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Guest post: Los Angeles could teach Portland a thing or two about open streets

Posted by on August 12th, 2015 at 7:38 am

ciclavia bridge

Los Angeles’ answer to Sunday Parkways: welcoming frequent car users with big streets and open arms.
(Photos: Ted Timmons)

This is a guest post from BikePortland reader Ted Timmons, who visited L.A.’s version of Sunday Parkways this year and was moved to write up some of his observations.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Los Angeles was late to the ciclovia scene, even by American standards. However, they have had several per year since late 2010.

While the stereotype of Los Angeles revolves around its infatuation with the car, it’s arguably the densest urban area in the country. The percentage of trips in Portland by means other than car is about 16 percent; in Los Angeles, it’s 25 percent.

So, that leads us back to ciclovias — “Sunday Parkways” in Portland parlance, or “CicLAvia” in Los Angeles. Over 100,000 participants showed up to the very first CicLAvia, and the numbers have been that high ever since. Compare that to Portland’s numbers of 10-20,000 per event.

Perhaps intentionally, CicLAvia routes typically connect through poorer neighborhoods, which caused income classes to interact in an atypical way.

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There’s a problem caused by CicLAvias that is both stereotypically Los Angeles and something that occurs in Portland: while the event is a celebration of humanity without intrusion from cars, large numbers of participants drive to the events. This can be seen in Portland events like the World Naked Bike Ride and the Bridge Pedal. As with those annual Portland events, this habit annoys many Angelenos who feel these people are missing the point of the event.

Further, the CicLAvia events are so popular they suffer from an unusual problem: they aren’t friendly for fast “club riders.” They are so crowded with citizens walking, skateboarding, rollerblading, and cycling that there’s very little room to ride at speeds above 15mph. And as might be expected in Los Angeles, the participants deal with the problems of scale: traffic jams.

ciclavia park

These are two big problems. But they are blessings in disguise. Why? Experienced cyclists don’t need to drive to a car-free event, nor do they need a car-free event to feel safe enough to ride on the streets. Inexperienced cyclists may only take their bike out once or twice a year (as those who ride Sunday Parkways or the Bridge Pedal may have observed). They may have a WalMart Huffy with aging and underinflated tires. They may have packed it into the Canyonero to go five miles to the event. But that means they are riding!

Perhaps riding in a car-free event will inspire our neophyte riders to substitute the bicycle for their car in one trip next week. Maybe they’ll start commuting, or helping their child ride to school. As experienced cyclists, it should be our mission to support these riders, rather than snub them for riding slowly or driving to the event.

The ciclovia declares that streets are for everybody — and everybody’s a lot of people. We should learn from CicLAvia and keep growing Sunday Parkways with that in mind.

Ted has attended Ciclovia-style events in Bogota, Quito, Portland, and Los Angeles.

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KT
Guest
KT

And from the photos, it looks like they actually route it on arterials rather than smaller neighborhood streets. Now that’s something worth coming out for!

Marina
Guest
Marina

Having volunteered at Sunday Parkways multiple times before moving to LA, the biggest difference is there are volunteers at the intersections where car traffic crosses the route, to assist the police. All other intersections simply have barricades or tape. And yet I have never seen a car on the route, which was a constant problem at Sunday Parkways.

anna
Guest
anna

too bad we don’t have an official bike buddy site, where folks too nervous to switch from car free events like these, could make the move to commuting or running errands on a bike on a more frequent basis, if they had a little help and guidance. Its a very big jump to do this on your own, especially given our city’s bad roads, dissapearing lanes etc, etc.

Adam H.
Guest
Adam H.

Great post, thanks! I’d love to see an expansion of Sunday Parkways to every Sunday in the summer, and not just once a month. And yes, more arterials. Sunday Parkways should open up hostile streets to cycling (Hawthorne, 82nd, etc.) – giving people a taste of what car-free business districts could be like – and not just use the already-car-lite Greenways.

Andy
Guest
Andy

Los Angeles has a pretty awesome bicycle culture overall. I participated in a couple of these in 2010-2011, and they are truly incredible to behold. The scale is just tremendous – imagine the combination of every Sunday Parkways route, connected via major arterial streets, closed in both directions.

Bart
Guest
Bart

Ooh, if we’re throwing in Sunday Parkways suggestions, a route in outer NE would be welcome. Also possible collaboration opportunity with our Gresham neighbors…

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

In Boston, they close a huge street (Memorial Drive, similar in size and function to Powell) every Sunday to make it available to cyclists, skaters, and people on foot. It’s wonderful!

http://www.bostoncentral.com/activities/Biking/p907.php

Hmm
Guest
Hmm

So about 1.6-3.3% of Portland is taking part in Sunday Parkways events and about 2.6% of the L.A. population taking part in the cycLAvias.

