By Vince Echavaria
For at least one afternoon, residents and visitors will be able to take advantage of a primary corridor through Venice, free of cars, for some play time.
CicLAvia, an event which has opened streets of Los Angeles to non-vehicle activities on five prior occasions, is coming to the Westside for the first time from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, April 21.
The free event will create an unprecedented 15 miles of car-free space along Venice Boulevard between downtown Los Angeles and Venice Beach for bicycle riding, strolling, playing or experiencing the city from a new perspective. The new route will take participants across diverse landscapes and through historic neighborhoods to and from the shore.
As in prior open-street events, Venice Boulevard through communities like Mar Vista and Venice will become a playground for those on two wheels and on foot. Organizers say the sixth CicLAvia is expected to be the largest event to date with over 100,000 people estimated to take part along the route.
In wake of the April 15 bombings at the Boston Marathon that killed three people and injured more than 180, the Los Angeles Police Department said it is increasing security in and around all areas where there is a large public gathering. The department did not identify specific events that can expect the additional police presence.
Robert Gard, spokesman for the CicLAvia event, said that prior to the Boston tragedy organizers had worked closely with the LAPD to provide security throughout the route, and he believed preparations would take into account the incident in Boston.
CicLAvias are based on events in Latin America that started over 30 years ago, encouraging people to use streets for bicycling and other forms of transportation. CicLAvia Executive Director Aaron Paley said the events aim to repurpose streets by turning them into real public places that can function as parks and open space.
“CicLAvia gives Angelenos a sense of possibility about the future, a sense of what Los Angeles could be with fewer cars – a city where we can connect with others and our surroundings without the barrier of the car,” he said.
Paley said the initiative has been extremely successful in downtown and surrounding areas, and organizers hope to show that the idea of open streets can work anywhere in Los Angeles.
“We were really excited for this new route to actually connect the historic routes of the city to the beach,” he said. “There’s basically something iconic here in showing that you can go from downtown to the beach or vice versa without a car.”
Gard noted that it has always been the intention to expand the open-street concept to other communities in the county. During the event, the northside of Venice Boulevard from the beach to Crenshaw Boulevard will be open only to non-vehicle traffic, while the southside will remain open to vehicle traffic between the beach and Crenshaw, Gard said.
The event is open to anyone to participate, with no reservations required, and people can enter at any point along the route.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has been a strong advocate for CicLAvias since their beginning for encouraging Angelenos to enjoy the city through other forms of transit.
“CicLAvia’s success and the breakneck pace of bikeway construction demonstrate that L.A. has removed its training wheels,” said Villaraigosa. “The synergy of public support and infrastructure investment has put L.A. at the front of the transit pack.”
Other local elected officials have touted the benefits of events like CicLAvia and the efforts in the city to support cyclists, including installing 123 miles of bikeways since the master bike plan was implemented two years ago.
“I am ecstatic that the city is continuing on a path to complete 40 miles of bike lanes per year,” said City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the Mar Vista and Venice area. “We are seeing firsthand how the Bike Plan is dramatically improving the city’s multi-modal system of transportation, as well as having a positive impact on our air and climate.”
Assemblyman Steven Bradford (D-Venice), who is proposing Assembly Bill 1371 to establish a minimum three-foot barrier between cars and bicycles on the roads, said he is thrilled that the open-street event is coming to Venice for the first time. “This is a great event to raise awareness of cyclists’ rights to ride safely on our city streets, and this bill will do the same,” Bradford said.
In addition to health benefits and the opportunity to experience the city from a different perspective, Venice Chamber of Commerce President Alex Rosales believes that having a large number of people come into the community without cars can be a boost for local businesses. People may be more apt to take in the sights or stop by some restaurants and businesses when they are passing through on a bike, he said.
“When you are on a bicycle, it’s almost like a motorcycle, where you really get a feel of everything around you and see more of what’s around you than when you’re in your car,” he said. “If you look at the numbers (without cars) I think you would have a bigger possibility of them actually stopping and checking you out.”
Venice Neighborhood Council Vice President Marc Saltzberg said he is supportive of any programs that encourage bicycling and alternate forms of transportation, but while the events can have benefits for the community they can also cause some traffic concerns by blocking the street.
Peley said organizers reached out to local neighborhood councils, chambers of commerce and residents and businesses along the route to help mitigate any inconveniences created by closing the street to vehicle traffic.
CicLAvia will also feature a wide range of locally produced activities and programs along the route. Activities will include Kids Zones at the City Hall and Venice Beach “hubs” where children can learn about bike safety and practice their skills. Food trucks will be parked at five locations, including Venice Beach, and the nine hub spots will offer free water, portable and wheelchair-accessible restrooms and first-aid stations.
CicLAvias are also scheduled to be held in other parts of the city June 23 and Oct. 6.