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Here’s a car-free route to the beach

February 22, 2013

Detail of CicLAvia map released this week shows a straight shot to the shore.

However you roll, you won’t want to miss the next CicLAvia, which blazes a new trail through the Westside before culminating at Venice Beach.

The map for the April CicLAvia was released this week, showcasing the event’s longest route so far, stretching about 15 ¼ miles between City Hall and Venice Beach. It follows Venice Boulevard most of the way, although there are shorter stretches on Figueroa, Main and 2nd streets downtown.

Since 2010, the popular bike and pedestrian events have reached out to new communities while opening up some of L.A.’s streets for healthy car-free fun. This is CicLAvia’s deepest foray yet into the Westside.

The moveable street party runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 21.

CicLAvia “hubs”—providing meet-up places and pit stops for refreshments, relaxation, and bike repairs—will be located at El Pueblo, City Hall, Normandie Avenue and along Venice Boulevard in the Fairfax District, Culver City, the Mar Vista Farmers’ Market, near Abbot Kinney and at the beach .

Posted 2/22/13

Westward ho for CicLAvia

January 17, 2013

Manifest destiny: CicLAvia's getting ready to roll all the way to the coast. Photo/planetc1 via Flickr

Saddle up, Westsiders: L.A.’s favorite rolling street party is headed your way in April.

CicLAvia, the car-free bicycle and pedestrian fest started in 2010, is on the move again, preparing for its most ambitious year yet with three events, including one that will stretch from downtown to Venice Beach on April 21.

It’s part of a major expansion that organizers hope eventually will stretch to all corners of the county and create 12 separate, localized CicLAvias each year.

“Up till now we’ve been downtown. Now we want to show that it will work in the rest of the region,” said Aaron Paley, CicLAvia’s co-founder. A second 2013 CicLAvia is being planned for June 23 with a new route expected to run along Wilshire Boulevard from downtown L.A. to Fairfax Avenue near LACMA. And this year’s third event, on October 6, will return to familiar territory downtown, although with a deeper stretch into Boyle Heights and a new route into Chinatown.

The downtown-to-Venice Beach route will be the longest yet for CicLAvia—15 ¼ miles each way—and carries with it some important cross-town symbolism.

“One of the things that’s exciting about connecting downtown and the Pacific is just the sheer drama and the significance of it,” Paley said. “We know that the east-west connection is very difficult and for people who drive it every day, it’s a challenge…The idea that you will be able to walk or ride your bike—or go in your wheelchair or do your inline skating—and go from downtown to the beach is just of historic significance.”

Venturing out on such a long ride should be attractive to many participants, but Paley said the event is more about creating a pop-up “linear park” on city streets than throwing down an endurance challenge.

“This isn’t the marathon. It isn’t all or nothing,” he said. “We want kids to be able to explore, maybe get out and ride in the streets for the first time that day. And if they ride a half mile, that’s great.”

The hope is that participants will arrive via public transportation if possible—perhaps by taking the Expo Line to the Culver City station at Venice and Robertson, or riding the bus to the Pico/Rimpau Transit Center at Venice and San Vicente.

Paley said the impetus for pushing outside the downtown zone and toward the ocean this year came from Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who kept asking: “When can we go all the way to the beach?”

The mayor, he said, even burst into a planning meeting to promote the idea—prompting a round of brainstorming in which the Department of Transportation’s special events traffic guru, Aram Sahakian, came up with the idea of using Venice Boulevard, a route traveled by other events like the Los Angeles triathlon.

“We’ve used it before. We know exactly what we’re dealing with,” Sahakian said.

Taking the route deep into the Westside—where traffic woes are among the city’s worst—will require plenty of outreach to make sure residents and businesses know what’s coming. “I’m crossing my fingers and praying that they won’t be too unhappy,” Sahakian said.

So far, so good, said Diana Rodgers, who manages the Mar Vista Farmers’ Market and is enthusiastic about the coming of CicLAvia to her area.

“We love it and we want to be a partner and provide refreshments,” she said.

The farmers’ market, which takes place on Sundays and is located on Venice at Grand View Boulevard, is accustomed to rolling with the closures that come with big events like the marathon and triathlon, Rodgers said, and should be able to take CicLAvia in stride.

