cicLAvia May Bring Car-Free Sundays to Los Angeles

A non-profit group of LA cyclists is trying to shut down the streets to cars once a week, allowing people to reclaim the streets.

If you live in Los Angeles, or have ever visited the city, you’ll be well aware that there’s no shortage of cars there. The city is the most car-heavy metropolis on the planet, with 1.8 cars for every person. And with all those cars on the road, residents tend to spend plenty of time stuck in traffic: they’re estimated to lose four days of every year stuck behind the wheel.

Now, imagine if every Sunday, major roads in urban areas were closed off to cars, and cyclists and pedestrians were invited to spend time wandering through their neighborhoods, without worrying about getting cut off or hit by distracted drivers chatting on cell phones while zooming along 20 miles over the speed limit.

It sounds like a lovely fantasy—but if a small group of activists, cicLAvia, is successful, this car-free day could become a reality.

“Air pollution is awful and childhood obesity is epidemic,” cicLAvia member Jonathan Parfrey told the Los Angeles Times. “But building new parks for people to get out of their cars and exercise can be prohibitively expensive. We want to create public space using the infrastructure we already have - our roads.”

While it may seem like a supreme challenge to block off the roads in such a car-centric city, it’s been done in other major metropolises for decades. The concept, known as a ciclovia, got its start in the sprawling city of Bogota, Colombia 30 years ago. Now, Bogota blocks off the city’s major streets every Sunday and holiday, allowing cyclists and pedestrians to transform the area into a fun and festive community (see a video here). Similar events are held throughout Latin America, and even neighborhoods in New York City and San Francisco have recently gotten in on the act.

The members of cicLAvia are confident that the idea has a place in L.A., and are taking steps to make it happen—including a recent meeting with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office. Romel Pascual, associate director of energy and the environment, is excited by the idea and is committed to seeing it come to life. “Making events like this happen is always in the details—what neighborhoods to start with, the routes involved,” he said. “But it’s definitely something we’re looking to explore in 2010.”

While the event will cost money, the charity group California Foundation has pledged $20,000 for a ciclovia in the Boyle Heights neighborhood, which could serve as a testing ground for the idea before it is rolled out through the rest of the city.

“If you start small in one neighborhood and put on a great event, other neighborhoods are hopefully going to take notice and say, ‘We want this too,’” said cicLAvia member Aaron Paley.

Car-free L.A. visualization images courtesy of Colleen Corcoran of designedbycolleen.com.