“Free the Streets” promotes bicycle culture in South LA

imageIn the shady gated courtyard in front of Mercado La Paloma on Grand Avenue, handfuls of low-rider and fixed-gear bicycles plus a booming DJ sound system set the stage for the “Free the Streets” bicycle and community activism event last Saturday, November 5th.

Despite sparse attendance throughout the afternoon, the event — also known as the Cycle Music Arts Festival —included screen-printing demonstrations, freehand graffiti painting on the Mobile Mural Lab truck, live DJs and a Pabst Blue Ribbon-sponsored bar.

imageHalf of the $10 admission fee will help campaigns for safer streets in South L.A. that urge for more bike lanes and green areas, better street crossings and narrower roads. The other half will benefit CicLAvia, a semiannual event that blocks off 7.5 miles of downtown streets to cars and gives bicyclists and pedestrians full reign, and their plan extend the route into South L.A.

“We want to bring Angelenos together and show them each other, show them the city, and make our streets more alive,” CicLAvia board member Joe Linton said. “After the first CicLAvia, we got calls from people from South L.A. saying, ‘Hey, when are you going to come to South L.A.? We love it!’”

After hearing requests from many community groups to bring CicLAvia further south, Linton said he recognized the need for it in the neighborhood.

“There’s a lot of risk of obesity, there’s a lack of park space, there’s a lack of places where communities gather,” he said. “We think CicLAvia can play a role in that.”

imageOrganizers are tentatively planning for the new route, for the next ride on April 15, 2012, to shoot south on Central Avenue from Downtown Los Angeles and head west on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Exposition Park and Leimert Park. In the future, they hope to extend it all the way to Watts Towers. But closing down so many streets to car traffic requires money for the proper permits.

With events like “Free the Streets,” organizers and activists hope to raise the funds for the route extension as well as awareness of South L.A. as a vibrant and bikeable destination.

image“South L.A. gets a really bad rep from media sometimes,” said Andres Ramirez, a Strategic Actions for a Just Economy tenant organizer. “CicLAvia gets people to explore different parts of the city that they wouldn’t normally explore. That’s what we’re envisioning, bringing it to South Central. South L.A. has a lot of history, has a lot of culture, has a lot of people period.”

Ramirez gave Mercado La Paloma as an example: a collective marketplace with gourmet Central and South American restaurants, local artwork on display and a kids’ play area that is a “gem” in the community but largely ignored by the rest of the city.

“Free the Streets” and future CicLAvia routes could introduce more people to independent businesses like the Mercado and an improved view of South L.A.

CicLAvia Returns, This Time Even Longer

Listen to an audio story by Annenberg Radio News

imageCyclists will be taking to the streets on Sunday for CicLAvia, and this time they will have the chance to bike through South L.A. The new route will include Central Avenue, the Fashion District, and Exposition Park.

“There are many ways to describe CicLAvia. But I would say it’s the biggest block party there is….with bicycles.”

That was Eric Elcaras, a volunteer coordinator for CicLAvia. He’s glad to see that participation is not limited to cyclists

“ You probably have skates, rollerblades, probably have a dog you like to walk and now you can do it in a different way ‘cause now you’re going to be walking in the middle of the street. It’s turning the streets into a park. Anything you can do at the park, you can do in the streets now. “

In addition to contributing to the Los Angeles economy, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa believes that the event will highlight the city’s dependency on cars.

“This isn’t just about the economic impact, though we believe there is one. Look, we gotta get out of our single passenger automobile. This city is absolutely addicted to getting in their car and going two blocks to the market. We gotta get out of our car once in a while and we gotta promote that in this town.”

This is the third time CicLAvia will be held in the Los Angeles area. The last CicLAviaheld in April attracted an estimated one hundred thousand participants. The event originated over thirty years ago in Colombia in response to city congestion and pollution.