“As long as we have the information, we tend to do OK, as long as we have crossing guards at the points needed,” Rodgers said.

Westside cyclists like Cynthia Rose, director of the group Santa Monica Spoke, said the new route will be a big draw in her part of town.

“There’s a huge pool of enthusiastic Westside supporters and they’ve felt sort of geographically separated,” she said. “Now all of a sudden it’s going to be that connecting of the dots, from the ocean to downtown Los Angeles.”

Paley said the final map for the downtown-to-Venice Beach route is still being fine-tuned. The CicLAvia team will be taking an exploratory ride along the proposed route Sunday to see how it works and connects with two major hubs downtown—City Hall and Union Station.

Beyond the 2013 lineup, he’s looking forward to CicLAvia’s gradual multi-year expansion.

“We want the entire county to be able to benefit from Ciclavia,” Paley said.

So what’s on tap for 2014?  “I can tell you that the Valley,” Paley said, “is high on our list.”

Eventually, organizers hope to hold monthly CicLAvias in every part of the county. Photo/LAist

Posted 1/17/13

A giant step for L.A.

November 18, 2012

Margot Ocañas, the city’s new pedestrian coordinator, at the intersection of Wilshire and Fairfax this week.

In some ways, Margot Ocañas has been walking the walk ever since she was a kid growing up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and her mom sent her off to modern dance lessons with the words:

“You’ve got two feet and a bicycle. Get going.”

Talk about prophetic. Today, Ocañas—a Mandarin-speaking Fulbright scholar and one-time Wall Street analyst whose resume also includes running an independent film company with her husband and developing “streets for people” projects at the county Department of Public Health—is jumping feet first into a brand new role with major ramifications for how L.A. moves into the future.

As Los Angeles’ first pedestrian coordinator, Ocañas, 48, is front-and-center of a growing movement that aims to rethink streets as we know them.

Her appointment is just the latest sign—along with car-free CicLAvia events, a new pedestrian plaza in Silver Lake and a burgeoning public transit system—of how Los Angeles is throwing off its car-centric reputation in sometimes unexpected ways.

“The national momentum is very much our friend right now,” Ocañas said. Pedestrian awareness is “part of a larger national conversation. People are in tune with that.”

Ocañas, left, with Watson. Photo/Safe Routes to School California

Ocañas and assistant pedestrian coordinator Valerie Watson, an urban and regional planner by training, have recently joined the city Department of Transportation. Their mission: making life better for walkers on streets that often were built mostly to enable automobiles to get from Point A to Point B as efficiently as possible. The tools of transformation include reshaping lanes and crosswalks, changing signs and signals—anything to foster calmer corridors and reduce the “raceway mentality” that’s rampant on many streets.

And then there are those things that are beyond the DOT’s purview—such as “street furniture” like benches and light fixtures.  “To enhance the safety and the warmness of a corridor, you might want to start installing more of what I call human scale lighting. You may have flower baskets, or trash cans,” she said. “I think it’s those types of amenities that just make it feel more like an outdoor living room.”

Since sidewalks and street furniture fall under the Bureau of Street Services, not the DOT, part of her job involves reaching across departmental lines. “There are just increasingly strong strategic working relationships and partnering that’s happening with Street Services and Street Lighting,” she said.

Deborah Murphy, founder of the pedestrian advocacy group Los Angeles Walks and chair of the city’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee, said she’s been urging the appointment of an L.A. pedestrian coordinator for more than 15 years. While Los Angeles still has a long way to go to before it catches up with other cities including, locally, Santa Monica, she senses a permanent transformation is underway.

“I have really seen a huge change in the last year,” she said. “I’m thrilled. I think Margot and Valerie bring lots of great energy to pedestrian safety, and to encouraging people to walk.”

The well-traveled Ocañas, who moved to Los Angeles in 2003 from New York by way of Austin, also thinks the moment is right for the city to get in touch with its pedestrian side. She’s reached out to counterparts who are on the same journey in New York, which is regarded as a national leader in reconfiguring streets, notably in Times Square, as well as in San Francisco and Chicago. She thinks it can’t hurt that stratospheric gas prices are making alternative modes of getting around look better and better these days.

