CicLAvia in LA a Melting Pot of Pedal Power


Velocipedal pluralism is alive and well in the City of Angels. And last Sunday, the bicycle reigned supreme.

L.A. is a place where non-conformity is the norm. Some are old, some are young, and others ride like they’re young forever. Black, white, brown and hybrid. They come in all shapes, colors, and complexions, short, tall, wide, skinny, smooth and bumpy. This was a melting pot of pedalpower.

For 5 hours, tens of thousands bicycled, strolled, slept, and skateboarded under their own power for the 5th, biannualCicLAvia. They all got along, about10 miles of car-free roadways reserved just for them. It was a day of dreams for me, my husband, Barry, and Foxy, bicycle pilot extraordinaire.

We rode to the North Beach San Clemente Metrolink Station to catch the 8:37 a.m. train. Foxy was harnessed in the pilot’s seat, her basket on my handlebars. Lined with the braided chenille rug I learned to walk on in the 60’s, that basket is command central. We navigate from treat to treat.

Our “E” ticket was the Metrolink Weekend Pass, a $10 ride anywhere Metrolink trains go, buses included, from 7 pm Friday until midnight Sunday. Foxy rides free and complies with the rules by staying in her basket on my lap or under the seat. She’s always received as a rock star by kids and conductors, alike.

In addition to the passenger cars, Metrolink towed 3 special bike cars, two more than normal. Now lots of people could arrive at CicLAvia from far and wide car-free.

Each bike car carries 18 bicycles on its lower level, while people ride above. Metrolink and OCTA debuted the new bike cars a year ago, holding a kick-off ceremony at the Laguna Niguel station last November. Foxy was there for that one, too, hobnobbing with the political elite who requested photo-ops with her to commemorate the event. (After all, Foxy’s on a first-name basis with OC Supervisor Pat Bates).

Normal train cars carry 3 bicycles each, so the total capacity for this CicLAvia train was pushing 70 bikes. At every station, we picked up lots of bikes, sometimes entire families.

Metrolink’s special Train Concierges (my term), Mike and Alex, helped organize people and their mechanical steeds. They got passengers efficiently squared away as bikes were bungeed in place for the ride to L.A..

Everyone chatted and shared where they’d come from, sipping lattes and eating coffee cake. Gone was the M-F poker face commuter vibe. The kids were enchanted with Foxy, who, it seems, had become Metrolink’s ambassador for the day (I’m just her groupie, really).

Upon arrival at Union Station 105 minutes later (some minor stops were eliminated to make the trip faster), we were awed by the number of people and bikes descending the ramps heading under the tracks and out the historic station entrance on Alameda St.

Despite the crowds, people were smiling. You’d think that competitive California driving attitude would transfer to the rail and bike mode, but it didn’t. I’d never seen so many happy people in one place. There were more happy people at Union Station and CicLAvia than I’d ever seen at Orange County’s “Happiest Place on Earth,” and I’ve lived here for 50 years now. It was shear joy, all because we were on bikes.

Once we were above ground, we rode past Olvera Street, and soon arrived at Spring Street, the North end of CicLAvia’s route. Once we entered the car-free zone, the city instantly transformed into a place for people.

“Wow,” I said to Barry and Foxy. “This is what it would be like,” I pondered. Foxy didn’t care about her Mom’s sentimentalities. We were going bye-bye, and off we went, up Spring Street to China Town, without hearing an engine. Amazing and cathartic it was.

We met L.A.’s Finest–men and women in blue–on bikes, of course. They love their job and it showed, being part of more than 200 Bike Patrol officers who cover the city’s streets daily. At CicLAvia, they were cruising everywhere, making sure that people were safe. It was a cop’s perfect beat: no serious injuries or bad accidents and everything was under control.

We rode to MacArthur Park, where a concert was underway by one of my favorite groups, Quetzal. Booths lined the sidewalk, as volunteers from Bikes BelongLarabarCascadian Farm, and others, engaged passersby and distributed yummy energy bars.REI was providing bike repairs and tune-ups with old-fashioned TLC.

The route had about 20 car crossings. Traffic lights still operated, but they were set for about a 30 second phase for bikes and a couple minutes for cars. Thanks to all the CicLAvia volunteers and uniformed Los Angeles Traffic Officers, every intersection was safe and secure. Everyone behaved, despite the non-motorized folks waiting for 5 signal sequences at some crossings.

It was amazing how not being enveloped in metal and glass changes a person’s attitude, despite the dense (bicycle) traffic and congestion. Maybe that’s because everyone was out in the open without smog blowing in their faces, without revving motors, or a class distinction based on a vehicular trademark. Maybe it was because it was Sunday. Regardless, “me first” didn’t exist and chaotic kindness defined the day. No one cared if you built your own bike or rode a Schwinn, Madone, Rivendell, or a Flying Pigeon. Everyone employed the Golden Rule.

Looking ahead and behind my place in the pack, I was imagining the future of transportation and all I could see were thousands of smiles, 98% of them on bicycles. I was gridlocked in Heaven.

Maybe someday, San Clemente, we’ll have a Spanish Village Ciclovia!