With apologies to John Lennon:
Imagine there's no traffic,
It's easy if you try.
No pavement below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today
You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one
Ciclavia. What is that? A Slavic break-away state? A medical condition? No, it's the name of the one-day closure of 7.5 miles of roads in the city of Los Angeles this past Sunday, with empty pavement stretching from the east end of Hollywood to the west side Boyle Heights.
The idea began a few decades ago in Bogotá, Colombia, with Ciclovia. I'm still not sure what that means, but of course Los Angeles put its own stamp on the even by calling our version CicLAvia.
When I'm home on a Sunday morning, I usually like to join my friends from the Los Angeles Wheelmen on a casual ride, usually out to the coast, or in our local Santa Monica Mountains. When I pedaled the short distance from my home to the meeting place, there was some discussion about riding to Will Rogers state park, with its quiet roads and its polo field. Luckily, rational thought prevailed. We pushed off for the western end of Ciclavia, at the intersection of famed Melrose Ave. and Heliotrope.
The streets were to officially close at 10 a.m., so we had a few minutes to wander around the intersection, looking over the souvenir t-shirts, filling our water bottles, and meeting other riders.
Indian Summer was in control this Sunday, the temperature rising, with too few cars to create smog. Sometimes, when it's warm, the heat of the interior deserts seems to suck the coastal fog eastward. Not today, with the city under a cloudless, blue sky. With the clear air, the Santa Monica Mountains to the north were in sharp relief.
The weather conditions in Los Angeles are almost always conducive for a bike ride. By the same token, traffic conditions are conducive for a Ciclavia every Sunday in the city. At least they are for those willing to wake early enough, because there is no traffic on a Sunday morning.
At 9 a.m., as we six began riding six miles east, the streets and boulevards of Los Angeles were indeed largely free of motorized traffic. In a surprisingly short time, we found ourselves mingling with the masses, most of them with bikes, on Melrose Boulevard, waiting for the official 10 a.m. start, when the street closures would be in effect.
At the appointed hour, we remounted our bikes and joined the throngs heading towards downtown, and ultimately across the giant concrete ditch – and over the lovely 1931 4th street bridge which spans it – that is the Los Angeles River, where the street closure ended at the leafy, 118 year-old Hollenback Park.
The Ciclavia was free-form. While there were a few rest stops along the route, there were no planned activities. There were simply the open streets, with traffic control officers at the few crossing points for cars. I'm not sure how most businesses that were open Sunday fared; certainly street vendors, sidewalk cafes, and coffee shops were full of happy patrons.
Along with perhaps 100,000 other participants, most of them on bikes, I enjoyed Ciclavia, and I think it should be repeated at least a few times a year. However, I wish more Angelenos would take more often to their bikes. The more people on bikes, the less cars on the road. And the more bikes on the road, the more conscious of them will be people who drive cars.
Casual riders often tell me they fear riding in traffic, and wonder how I'm able to do it. I'm not sure riding in traffic is that dangerous. Stories of fatal accidents in the newspaper are rare. And traffic is so often clogged in Los Angeles that cars are barely moving on the main thoroughfares. Often enough, and especially during rush-hour traffic, I can move faster than cars.
Cyclists need to be vigilant, of course. The greatest danger comes from cars turning right, cutting off cyclists without warning. It's a risk I'm willing to take; with experience has come an ever greater ability to monitor what's happening around me.
There was, this day, no need to watch for cars, only for other cyclists, skaters, joggers, and walkers. Police reported no major accidents over the course of the day.
Passing by City Hall (also known as the Daily Planet building from the original Superman t.v. show of the 1950s)
Along the route we met other riders, including Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angles, who graciously posed with Ted, from our group. Having recently been hit by an auto while biking on the west side of town, the mayor has become very conscious of the continuing need to make riding a bike in the city as safe as possible.
Back at the start of Ciclavia, on Melrose, we entered the now busy city boulevards, and took as many quiet residential streets as we could. Riding through the tony Hancock Park neighborhood, we reached Larmont Village, a quaint shopping district. We spent a few dollars at the local coffee shop, and wandered next door to the little book shop, where Debra Eden Tull was signing copies of her new book, "Natural Kitchen," at an outdoor table.
Next to the table, a blender was ingeniously hooked up to an old, stationary Peugeot bike. Turning the cranks on the bike turned the blades of the blender. I climbed aboard and was rewarded for my efforts with a delicious fruit smoothie.
It was time to say goodbye, with we six scattering in different directions, our first Ciclavia a success. I'll ride it next next year. Whatever it means, however it's pronounced, I say viva Ciclavia!
Camera: Panasonic Lumix ZS7 - click on images for larger versions.