“Selfishly, I’d love to see gas prices not go down,” said Ocañas, who gets to work by bike, bus and foot three days a week and has organized a “bike train” caravan to get her two children to school each morning. “I could be talking till I’m blue in the face but there are certain triggers that just force behavioral change.”

Walk a mile in her slingbacks, and you’ll quickly get a sidewalk-level view of what’s good, bad and ugly out there on the L.A. pavement.

At the busy triangular intersection where Fairfax, Olympic and San Vicente come together, Ocañas watched one morning this week as pedestrians scrambled to cross. She reflected on how broad streets with short signal times can pose difficulties, especially for the elderly.

“I have seen situations where seniors are caught three-quarters of the way across the street and the light has turned,” said Ocañas, who lives in the neighborhood with her family. “We do have a population that’s getting older. We need to adjust signaling to ensure their ability to cross more effectively.”

Beyond that, “unwelcoming” streetscapes can send a forbidding signal to just about anyone who’s not in a car.

“People are not incented, or motivated, or enthused at times to get out and walk,” she said. “But those times are changing.”

Her proposed solution: “Re-engineer the environment.”

Ocañas’ previous position as a policy analyst at the county Public Health department’s Project RENEW, funded with federal stimulus dollars, involved working on grant proposals intended to combat obesity by confronting challenges in L.A.’s “built environment”—such as those long, unshaded stretches of roadway where fast car traffic and widely separated crosswalks make it uninviting or impossible for pedestrians to stroll and interact.

A green spot for pedestrians on Sunset in Silver Lake.

“When I was on the health side, we always talked about, ‘We’ve built ourselves into sickness so we need to build ourselves out of sickness,’ ” Ocañas said. One of the projects she worked on turned into the green polka-dotted Sunset Plaza Triangle pedestrian zone in Silver Lake, which opened in May.

Her own transformation, from a career in the private sector that included working at Dell Computers, started modestly enough, with a block party closure she organized to give neighborhood kids a chance to wheel around freely on their bikes and scooters. Ryan Snyder of the urbanist transportation planning firm Ryan Snyder Associates was there as the guest of a neighbor. When he met Ocañas, he mentioned the upcoming policy analyst positions in Public Health.

A light bulb went on. “It never occurred to me to consider taking a recreational passion and translate it into a paying job,” she said.

At the city Department of Transportation, Ocanas’ and Watson’s first priority is developing a Safe Routes to School Strategic Plan for the city. The “data-driven” plan will help the department prioritize spending on student safety projects and will introduce “new types of pedestrian-centered amenities” into the mix. It also will serve as a building block for the eventual creation of a “Pedestrian Safety Action Plan” for Los Angeles—something that’s probably three to five years down the road.

At the same time, they’re working to foster innovative “place making,” including “parklets” (tiny curbside areas the size of parking space, often in front of businesses and furnished with seating areas and plants) as well as bike corrals and pedestrian plazas like the one in Silver Lake.

“You do these things that you can quickly implement with low-cost materials…to help demonstrate the benefits of ‘people-space,’ ” Watson said.

Ocañas, who like Watson is being paid by DOT Measure R funds that have been targeted for pedestrian initiatives, said she’s finding the department a “very supportive environment.”

“I actually find them very open,” she said. “We will debate. I will learn from them: ‘OK, you just can’t do that, and for these reasons.’ But similarly, they are very open to ‘Why not?’ ”

Walkers parade down Figueroa at CicLAvia earlier this month.

Posted 10/18/12

CicLAvia heads down a new road

October 3, 2012

The Bicycle District is usually packed for CicLAvia but now the event is rolling out to new communities.

For the first time since its inception, the freewheeling car-free street party known as CicLAvia won’t be cycling through Los Angeles’ Bicycle District when it rolls around this Sunday.

The Heliotrope and Melrose neighborhood known for its pioneering, bike-friendly ethos and jaunty nickname “Hel-Mel” has been penciled out, this time around, in favor of a map that stretches farther south than ever before—from downtown to Exposition Park and USC. It also includes a new northerly hub in Chinatown, an eastward stretch to the Soto Gold Line station in Boyle Heights, and a stop at downtown’s new Grand Park.

