. “For the most part, people are really kind. As long as you’re happy about sharing the road, a lot of people are prepared to do that.”

Greg and his dad, Bob, outside the Royal

Off the road, Laemmle, as a third-generation movie guy, naturally has some cinematic cycling favorites that cut across genre lines.

“ ‘Breaking Away,’ that’s an obvious one. There are definitely some other good bike movies, too. ‘The Bicycle Thief.’ And ‘Pee-wee’s Big Adventure’ has some nice bicycling scenes.”

Laemmle’s bike-friendly world view shows up in his workplace, where he has installed showers for the use of fellow bike commuters. Those include his dad, Bob, the firm’s chairman, who has now retired but still comes to the office regularly on two wheels.

Greg Laemmle said some have questioned whether bike advocacy makes sense for a business owner’s bottom line.

“I was at one point advocating for bike lanes on Lankershim, in front of where the NoHo theater opened up two years ago, and there was a comment, ‘I doubt Mr. Laemmle really wants bike lanes if they’re going to slow cars down,’ ” Laemmle recalled.

Actually, yes he does. “First and foremost, we have to be forward-looking, both from an environmental standpoint but also from a business standpoint. Most studies will show that neighborhoods that slow traffic down…and have bike infrastructure and pedestrian infrastructure and so forth, actually see an increase in business.”

And then there’s this:

“If you don’t have to own a car, or can share a car between a couple, that’s a lot of savings. And, you know, those savings translate into more money to spend at restaurants and doing stuff locally. So for what you save not having to pay for parking when you go the movies, you can buy a tub of popcorn,” Laemmle laughed.

Posted 1/29/14

CicLAvia plans three for the road

January 23, 2014

CicLAvia's "Iconic Wilshire" route is staging an encore in 2014.

Better check the air in your tires and dust off the bike bell: more CicLAvias are heading our way in 2014.

The popular, car-free, open streets event for cyclists and pedestrians will be heading back to Wilshire Boulevard on Sunday, April 6. The “Iconic Wilshire Boulevard” route runs from downtown L.A. to the Museum Row district in the Miracle Mile.

Next up is “Heart of L.A.” on October 5. The route includes downtown L.A., along with parts of Echo Park, East Los Angeles and Chinatown.

Then CicLAvia travels to south for the first such event centered in South Los Angeles on December 7. That route will include Leimert Park and the Central Avenue corridor.

More details of the three events are here.

Posted 1/23/14

Bike-sharing gears up

October 24, 2013

Minneapolis is among U.S. cities with a bike-sharing program, and L.A. wants to join the club.

A regional bicycle-sharing program finally appears to be getting onto the fast track in Los Angeles County.

Metro’s Board of Directors on Thursday voted to begin the process of determining how a program would be structured here, including how best to solicit bids from companies interested in running it.

The board instructed Metro staff to get to work on the nuts and bolts of the issue next month, with a report due back in January on how best to proceed.

That report should include an analysis of how the program might be rolled out in phases, based on things like “existing bicycle infrastructure, existing advertising policies, current ridership trends, and transit station locations,” according to a motion by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Don Knabe, and two other Metro directors, Mike Bonin and Pam O’Connor.

Bike-sharing has become increasingly common in European cities over the past two decades, and is enjoying a surge of popularity in some U.S. cities as well. The motion cited programs in Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, New York and in the San Francisco region, where “Bay Area Bike Share” launched earlier this year.

But in Los Angeles—despite the board’s long-running desire to implement a bike-share program here—there have been some bumps in the road.

For example, a plan backed by former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, which would have created a bike-sharing network within the city of Los Angeles, foundered when it turned out that the operating company’s plan to sell advertising on its kiosks was precluded by some existing city contracts.

“The Los Angeles region has seen a variety of bicycle share efforts, but none have taken hold because of a lack of regional coordination,” the motion noted.

In light of that, the Metro board also voted to support Santa Monica, which has received a grant to create its own bike-share system, in its efforts to obtain an extension on that funding so that its project can be built in tandem with the regional whole.

As the region’s transit network grows, a bike-sharing program aims to make it easier for public transportation commuters to take the bus, train or subway to get close to their destination, then grab a rental bicycle from fleets strategically located at key stations to conquer the final leg.

Finally, in a sign of the times for a changing Los Angeles region, the motion adopted Thursday also, for the first time, makes supporting bicycling as a “formal transportation mode” an official part of Metro policy.

Eric Bruins, planning and policy director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Commission, welcomed the board’s action. He said it was understandable that it had taken so long for development of a regional bike-share program here, given the sprawling and complex nature of Los Angeles County and the need to come up with viable business models for this area.

After years of trying, is this time the charm? Bruins raised his crossed fingers and smiled.

Posted 10/24/13

New law puts bike czar in rider’s seat

September 26, 2013

Senior bike coordinator Michelle Mowery has seen a sea change in attitudes about biking in Los Angeles.

