On Saturday (March 7), more than 300 cyclists, community members, and health and environmental and livable city advocates, gathered at Los Angeles Trade Tech for the first L.A. Bike Summit. It was, in many ways, an inspiring event: high energy and enthusiasm, great speakers and workshops, strong community of interests in the desire to reshape the Los Angeles region and its streets and landscape to make them more bike and people friendly and less car-dominant. Bernardo Barranda, one of the two Mexico City speakers, put it succinctly when he stated that the transportation pyramid has to be reversed, with pedestrians first, bikes next, followed by transit (busses and rail), and then finally cars at the bottom of any framework for planning and resources.
The bike movement in L.A. clearly has the passion and the capacity to make a difference, but it is also somewhat diffuse, more viral (with all those advantages) than structured and organized, more creative and tactical than strategic and focused. There are many communities and groups and individuals who bike (and walk and take the bus) out of necessity and who tend not to be represented in any transportation planning and policy forums, nor to a certain extent within the bike community itself. But interest is there, among both bikers and community groups, to make common cause, a key condition for scaling up the movement and deepening its presence. There is also a growing casual or part time cycling population (whose numbers and reasons for cycling need to be better documented) and an even larger non-cycling but supportive set of individuals and groups who would otherwise get out of their cars if it seemed at all feasible, safe, and compelling.
How to tap into those possibilities and make the next L.A. Bike Summit (if and when it does occur) a more powerful presence and expanded level of participation, is the challenge for everyone who participated this year as well as our own Urban & Environmental Policy Institute staff members who facilitated the event and who were also inspired by the energy and opportunities the Summit provided.
At the end of the Summit, UEPI organizer Joe Linton suggested two specific – and possibly immediate – opportunities. The first involved an L.A. adaptation of Mexico City’s “ciclovia” where each Sunday, Mexico City’s main thoroughfare, the Reforma, is closed for cars and open for bicyclists and pedestrians. As Dhyana Quintanar, Mexico City’s Bicycle Coordinator and another Summit speaker put it, the ciclovia represents a “cultural shift,” creating a symbolic, yet powerful shift in the landscape. With its popularity growing, a supportive Mexico City government, working with community groups, has brought the ciclovia to other neighborhoods as well, building a growing sense that cycling (and streets turned over to pedestrians as well) can become a potent way to re-envision the city and build a constituency of both bike users and advocates. The Los Angeles region has many places – neighborhoods, small cities, key locations – where a ciclovia can become possible but a continuing act and illustration of that crucial “cultural shift”.
The second idea that Joe suggested was a campus-based campaign – at schools across the region – to make many of those largely self-contained places “car free and bike and pedestrian friendly”. Many campuses are in fact ideal locations for that strategy – where the current presence of cars creates a visual and environmental barrier to any claim of sustainability (a new buzzword in higher education circles) and is in fact less convenient, more land grabbing, enormously polluting, and certainly more unhealthy when cars rule the campus hardscape. To make that shift is not a stretch; it’s well within the means – and financial advantage – for campuses to take that step. To do so would, like the ciclovia, make the idea of reinventing – and re-envisioning L.A., the onetime bike capital of the country at the turn of the 20th century, into more of that green city and green region that mayors, public officials, and other policymakers like to claim is their vision but still exists at the margins of what they do, rather than what they say.
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