As CicLAvia prepares for its fifth outing, its new map is just the most visible sign of an enterprise that’s literally on the move, stretching into new areas easily reached by L.A.’s growing public transit network. Pedestrians are taking their biggest step yet toward claiming their place on the pavement, as Los Angeles Walks sponsors a mid-day “walking parade” dubbed WalkLAvia down the middle of Figueroa from 8th Street to Exposition Park. And, with ambitious plans to expand and integrate CicLAvia more deeply into the fabric of the city, efforts are underway to significantly increase the amount of corporate support to sustain the event in years to come.

The course is actually slightly shorter this time—9.1 miles, compared to the previous 10. But clearly, CicLAvia’s cultural footprint is big, and growing, with more than 100,000 participants expected Sunday for the event, which runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“We instantly, overnight, became the largest car-free event in the United States,” said Aaron Paley, who helped found CicLAvia and now serves as its executive producer. “We went from being an idea…to becoming something that Angelenos expect out of their city. A car-free day is now just as much a part of Los Angeles as the Venice boardwalk, or the Hollywood sign. We changed the conversation in Los Angeles.”

It was never (entirely) about the bike, Paley said, noting that three distinct groups—cyclists, environmentalists and public space planners—came together to create the original CicLAvia in 2010. They’re now being joined by many others, including health activists, as the event enters the L.A. mainstream.

“CicLAvia itself is much larger than a biking event,” Paley said.

One of the signs that walkers will be carrying in their parade.

The new route, thanks to its proximity to the recently-opened Expo Line, makes it easier for many communities to take part, said Tafarai Bayne, community affairs manager of the neighborhood action group T.R.U.S.T. South L.A. and a CicLAvia board member.

“We definitely think we’ll increase turnout from neighborhoods like South L.A. and the Westside,” Bayne said, noting a “huge surge” in youth cycling that provides a natural constituency for the event. The setting makes sense, too, he said: “We have really big, wide boulevards that this event can take advantage of.”

In the Bicycle District, a popular café, Cafecito Organico, is having to adjust to the idea that CicLAvia will be passing it by this time around. “It is quite a disappointment,” said Angel Orozco, one of the partners in the business. “CicLAvia is our busiest day of the year.”

But at Orange 20 Bikes, another neighborhood fixture, customers seem to be taking the new route in stride as a necessary step in drawing new participants to CicLAvia.  Most are eager to see their collective “passion and excitement” for the event shared with “underserved communities” around Los Angeles, said Nona Varnado, Orange 20’s outreach coordinator.

And if CicLAvia won’t come to the Bicycle District, the Bicycle District will come to CicLAvia—in the form of an Orange 20 team that will be setting up shop Sunday at the Mariachi Plaza hub in Boyle Heights, offering free bicycle maintenance and community education.

“Wherever CicLAvia is, we’ll be there,” Varnado said.

To borrow some familiar buzzwords from the presidential race, it’s as if regular cyclists are “the base,” and everyone else is a “swing voter.” And turnout, naturally, is the name of the game.

“Everyone I know in the bike world comes out,” said Bobby Gadda, president of the CicLAvia board. “It’s like a convention of bicyclists. Now it’s going beyond that. There’s all kinds of people mixed in. That’s what’s so great about it.”

A particular effort is afoot to boost pedestrian participation. It’s no accident that the official press release describes CicLAvia as a “car-free, linear park for strolling, biking, playing, and experiencing the city from a new perspective.”

The 3-mile WalkLAvia parade down Figueroa (“Strollers welcome”) aims to send a festive but clear signal that pedestrians have just as much right as bicyclists to enjoy the car-free streets.

During the previous CicLAvia, “we found some bicyclists a little on the aggressive side,” said Jessica Meaney, an L.A. Walks volunteer and the Southern California coordinator for the Safe Routes to School National Partnership.

The new route down Figueroa is big and open, and the hope is that bicyclists will notice the parading pedestrians and “share the space,” Meaney said. “We consider ourselves traffic calmers.”

