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Los Angeles hosts a 10-mile-long block party

Eve Troeh Apr 16, 2012

Sarah Gardner: Say the name “Los Angeles” and what comes to mind? I’m betting freeways, traffic, sprawl. Well, an event yesterday aimed to put a dent in L.A.’s car-crazy reputation. CicLAvia brought out more than 100,000 people on bikes and their own two feet to explore 10 miles of Los Angeles streets. Now, closing off streets to cars, that doesn’t sound like an economic strategy. But as Marketplace’s Eve Troeh reports, there is some value in changing how people see a city.

Eve Troeh: CicLAvia is a 10-mile block party. Families meander along on their bikes. Packs of 20-somethings look giddy, like they’re doing something forbidden: playing in the street. Closing the streets to cars gets people to linger where they’d usually speed past. Street vendors call out, hidden by clouds of barbecue smoke. They line a strip of closed warehouses, ladeling salsa, and chopping meat for tacos.

Troeh: Que tipo de comida?

Vendor: Carnitas mexicanas.

They’re not here just for the cyclists. This block is a street food mecca every weekend.

Vendor: Sabado y Domingo.

Gustavo Muniz, a lifelong Angeleno, had no idea.

Gustavo Muniz: I’m eating tacos al barbacoa with cilantro and green chile.

He says CicLAvia does more than boost these vendors.

Muniz: It helps people experience another part of the city, and it builds a trust within communities.

The police overtime, rerouted traffic and clean-up crews for CicLAvia don’t come cheap. But the event breathes new life into parts of the city. In the shadow of empty office towers, cafes are packed, bikes parked three or four deep in front.

Kabir Akhtar: Downtown on the weekends it typically a ghost town.

Kabir Akhtar, a television director, came with friends.

Akhtar: I’ve seen a lot of people looking up and around like they’ve never been here before.

Mike Lydon: I’m very, actually surprised by the number of people I’m seeing on the streets.

Mike Lydon is visiting from New York. Along with a few thousand other urban planners, he’s in L.A. for a conference. Lydon says says car-free events like CicLAvia are growing fast. About 70 cities now have them.

Lydon: You know, streets are very flexible and they can be used differently on the weekends than they are during the week. And this is one great example of that.

And weekends are good for getting people try new things, like taking the subway or riding a bike. David Sloane edited the new book “Planning Los Angeles.” He says “bikes versus cars” is not the way to think about transportation.

David Sloane: We can’t rely as much as we do on cars. But we’re not going to suddenly wake up one day and have the cars gone. So we have to figure out how do we develop better built environments for the multiple ways to get around.

Bikes can be one way to explore a neighborhood after you’ve parked your car, he says, or part of a daily commute. That’s the idea behind a city bike share program announced at CicLAvia — 400 bicycle rental stations will soon dot Los Angeles. That’ll help some neighborhoods with foot traffic. But not every business benefits.

Eric Berg: Hi. I’m Eric Berg, and we’re at Early California Antiques.

People drive from around the state to his shop. But with the street closed for CicLAvia, they won’t come.

Troeh: Most of this stuff, pretty much all of it, it too big to take with you if you’re on a bicycle.

Berg: Well, I do see some people have children in little carts. We could kick the kids out and put something…

Troeh: This lovely vase instead?

Berg: Yes, you can put this vase in there instead. Well, maybe the child could fit in there with it.

CicLAvia does add new names to his mailing list. Maybe the cyclists will come back another time —  in their cars.

In Los Angeles, I’m Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

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