In Southern California, an event called CicLAvia occurs a few times per year, closing streets to car traffic in certain neighborhoods around Los Angeles to open up space to bicycles and pedestrians. If this sounds a lot like a certain weekly event in Bogota, that’s for good reason.
“We feature the whole connection of Bogotá,” says Romel Pascual, the Executive Director of CicLAvia. “It was an inspiration to do a similar event in Los Angeles.”
Most people around the world may not think of Colombia as a bicycling mecca, unless they have heard of cycling legends, such as Martín “Cochise” Rodríguez, and more recently Giro D’Italia champion Nairo Quintana. While the term “bicycling mecca” is usually reserved for European cities like Amsterdam or Copenhagen, Bogotá, was a true pioneer in the cycling space when it established its ciclovías – and first instance in the world of a major city regularly closing road space to cars in lieu of a better atmosphere for cyclists and pedestrians.
Decades after the first of Bogotá’s ciclovías were established with two roads temporarily closed on December 15, 1974, tourists from Los Angeles visiting the Colombian capital were motivated to create a similar event in their city. At that point, they approached Pascual, who, at the time, was Deputy Mayor for Energy and Environment in the office of the city of Los Angeles.
CicLAvia began with the temporary closing of 10 kilometers of road in East LA on October 10, 2010. Since then, the concept has grown dramatically to be known as 10/10/10. “We went from doing a CicLAvia once per year for a number of years, so now we’re at number 26,” remarks Pascual. “It always goes well. We consistently get good crowds.”
Their most recent event took place on Sunday, June 24, with tens of thousands of Angelenos in attendance. Pascual mentions, however, this doesn’t compare to their largest ever event from April 2013: “It was well over 200,000 people. It was a huge route, from Downtown to Venice Beach.”
Pascual notes that the initial 10/10/10 was attended by Jaime Ortíz Mariño, founder of Bogotá’s ciclovía. “We’re very conscious of history, and giving due credit because it is an international movement now,” he explained. “That’s why we did this.”
Los Angeles is not the only North American city to have begun ciclovía-style events in the last decade. From coast to coast, across the United States and Canada, cities are beginning to see the benefits of opening up their streets to activities besides driving.
In many instances, these initiatives are done with help of the Toronto-based Open Streets Project, a collaboration between two organizations: 8 80 Cities and Streets Plans. On their website, the Open Streets Projects lists 90 examples of ciclovía-style events. But, no city has established any program resembling Bogotá’s, which at times exceeds 2-million riders on over 121 kilometers of road.
Perhaps the North American event closest in character to Bogotá is Ottawa’s Sunday Bikedays. The Canadian capital is one of the only cities outside Latin America that, like Bogotá, is dedicated to a weekly event, on the same route, covering a significant area of the city. A few other cities also have weekly events, but the American cities with the most developed cycling cultures, like Boulder and Minneapolis, can’t manage more than an annual event.
For Pascual, like many Bogotanos, the advantages of citizens taking back their roads are numerous. “It’s not just a transportation issue. It’s not just getting people on the streets to experience a different way of moving around,” he assured.
He stresses the diverse benefits an open streets event can have for a city: “It hits on so many different issues,” he explains. “It hits on public health, the environment, inclusivity, and safety.” He wants people to acknowledge that the ciclovía movement isn’t simply for the benefit of cyclists, but a much larger project for social cohesion.
One major way in which CicLAvia differs from its Colombian counterpart is that the same roads aren’t closed every week. CicLAvia is a smaller route and each event visits a different area of the city known for its sprawling highway system. This reflects a major goal of CicLAvia: “For us, it’s really highlighting the different areas of Los Angeles,” remarks Pascual. “It’s a way in which we introduce people to their community, and give people a sense of community.”
The community aspect is also why ciclovías are so popular in Bogotá. On Sundays, Bogotanos are active, spending time with their families, enjoying the city’s many green corridors – even Simón Bolívar Park fills to capacity.
Los Angeles has been developing its own way to bring its communities closer together. And while it’s tough to match the magnitude of the Bogotá ciclovías (the largest CicLAvia was only about an eighth the size), it’s only a matter of time before one North American city comes close to the enormous event that takes place every week in a pioneering capital.