CicLAvia is free to participants but it’s not free to put on. The city of Los Angeles shares the cost with the CicLAvia nonprofit organization, which raises money from foundations, government grants, individual donations (including proceeds from the sale of raffle tickets and merchandise) and from corporations.

Current corporate support comes from firms such as REI, Small Planet Foods and Larabar.

“Corporate support, we hope, will grow over the next two years. It’s been small so far,” executive producer Paley said. “We hope to actually change that so corporations become 20 to 25%” of CicLAvia’s fundraising.

“We are definitely looking at a whole range of things,” he added. “It’s all about making it sustainable.”

The route has changed, but the 4th Street Bridge is still a key part of the CicLAvia itinerary.

Posted 10/3/12

Bike to the future for Carmageddon II

September 13, 2012

Dan Dabek, left, and Jim Shanman are organizing community bike rides on Carmageddon II weekend.

At the end of Back to the Future, Doc coolly tells Marty “where we’re going, we don’t need roads,” before donning shades and peeling out to the sequel in a flying DeLorean.

We’re not there yet. But Los Angeles’s real-life sequel, Carmageddon II, gives L.A. a chance to prove that where we’re going, we don’t need a major freeway—at least for one weekend.

With a large segment of the 405 set to close completely during the last weekend of September, local cycling advocates are seizing the opportunity to promote their favorite driving alternative. With support from Metro, they’re organizing two “Bike Carmageddon” group rides, one on the Westside and one in the San Fernando Valley—the areas most affected by the closure.

Jim Shanman, founder of Walk ‘n Rollers and a member of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, is the main organizer of the Westside Ride.

“We want to get to people that wouldn’t otherwise be riding,” said Shanman. “This is a great way for families to get out safely with a group—there are certified trainers and no one will be left behind.”

Local officials announced the rides on Tuesday, while promoting the upcoming closure as an opportunity for people to engage with their local communities. The bike rides are just part of what’s on tap. Many businesses are offering special discounts and the art community is preparing “Artmageddon,” a region-wide art celebration that’s accessible by foot, bike and rail. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Natural History Museum and the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits will offer half-price admission for those who use alternative transportation to get there.

“Stay out of the car completely if you can avoid it,” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who represents most of the affected region. “Stay local, play local, eat local, use the bike, and you’ll have a much better weekend.”

Dan Dabek, organizer of the San Fernando Valley bike ride and director of Cyclists Initiating Change through Live Exchange, or C.I.C.L.E., said bicycles and organized rides help people get a new perspective on where they live.

“The point is to show people that they can still get around their cities without getting in their cars,” said Dabek. “You connect with your city more, you can see what events are going on, visit new places and meet new people.”

The Westside Ride begins Saturday, September 29, with a kick-off party at 8:30 a.m. The 22-mile main ride will embark from Culver City Expo Station at 9 a.m. Along the path of the main ride, shorter rides will be held in Culver City, Venice, Santa Monica, and between Westwood and Santa Monica and Westwood and Culver City.

The 8-mile Metro Orange Line Valley Ride takes place Sunday, September 30 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Riders will meet in the park-and-ride lot of the Balboa Orange Line Station, at 6338 Balboa Boulevard in Encino. The family-friendly, leisurely ride will traverse part of the Orange Line bike path, making stops at the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Center and the Japanese Garden before circling back to the Encino Farmers’ Market.

Both rides are free. Minors are required to wear a helmet and be accompanied by a parent or guardian and kids under 8 should use a tag-a-long, bike trailer, tandem or other safe device.

For bike activists, the underlying goal of these events is to alter daily transportation habits in the long term, even if the changes are incremental.

“They don’t have to jump in all at once,” Dabek said of new cyclists. “We are showing people how to go to the coffee shop, go to the grocery store or even bicycle to work once a week.”

With the busiest freeway in the country out of commission, Carmageddon II might be the right time to start. Shanman, of the Walk ‘n Rollers, said brand new bike infrastructure is popping up “seemingly every week,” but sometimes people need a little push to start using it.

