Sunday, October 10, 2010

Taking back the streets

Today I participated in the first-ever CicLAvia, an idea that originated in Bogota, and which has spread to a number of other cities.  For five hours, the city of Los Angeles--that car town of all car towns!--actually closed off more than 7 miles of streets to cars, opening them up for cyclists and pedestrians to enjoy.  This was definitely the most fun trip I have made from my house to downtown LA and beyond.  And even though I was pretty familiar with the route, I saw some parts of the city up close that I had not always appreciated before.  I got some good exercise too!

It's amazing how many problems can be addressed by closing streets to traffic.  First of all, the problem of traffic itself.  From the perspective of a driver, it seems that adding more lanes would help ease traffic.  But that only seems to increase traffic wherever it is tried.  Instead, the problem of traffic, which is caused by having too many cars on the streets at the same time, can only be solved by reducing the number of cars on the street.  Closing streets to traffic is a pretty effective way of doing that. Second, health care.  If we all walked and cycled more, we would all be a lot healthier, and the crisis of rising health care costs would not loom so large.  Third, energy.  We need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.  That means we need to choose more fuel-efficient vehicles, of which of course the most fuel-efficient ever designed is a bicycle.  Fourth, the environment.  What better way to reduce pollution than to ride a bike or walk?  And last but definitely not least, an event like this does wonders for peoples' mood.  Driving is an isolating experience, and creates hostility between the driver and everyone else on the road.  A street full of bicyclists, on the other hand, is a much friendlier and more considerate place.  We need to create that kind of atmosphere wherever possible.  Let's hope that LA and other cities expand this kind of program.  In Bogota (population 7 million), they close 70 miles of streets to traffic every single week, and people seem to love it.

(photos by me)


  1. Riding a bike more often is something most of us can do. We can even do it without closing streets (but closed streets are quite a luxury!). I rode my bike for 13hrs this week. To stores, on errands, for food, for fun and for exercise. The more we do it the easier it becomes and that increases the fun factor. Share The Road.

  2. Good to see the helmet in place. I never leave my driveway without my helmet. Protect the dome!

  3. Closing streets to traffic only forces the cars onto secondary streets, causing more traffic.

    Bike riding is a great for of transportation though. No argument from me there!

  4. It's true that if you close any street, some of that traffic will be diverted to other streets, at least in the short run. But where this has been tried, they also find that some of the traffic simply disappears. People find another way to get around, or they just drive less. On a Sunday though, you would think there is enough excess capacity in the system to justify closing a lot of streets without unduly impeding traffic. But even if you delay some traffic, it is still worth doing. Why do we need to give in to drivers' insatiable demands for more street space? It's not like they are paying for it. Streets are a valuable public resource that we should either make users pay for, or we should allocate in a fair way.