CicLAvia’s popular “Culver City Meets Venice” route returns Sunday, and with it a push to make Venice Boulevard a friendlier place for bicyclists

By Michael Aushenker

On Sunday, bicycles rule the road from Downtown Culver City to Venice Beach

When CicLAvia comes around, bikes rule the road.

Four times a year, the Metro-backed nonprofit closes major public thoroughfares to automobile traffic for rolling pedal parties that allows bicyclists, skateboarders and pedestrians to activate public spaces normally reserved for cars.

CicLAvia returns to the Westside this Sunday with “Culver City Meets Venice,” reprising a six-mile route that attracted tens of thousands of participants in August 2015. From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., a sea of bicycles will have the right-of-way from the Downtown Culver City Metro Station to Venice Beach along a route that includes segments of Washington Boulevard, Washington Place, a short jaunt on Centinela Avenue, Venice Boulevard, Grand Boulevard and Windward Avenue.

Community leaders and alternative transportation advocates in Mar Vista — the heart of Sunday’s CicLAvia — are particularly fired up.

Mar Vista Community Council Chairman Rob Kadota, an avid bicyclist, has spent weeks lighting a fire under local businesses to roll out the red carpet for a flood of people exploring the neighborhood on bike and on foot.

“I try to attend as many CicLAvia events as possible,” he said. “They’re transformative. You get to visit different communities in L.A. that you might not otherwise get to see from a pedestrian’s or bicyclist’s point of view.”

Kadota hopes Mar Vista can seize the opportunity to highlight its Champs-Élysées — the mile-long stretch of Venice Boulevard from Beethoven Street to Inglewood Boulevard that is already getting pedestrian-friendly upgrades as part of the city’s Great Streets Initiative to transform commuter thoroughfares into public gathering places.

With its successful Sunday farmers market (one of four CicLAvia hubs) and a resurgence of independent retailers and restaurants, Mar Vista has already become a very walkable destination.

Beyond this weekend’s CicLAvia, the community council’s Bike Mar Vista Committee — Kadota and locals Greg Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Damien Newton and Mitch Rishe — has been actively pursuing Bike Mar Vista, a long-term plan to make Mar Vista safer and more inviting for two-wheeled travel.

On March 2 committee members met with L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin’s mobility deputy, Jessie Holzer, about plans for an inverted bike lane — one that flows between parked cars and the sidewalk, not between parked cars and moving traffic — along the Great Streets portion of Venice Boulevard. For now, the idea is that planters would act as a buffer between bikes and cars.

“The [other] nice thing about the planters is that they provide some greenery,” Castelnuovo-Tedesco said.

The committee hopes to implement a temporary version of an inverted bike path and collect traffic volume and speed data before deciding whether to install it permanently. The temporary bike lane could appear as early as May, pending the installation of new lighted crosswalks on Venice Boulevard at Meier Street as well as Boise, Ocean View and Mountain View avenues.

In addition to the Great Streets Initiative, the lighted crosswalks and inverted bike lanes are part of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “Vision Zero” push to eliminate traffic fatalities by the year 2025.

Bike Mar Vista looks north to Santa Monica for inspiration and connection. In November 2015, Santa Monica launched Breeze Bike Share — Los Angeles County’s first public bike share program — and celebrated nearly 300,000 trips in the program’s first 12 months.

By 2030, Santa Monica hopes 35% of all local trips will be made by bicycle, according to the city’s annual mobility report.

Kadota said the committee is also pondering a north-south bike route that would connect Venice Boulevard to an Expo Line station.

With its recent expansion into Downtown Santa Monica, the Expo Line is now averaging about 45,000 daily riders on weekdays and about 34,000 on weekends. Big Blue Bus ridership, meanwhile, is down 12% to 15 million riders annually as that agency realigns bus routes to better connect with the new Expo Line stations.

With control of Venice Boulevard recently handed from Caltrans to the city of Los Angeles, many things are now possible.

“It’s an issue that’s been complicated by the act that Venice [Boulevard] was a state highway for a long time but, as of recently, that’s no longer the case,” Holzer said, adding that adapting Mar Vista’s stretch of Venice to bike traffic should not be particularly complex or intrude on the progress of motorists.

“It’s been done on busier streets and it wasn’t the end of the world,” Holzer said.

Kadota looks to CicLAvia as a chance to begin such a conversation, not an end to it.

“It’s a time to do outreach,” he said. “Bike Mar Vista is more than just CicLAvia.”

“CicLAvia: Culver City Meets Venice” runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, March 26. Visit ciclavia.org for more information about street closures, traffic crossings and activity hubs.