“ such a car-centric city,” said Shanman. “We are finding that there are a lot of people that want to try out that infrastructure, but aren’t sure how to do it. This is an opportunity to get over that hump.”

Posted 9/13/12

Blazing a path by the new Orange Line

June 27, 2012

Even before it opens, the new Orange Line bike/pedestrian path is getting a workout. Photo/Dave Sotero, Metro

Bus passengers aren’t the only ones getting a slick new ride with this weekend’s opening of the Orange Line Extension.

The rapid transit busway features a dedicated bicycle/pedestrian path that’s being billed as the longest “transit-adjacent” bikeway of its kind in Los Angeles County. The path runs next to the new 4-mile northward extension of the Orange Line, which opens to the public this weekend with free bus rides on Saturday and Sunday, and connects with the original line’s 14-mile bikeway for a total of 18 miles. (By comparison, the newly-opened Expo Line bikeway is 6 miles long; it will grow to 16 miles when the line is completed to Santa Monica.)

Even before the ribbon is cut on the Orange Line Extension—which extends the popular busway northward from Warner Center to Chatsworth—cyclists and walkers have been giving the new path a workout. One project official counted 257 bicyclists and pedestrians out enjoying the new 4-mile stretch on a recent evening.

“I use it every day,” said Manny Samuel. “It’s safer for me [than the street] with all these cars.”

For Samuel, the bikeway even makes possible an old-fashioned midday break that most modern-day Angelenos can only dream of. “I’m going home for lunch,” said Samuel, who works at a nutrition research company, as he prepared to pedal from Canoga Park to Woodland Hills.

Dan Flores, out walking on a recent sunny day, said he’s already hitting the path for an average of six or seven miles a day—on foot or on bike. It’s great exercise—and a nice way to beat high gas prices. “I have a big giant truck that costs me $10 just to turn it on,” he said.

For teenagers like Anthony Winn and Gianni Darienzo, the new bike path has emerged as the preferred route to that time-honored summer destination: the mall. Compared to getting a lift in the car, “riding a bike’s better,” Darienzo said, as he and Winn returned from a trip to the Westfield Topanga Shopping Mall.

Most of the wide, asphalt-surfaced path has separate, dedicated lanes for bicyclists and pedestrians. Still, there are some “multiuse” areas in which walkers and cyclists will share space. Wider-than-usual 6-foot curb ramps also will allow cyclists and pedestrians to get on and off the path more easily, especially when it’s crowded.

Easy ridin' on new bikeway. Photo/Dave Sotero, Metro

Landscaping remains nonexistent along much of the path, but several hundred trees, such as incense cedars and Chinese flame trees, are set to go in soon, along with drought-tolerant plants including trailing rosemary and fortnight lilies.

The overall bus project is coming in ahead of schedule and under budget by $61.6 million, having used just $154 million of the $215.6 allocated. The acceleration was made possible, in large part, by the passage of Measure R by county voters in 2008, said project manager Hitesh Patel. Patel said the bicycle/pedestrian path is only part of a host of healthy and environmentally friendly elements incorporated into the new busway, which also has some solar-powered lighting panels, bioswales to naturally filter runoff water and even recycled construction debris from the 405 Project, which has been crushed and used as an underground base.

Those who want to ride the new busway extension can do so for free on Saturday, June 30, and Sunday, July 1. (The free rides are being offered only on the extension portion of the Orange Line running from Canoga Park to Chatsworth.) There also will be family-friendly festivities from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday at the Canoga Park and Chatsworth stations.

Those include a group ride with Valley Bikery, which sets out from the Canoga station at 1 p.m. and finishes at the Chatsworth station.

Nathan Baird, bicycle coordinator for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, said he expects to see cyclists using the bike path—and the Orange Line itself—in a variety of ways.

“Having the bike path right next to the transit gives you a whole slew of options,” he said.

And the sheer 18-mile length of the path is a major plus, he said.

“The miles are important,” Baird said. “It connects across the entire Valley.”

Those connections eventually will go even further.

In the not too distant future, he said, cyclists will be able to start on the Browns Creek bike path in Chatsworth, connect with the Orange Line bikeway, travel along dedicated bike lanes through stretches of Los Angeles and Burbank and end up on the L.A. River bike path, which in turn will open up new connections stretching all the way to Long Beach.