You’ve got to hand it to Michelle Mowery. For two decades, she’s persevered, holding the job of “bicycle coordinator” in the nation’s most car crazy city. “A candle in the wind,” she calls herself. Make that a hard-blowing headwind.

But now, almost overnight, Mowery’s mandate has found a powerful constituency in City Hall and on the roads, giving her once-invisible position in the Los Angeles City Department of Transportation rising stature.

“We’ve put in more bike lanes in the past two years than during my entire career here,” she says. “We have a lot of work to do, but we’re getting stuff done.”

The latest achievement came this week, when Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law requiring California motorists to stay at least 3 feet away from cyclists when passing—a requirement already in effect in 22 other states. Four earlier versions of the measure had died because of various safety and liability concerns.

When Mowery heard the news on Monday, she says one word came to mind: “Finally.” For years, she had championed such a law, alongside elected officials in Los Angeles and bicycle advocates statewide. She praises the measure as “a start and an acknowledgement that cyclists need that little bit of space to stay safe.” It will take effect next September.

According to the California Bicycle Coalition, which launched a “Give Me 3” campaign with Los Angeles advocates to give visibility to the issue, passing-from-behind collisions are the state’s leading cause of bicyclist fatalities. In fact, Mowery says, a galvanizing moment in the long effort to win passage of a buffer zone for cyclists came in 2006, after popular UC Santa Barbara triathlete Kendra Payne was struck and killed by an asphalt truck that tried to pass her on a sharply-curving road.

Mowery says existing California law simply states that drivers must keep a “safe distance” when passing cyclists, a subjective standard. Now, she says, law enforcement has been given a specific tool to cite motorists who invade a rider’s legal space. Even if police don’t make enforcement a top priority, the legislation’s educational value alone could save lives, says Mowery, a lifelong cyclist who’s now 54. She added that this is especially true in Los Angeles, where riders often need more room to dodge bad pavement conditions. “They’re not always able to ride in a straight line,” she says.

Mowery attributes the growing clout of cyclists to shifting demographics. She says that when baby-boomers like her learned to drive, the region’s freeways were new “and wide open. It was the land of opportunity for cars.” These days, however, the under-30-crowd is driving less, while increasing numbers of teenagers are deciding not to even get drivers licenses.

“They see people sitting in traffic and it doesn’t look like fun,” Mowery says.

Eric Bruins, planning and policy director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, agrees, calling this “a golden era for bikes.” The new buffer-zone law, he says, is a “huge” step forward. “For us on the street, this is something we encounter every single day. Everybody just needs a better understanding of what it means to pass safely, and that’s what this law provides.”

Bruins credits Mowery with being a leading force behind the new law through her advocacy in Los Angeles and as a member of statewide cycling organizations. “I don’t think the bike community has understood what a quiet champion she has been…She’s been trying to get this  [law] passed forever.”

Bruins says that, for years, Mowery had been a controversial figure, the public face of City Hall recalcitrance to demands for more bike friendly streets. But now, with the growing influence of Los Angeles cyclists, Bruins says, the city’s bike boss is riding high.

Says Bruins: “She is finally empowered to do her job.”

Posted 9/26/13

Finding foot room at CicLAvia

June 6, 2013

Deborah Murphy and her Los Angeles Walks crew found strength in small numbers at April’s CicLAvia.

Deborah Murphy’s first experience with CicLAvia was no smooth ride. She was walking her Jack Russell terrier down the sidewalk in East Hollywood when she decided to make a move to the car-free streets.

“Get out of the road with your dog, lady—this is for cyclists, stay off the street,” she remembers someone yelling.

When the next CicLAvia brought more shout-downs, the long-time pedestrian advocate and founder of Los Angeles Walks decided to form WalkLAvia, a group aimed at staking pedestrians’ claim to a share of the roads during the events.

“This is an open streets event and people should be out there walking or on bikes or doing cartwheels or whatever they want to do,” Murphy said.

No one would love to see that more than CicLAvia’s organizers, who’ve been pushing for that kind of inclusivity from the beginning. To make that point abundantly clear, they’re billing the upcoming

June 23 event along Wilshire Boulevard’s “Miracle Mile” as “the most walkable CicLAvia ever!”

“This all feeds into the ultimate purpose of CicLAvia—to connect people with their community in a way that is not possible in a car,” said CicLAvia spokesman Robert Gard. “On bike and, more specifically, on foot, you are really able to interact with your fellow Angelenos.”

But turning that long-held aspiration into a reality has proven increasingly elusive as the event’s popularity has grown. The last event, which opened a 15-mile stretch of streets from downtown to Venice Beach, drew a crowd of about 180,000 people, according to Gard. The overwhelming majority of them were on bikes. “There are so many bicyclists now, walking appears to not be part of it,” Gard said.