Jim & Becky
Guest
Jim & Becky

Don’t assume that those who drive to the event live within even 10-15 miles of the event. We’re talking LA here, and cycling in from OC or Long Beach is a no-go. Especially some of the neighborhoods you DON’T want to cycle through alone. Ourselves, for example, drove to the PDX WNBR. NINE HOURS of driving to our friends in Clackamas. WNBR was just part of the annual trip.

WAR
Guest
WAR

Higher population. Probably only one event per year. No wonder it beats Sunday Parkway numbers.

Matt
Guest
Matt

Interesting article to be sure, and as a former Los Angeles resident (West Hollywood actually), I also struggle to buy into 25% of transport is other than car. Not gelling with my experiences at all. Look, I like LA, and hope that it can be a leader in alternative transportation forward. Especially with the air pollution inland. I also understand and have watched the attempt at infrastructure improvement to facilitate LA’s multi-modal aspirations. That stated, it is at least a decade behind PDX, if not 2 decades in terms of adoption.

LESTER
Guest
LESTER

Up here in Vancouver, USA we only got a one day event in 2014, and none this year.

Anyone up for helping attempt one or two for 2016?

Lenny Anderson
Guest
Lenny Anderson

Has Portland ever closed a major arterial for Sunday Parkways? Not that I can recall. Those routes are almost all on existing bikeways or green streets for whatever. Bridge Pedal, yes, but the PBOT events, No! Why not?…don’t want to inconvenience or anger motorists! Go PBOT!

jeff
Guest
jeff

I would argue there’s a not a single thing that Portland needs to learn from L.A. In fact, there’s more than enough California floating around town lately.

gutterbunnybikes
Guest

It’s all in the infamous number games.

Yes LA see’s an impressive 100,000+, but they also have a population (just the city itself – not the burbs) of nearly 4 million. Portland about 650,000.

In other words LA is about 6 times the population of Portland – which means as a percentage of population Sunday Parkways is as popular to way more popular event (if you go by metro region stats 13 million for LA- 2 million for Portland).

And those same problems you mention for LA are equally true for the Parkways as well.

Linda Ginenthal
Guest

Correction: Sunday Parkways events are 10,000 to 31,000 – averaging 20,000 plus per event.

One thing that would make these new ideas come to life would be more volunteers. We are needing lots more volunteers for our upcoming SE event on August 23rd. We are taking a page from LA and most other arterial street Open Streets events and having volunteers manage some intersections without police or reduced police presence! That means we need 30 more volunteers! If you haven’t volunteered yet this year, this is the event to do it! We need you! Sign up at http://www.portlandsundayparkways.org

And thanks for some of the suggestions for the Sunday Parkways program. We are looking forward to our newest route in Sellwood with the Tilikum Crossing at the end of September. More new ideas and program enhancements to come…

Salts
Guest
Salts

I realize this is a specific post about CicLAvia (which the current mayor has pledged to make a monthly event before he leaves office and currently occurs 3 to 4 times a year along major arterial streets and in the City’s downtown) but as an Angeleno I feel compelled to defend the City’s (slow) movement towards livability more broadly, which has largely flown under the radar or seems to go unrecognized.

For example, did you know that Los Angeles has implemented 50 miles of road diets (http://la.streetsblog.org/2014/07/02/ladot-has-completed-more-than-50-miles-of-road-diet-bike-lanes/) and that 20 of those miles were completed in a single year? (https://ladotbikeblog.wordpress.com/2013/09/06/the-year-of-the-road-diet/). Sure you could argue that we have so many streets that doing this is “easy” but most of LA’s streets are residential so these efforts shouldn’t go unnoticed as they are occurring primarily on collector, and some cases arterial streets. This does not include the sort of “road diet” implemented on Broadway in Downtown LA in which travel lanes were removed to expand the sidewalks and provide outdoor dining (http://la.curbed.com/archives/2014/12/all_the_data_you_could_ever_want_on_walking_driving_riding_and_parking_along_bustling_broadway.php)

Additionally, Los Angeles has a “People St” program which is slowly reclaiming space from automobiles to create pedestrian plazas (http://peoplest.lacity.org/)

As someone else pointed out, Los Angeles installed its first true protected bike lane recently and more are on the way. The “My Fig” project will connect USC to Downtown LA and is slated to break ground next year (http://www.myfigueroa.com/) and the City was awarded funding to construct a 3 mile cycle track on Chandler Blvd which will connect to the heavily used NoHo Red Line Metro Station. Which brings me to my next point, Los Angeles County is embarking on the largest light rail construction expansion in the nation, with the Expo Line and Gold Line extensions expected to open next year and more projects all which will be completed by 2026 (check out the interactive map/timeline of projects here http://www.metro.net/projects/)

Angel York
Guest
Angel York

Semantic PSA: When the streets are closed to people in cars, I like to think of the streets as finally being “open” … to all the people on bikes, rollerblades, skateboards, in wheelchairs, and to those who skip, walk, jog and dance.

Sure, the streets are closed at these events, but more it may be more accurate to say that the streets are finally open.