As Patel, the project manager, puts it: “It’s going to be a wonderful asset for the San Fernando Valley…and for bicyclists, runners and nature lovers across the county.”

Manny Samuel, who lives in Woodland Hills and works in Canoga Park, uses the bikeway to ride home for lunch.

Posted 6/27/12

Rollin’ on the river

June 5, 2012

The L.A. River Ride bridges the past, present and future of the cycling revolution. Photo/Minami Pictures

Years before Los Angeles streets went car-free for the freewheeling festivities known as CicLAvia, bike advocates were already forging a path with the L.A. River Ride.

Now in its 12th year, the L.A. River Ride, which takes place on Sunday, is not just the granddaddy of local cycling activism. It’s also riding a growing wave of bike popularity, with new and veteran riders pedaling together in celebration of a still-evolving regional cycling culture.

“Committed cyclists ride by ourselves every day,” said Joe Linton, one of the event’s founders, along with Ron Milam and Chuck Arnold. “Group rides make us feel more connected with each other—and are a great way to welcome newer, less experienced riders into the fold.”

Since its beginning, the ride has generated support for two causes—bike advocacy and the health of the L.A. River. The event is now the yearly fundraiser for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, a nonprofit bike advocacy organization.

“We were one foot in river activism and one foot in bike activism,” Linton said.

In the late 1990s, before the first River Ride, the three activists organized a series of prototype events with Friends of the L.A. River and Occidental College. According to Linton the events were successful, and gave bikers a chance to see a “natural” side of the L.A. River.

“One of the big things about the L.A. River is that people don’t know where it is,” said Linton. “I think a lot of people imagine it is all concrete like in the movies Terminator and Grease.”

Although the ride draws attention to the river, its main thrust has always been about expanding bikeways. To help get federal funding for the inaugural River Ride in 2001, Linton pitched the goal of a continuous 50-mile bike path along the river, from the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach.

In 1998, around the same time the ride was beginning to take shape, Linton and Milam co-founded the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. According to J.J. Hoffman, a coalition member who has organized the River Ride since 2005, the event and the organization have grown in symbiosis. The first ride drew 780 cyclists. When the bike coalition expanded in 2007, attendance doubled. Organizers expect this year’s event to draw about 2,500 cyclists.

The goal of a 50-mile continuous path along the L.A. River remains elusive, but there has been progress. When the event began there were 18 miles of bike path, built in the 1970s. Now there are nearly 30 miles of path, with another 1.5 miles to be added later this year as the West Valley River Bike Path moves towards completion. When the Metro Orange Line Extension to Chatsworth opens on June 30, 4 miles of bike path perpendicular to the river will open with it, eventually connecting to a part of the river path planned for the future. Hoffman says the cycling community is eager to keep adding to the total.

“Having 50 miles of uninterrupted bikeway in Los Angeles would be like having our own bike freeway,” said Hoffman.

This year’s ride takes place on Sunday, June 10. Registration starts at 6:30 a.m. The route will take riders along the river where path currently exists, and will detour around parts of the river where there’s no path yet. Security will patrol the route with radios to ensure riders stay safe. Helmets are required, and technical and medical support will be available along the ride.

There are 7 different ride options to choose from, from a 100-mile Century Ride to a 15-mile Family Ride and an even shorter Kids’ Ride. Registration ranges from $50 to $65 except for the Kids’ Ride, which is free. Most rides begin and end at the Autry Center in Griffith Park, where festivities will be held, including an International Food Fair, an “Eco Expo,” live music and a raffle. Rest stops in Elysian Valley, Hollenbeck Park, Maywood Recreational Park, Dill’s Park and Long Beach Shoreline Park will also feature food, music and entertainment. Visit the event page for more details.

Cyclists are encouraged to raise money by having people sponsor their rides. For the first time, this year the top fundraiser will win a 10-day guided bike tour of the Tuscany coast in Italy, and runners-up will win bike parts and apparel. Those who want to support the cause but can’t join in can sponsor the ride or make a donation.

