Sunday, October 9, 2011


I've participated in all three Ciclavia events, today's having expanded to include about 10 miles of city streets that are closed to cars for much of this Sunday, and turned over to cyclists and pedestrians. The route goes right past City Hall, which is currently almost completely surrounded by the tents  of Occupy LA. I saw a bit of interaction between the sign-waving protesters at City Hall, and the crowds of cyclists, but for the most part these events don't seem to have much to do with each other. On one level, Occupy LA might be seen as a serious political and economic movement that is presenting profound challenges to the existing power structure, while Ciclavia appears to be just a fun and frivolous bit of outdoor exercise. On the other hand, I have to wonder if hundreds of young people camped out on City Hall grounds will ultimately succeed in changing much about how the financial system does business. The crowds of cyclists, however, who appear merely to be out having a good time, might actually be having a substantial impact on the urban environment.

As a city dweller, there are few things more important to me than trying to reduce the impact of the automobile on city life. Cars waste way too much space; they create way too much noise and pollution; they contribute hugely to our dependence on foreign oil; and they can make our lives miserable by causing us to spend hours sitting in traffic. The only way to reduce these impacts is to reduce the number of cars on the road. (We've tried building more and more roads to deal with traffic, but that only seems to make the problems worse.)  To reduce the number of cars on the road, we need to find other ways of getting around, we need to reduce urban sprawl, and we need to build alternative means of transportation. Trains, buses and bike lanes can play a big part.

Ciclavia might be doing more to open people's eyes to the possibilities of living without cars than any other demonstration I have seen. Today, after riding 20 miles on quiet streets devoid of cars, passing thousands of smiling, friendly people, I had to ride another 2 miles home on car-choked streets, filled with overpowering noise and horrible exhaust fumes. I even got yelled at by a car driver. Want freedom? Want to do something about the environment? Want to improve our balance of trade? Want to foster community? We can accomplish all that by reducing our dependence on cars. Any activity that moves us in that direction might have as much serious, revolutionary potential as the more traditional kinds of protests being undertaken by the various Occupy groups.

Understand, I'm not knocking the Occupy movement. The Occupy movement may turn out to have profound impact, while Ciclavia might just prove to be an interesting diversion a couple of times a year. All I'm pointing out what I observed today, which is that the Occupy people were struggling to be heard, while on the streets of LA that were closed to cars, we already got a glimpse of what life could look like after the revolution.

(JCM pictures)

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