Unlike the last route, however, the new one along Wilshire Boulevard will be just 6 miles,  with pedestrian-only zones at each end. Although architecture tours and other walker-friendly activities are planned, organizers think the location itself may lure more walkers. The Wilshire route will offer more street life and more sights—from MacArthur Park to Koreatown to “Miracle Mile,” with its museums and vibrant arts scene.

Of course, any event with “cycle” in its name is bound to attract a bike-heavy crowd. But part of the challenge is simple growing pains, Gard said. CicLAvia was inspired by ciclovías in Bogotá, Colombia, which began in the mid-1970s. L.A.’s first event was held just three years ago, and local cyclists jumped at the chance to freely ride streets, where automobile traffic normally makes biking nerve-wracking, even perilous.

Once people realize CicLAvia events are here to stay, bike riders won’t jump at the chance to ride every one of them for fear they’re missing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “In talking with our peers in Central and South America, once they were more established, people understood it better,” Gard said. In time, serious bicyclists came to accept that ciclovías were for riders of all ability levels—and for pedestrians, too.

Alissa Walker, a member of Los Angeles Walks’ steering committee, said attitudes have already started to change.

“It has gotten a lot better,” Walker said. “At first, people didn’t understand that it wasn’t a race or something. It was possibly dangerous.”

CicLAvia organizers, in hoping to encourage that evolution, highlighted the problem using a video of a disabled man describing how he was verbally abused and directed off the streets because he was on a special, motorized device to accommodate his disability.

The City of Los Angeles’ first-ever pedestrian coordinator, Margot Ocañas, has participated in all six CicLAvias—sometimes on foot, sometimes on bike. She believes that continued, heavy interest from cyclists will mean that the roads “below the curb” will probably remain dominated by bikes, while pedestrians will take the sidewalks. For safety’s sake, she said, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Creating more pedestrian-only areas could help bring out more walkers, Ocañas said. She also envisions using the main route as a “launch pad for walking activities that tentacle off into other areas.”

No matter how CicLAvia evolves, everyone agrees that it should keep on rolling, stepping and hula-hooping.

“The fact that the bikes and pedestrians are having that conversation,” Ocañas said, “I’ll take it any day over bikers or pedestrians having that conversation with a car.”

There were so many cyclists at April's event that they became walkers, like on this stretch of Venice Boulevard.

Posted 6/6/13

Hot new workplace accessory: a bike

May 9, 2013

Bike to Work Day is Thursday, but cycling to work is increasingly common on any given day in Los Angeles.

Bike commuting appears to have turned a corner in Los Angeles, with new lanes and a burgeoning youth-oriented bicycle culture tempting more and more workers to saddle up.

“I think we have reached a tipping point,” said Lynne Goldsmith, manager of Metro’s bicycle program.

Next Thursday, May 16, is Bike to Work Day—one part of Bike Week, Metro’s annual celebration of pedal power. Metro and local advocates are expecting thousands of cyclists to participate. They hope some will shift their commuting habits for good.

Goldsmith said the number of trips taken by bicycle in the county, for commuting or otherwise, has doubled since 2010. She believes the change is partly due to economic necessity and partly because cycling has become trendy with the younger generation.

“We don’t think it’s going to go out of style,” Goldsmith said. “I think it’s here to stay.”

Josef Bray-Ali, owner of Flying Pigeon Bikes in Northeast L.A., seconded that notion.

“Fewer young people are getting driver’s licenses,” said Bray-Ali. “We have an economic crisis. A bunch of people may not be able to afford a car, but they can get a bike.”

Bray-Ali said “fixies”—single-gear bikes decked out with bright colors and other design details—have become wildly popular among the younger generation. “They buy fixies to knock around town with friends, but then they get jobs or go to college,” he said. The cycling habit follows them, and eventually they upgrade to higher-end bikes with commuter-friendly features like chain guards and rear-mounted racks.

UCLA’s experience supports this trend. Since 2005, the number of students and employees commuting to campus has tripled, said Dave Karwaski, associate director of transportation for the school. A desire for a healthy lifestyle combined with new infrastructure played a large part in that change, he said. UCLA is already a bronze-level “Bicycle Friendly University,” according to the League of American Bicyclists. Over the next few years, the university intends to make further improvements to get to a silver or even a gold rating.

Experienced bike commuters like Jeff Chapman echo the importance of infrastructure. For him, safety is paramount—he often tows his young children to school by bike. But, as director of the environmentally-conscious Audubon Center of Highland Park, he also appreciates the fact that pedal power is non-polluting.

He said his kids really enjoy the ride, too.

“They are learning directions better and we see cats along the way,” said Chapman. “They’re interacting with the community in a different way than they do in the back of a car.”