This year’s grand marshal, Bobby Gadda, serves as the President of the Board of Directors of CicLAvia. Gadda said both events offer something unique:

“Both CicLAvia and the River Ride are all about families enjoying biking in the streets, using the public space in a different way.”

This Sunday, Gadda will lead rides out from Griffith Park, high atop his famous tall bike. There will be a lot of folks behind him, and even more behind a growing, healthy movement from gas power to pedal power.

Some River Riders pedal from Griffith Park to Long Beach, and back. Photo/Minami Pictures

Posted 6/5/12

Bike Week’s cycle of celebration

May 10, 2012

Good Samaritan's annual "Blessing of the Bikes" has become an L.A. Bike Week tradition.

Bicycles keep gaining traction in Los Angeles County. With the most recent edition of CicLAvia behind us, it’s time to celebrate pedal power during the 18th Annual Bike Week, May 14-18. 

Metro, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and other community organizations are partnering for five days of bike festivities, beginning Monday with a 10 a.m. kick-off celebration at the University of Southern California’s Galen Center. New initiatives to promote bicycling will be announced at the event.

After that, on Tuesday, clergy of various religions will perform the 9th Annual Blessing of the Bikes at Good Samaritan Hospital from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Cyclists who attend can also receive the earthly blessings of a free bike check-up and breakfast.

On Wednesday, cyclists can “test pedal” the new Expo Line bike lanes on a mid-city ride, which meets at the Expo Park/USC station at 8 a.m. and departs at 8:30 a.m.

Thursday, May 17, is Bike to Work Day. Metro and other local transit agencies will give free rides to anyone with a bike or a helmet, and local cycling organizations and businesses will host dozens of pit stops with free refreshments and giveaways. After the workday is over, participants can join fellow riders at one of several after parties.

The week concludes on Friday with Bike to School Day, which takes aim at reducing traffic congestion in school zones.

Bike Week will give the public 5 days’ worth of reasons to avoid the hassles of driving while getting some healthy exercise with L.A.’s growing cycling community. To keep safe on the roads, check out these quick tips from Metro.

Posted 5/9/12

Freewheeling at CicLAvia

April 12, 2012

If lack of a bicycle is the only thing keeping you from CicLAvia, there’s no excuse now—you can grab one for free from Bike Nation.

A hundred bikes will be available for 90 minute reservations at the upcoming edition of CicLAvia, which takes place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 15th. Each person can reserve a maximum of two bikes. Helmets will not be provided, so riders are strongly encouraged to bring their own. The bikes will be located at the MacArthur Park and El Pueblo “hubs” for start times of 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. For a full event map, click here.

Ethan Fiamingo, chief technical officer for Bike Nation, said most reservations so far have been made by people who live downtown or by public officials who don’t want to haul their own bikes or perhaps don’t have one. As of Wednesday, only 130 of about 300 available time slots were filled, but the bulk of demand is expected to come from “walk up” traffic.

Bike Nation has provided cycles for events in the past, but none of the magnitude of CicLAvia. The company approached CicLAvia organizers during preparations for the October, 2011, event, which drew tens of thousands of participants.

“Any time they shut down the streets of L.A. for something, you know it’s going to be huge,” Fiamingo said.

Bike Nation was one of several companies that participated in Metro’s “bike sharing demonstration” earlier this year (see video above). Acting on a July, 2011, motion by Metro board member Zev Yaroslavsky and others, Metro began planning for a permanent bike share program to provide short-term, automated bike rentals. Bike sharing is designed to give commuters a way to get to and from mass transit stops near their homes and workplaces, as well as provide a healthy alternative to short car trips for errands. Similar systems are already in place in Denver, Paris and Washington D.C.

“We have been working with the city and organizations like Metro for the past two years to bring bike sharing to L.A.,” said Derek Fretheim, Bike Nation’s chief operating officer. “CicLAvia seemed to be a worthwhile event to increase bicycling awareness and bicycle behavior.”

Other than Bike Nation, there are a few other options to get wheels in time for CicLAvia. Downtown L.A. Bicycles, DTLA Bikes and Flying Pigeon L.A. are offering paid rentals.

Posted 4/12/12

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