Another bike commuter, Cy Eaton, has cycled in lots of cities—New York, San Francisco, Portland, Chicago and Vancouver, to name a few. “In terms of that list, L.A. ranks toward the bottom,” he said. “But that’s a pretty stout list to compete against.” Since moving here, he’s had to upgrade to sturdier tires because flaws in the asphalt were giving him too many flats. He said the surface of most bike lanes in L.A. is “very disappointing.”

Still, Eaton notices a lot of improvement around town. Having previously lived in Los Angeles in 2008, he moved back last year. His current commute takes him 8 miles in each direction between East Hollywood and Burbank. He’s not riding in fear like he used to.

“I was pleasantly surprised with how aware motorists have become of cyclists,” said Eaton, adding that bikes on the road are no longer a “novel occurrence” in L.A.

For its part, Metro is using education to create a safer experience. The agency’s “every lane is a bike lane” campaign aims to inform drivers that bikes have the right to a full lane of roadway in some circumstances.  In June, the target audience shifts to the cyclists. Joining forces with the L.A. County Bicycle Coalition and Bike San Gabriel Valley, Metro will use a federal grant to fund 90 three-hour safety lessons, through September. Participants will receive free helmets and bike lights as a bonus.

Metro’s Goldsmith said that, in the future, “the nut we have to crack is businesses. We need to convince businesses that they will grow if they encourage bicycling on their block.”

Just like in the streets, indoor infrastructure like bike lockers and showers is important to getting more people to cycle to work, said Linda Lyles, executive director of Century City Transportation Management Organization.

To draw more newbies out for Bike to Work Day, Metro is sponsoring bicycle pit stops with snacks, water, reflective decals and other giveaways. Those who sign a pledge to bike to work that day will be entered into a prize drawing, and all riders with a bike and a helmet will be able to board Metro and other regional transit providers for free.

Posted 5/9/12

Of broomsticks and bikes

April 23, 2013

Thanks to a multi-million dollar infusion from NBCUniversal, L.A. River cyclists have something to cheer about.

With a promise of transforming Los Angeles tourism, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is coming to Universal Studios as part of the company’s $1.6 billion expansion of its theme park and backlot. But there’s another attraction coming, too—with a constituency as fanatical as any Hogwarts crowd.

In a deal pushed and brokered by Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, NBCUniversal has agreed to put $13.5 million into an effort to revitalize the Los Angeles River and complete a miles-long stretch of the river bikeway. And while the price-tag may seem small compared to the giant numbers behind the Potter venture and backlot expansion, it promises to be just as transformative in the worlds of alternative transportation and river restoration.

“It’s huge,” said Eric Bruins, planning and policy director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. The development of the Los Angeles River and bikeway, he said, “creates a place where families can go and step away from the city while still being close to home.”

The recreational and commuting potential of the existing Los Angeles River Bikeway has been undermined by a nearly 6.5 mile gap between Griffith Park and Studio City. In negotiating a development agreement with NBCUniversal, Yaroslavsky pushed the company to focus its “community benefits” efforts on completing that vital stretch of the bikeway—despite the entertainment conglomerate’s earlier resistance to the idea.

“This project presented a singular opportunity to ultimately create a seamless bikeway from Long Beach to the San Fernando Valley,” Yaroslavsky said Tuesday prior to the board’s unanimous endorsement of the company’s “evolution plan.” “A big gap in this dream was the segment adjacent to NBCUniversal. Both the county and NBCUniversal seized the opportunity to solve this problem.  Thanks to all involved, we can now look forward to planning and constructing the next generation of bikeway for our region.”

NBCUniversal has agreed to provide Los Angeles County with funding to fully complete an initial leg of the bikeway between Griffith Park and Lankershim and Barham boulevards, near the Universal Studios backlot. The remaining amount of the $13.5 million would then be used for the planning, regulatory and construction needs for the remaining stretch to Whitsett Avenue in Studio City. The company also has agreed to build a nearly 1-acre trailhead park along the river.

Among the groups who’ve long pushed for the expanded bikeway was Friends of the Los Angeles River. Its founder and president, Lewis MacAdams, applauded NBCUniversal’s “unprecedented generosity.” The cooperation between Universal and the environmental community, he said, “has set a very high bar for the rest of the media companies that line the banks of the river’s ‘Studio Stretch’ in the years to come.”

The Los Angeles River Revitalization Corp. also was instrumental in the public-private coalition that led to the unprecedented funding by the studio, which has been located along the concrete-sided waterway since Hollywood’s earliest days of filmmaking. The non-profit organization’s executive director, Omar Brownson, called the proposed bikeway extension the “cornerstone for the connectivity for all 51 miles of the L.A. River.”

But just as important, he said, the entertainment company’s involvement also sends a powerful message about “how we see and invest in our river. For a long time, it was looked at as a liability. Now people are looking at it as an asset.”

Posted 4/23/13

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