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LA’s CicLAvia: A Primer of How Bicycling Can Boost Communities and the Economy

Leon Kaye | Monday April 16th, 2012 | 1 Comment

ciclavia, ciclavios, Leon Kaye, Los Angeles, bicycling, economic benefits of bicycling, bike paths, economic development, local economies,Yesterday in Los Angeles was CicLAvia, an event held twice a year during which 10 miles of streets are free of cars, so bicyclists, pedestrians, skaters and baby strollers can take them over. CicLAvia’s inspiration are the ciclovías in Bogotá, Colombia, which started 30 years ago to relieve the city’s congestion and to fight pollution. Ciclovías have since spread across Latin America.

The immediate benefit for the tens of thousands of bicyclists like me were to cruise from the “Hel Mel” neighborhood in central LA through downtown to Boyle Heights in half an hour. Having the street unobstructed by cars gives you a perspective of LA’s architecture and skyline that cannot be viewed from a car or bus. And, of course, a 25-mile bike ride is great for exercise unless you frequent the food trucks that were plunked at CicLAvia “hubs” like City Hall and the historic Pueblo near Union Station. But the five hour event is also a case study of how bicycling can pay off in economic development and build communities.

ciclavia, ciclavios, Leon Kaye, Los Angeles, bicycling, economic benefits of bicycling, bike paths, economic development, local economies,Bicycling can offer an economic punch for a minimal investment. One study, touted by a conservative attorney in Virginia, suggests that bicycling generates at least $133 billion in economic activity. In a chaotic housing market and an era of NIMBYism where few homeowners want to live by a freeway or railway, an adjacent bike path can boost home values. From the upper Midwest in Wisconsin to across the pond in the United Kingdom, bicycling offers a measurable payoff from manufacturing, tourism and of course, from accessories and clothing.

Then there are the intangible economic benefits of bicycling. A more physically fit population means less money is spent on health care costs. Less money spent on gasoline means not only less pollution, but more spent within local economies. When you rent that car and pay for parking on your vacation, the chances are high that your money is going off to some corporate headquarters far away from the location you are visiting. But renting a bike at a local business means that they money you dish out will have more of a multiplying effect and be spent again and again within that community.

ciclavia, ciclavios, Leon Kaye, Los Angeles, bicycling, economic benefits of bicycling, bike paths, economic development, local economies,Clearly the reality is not that we can all just ditch our cars and get by on a bicycle. But even an incremental increase in bicycle usage can start paying dividends. Thankfully we are moving in that direction with the early stages of an interstate bicycle highway system in the works. The road towards more bicycling is on a bumpy path, however, with Congress threatening to eliminate funding for “frivolous” bike paths.

Pros and cons over bicycling’s future aside,  I saw an immediate impact today in Los Angeles.  Businesses that were usually closed stayed open. Others moved in along the route for the day with booths and tents pitching their products and services, and many of them were mobbed. Local entrepreneurs selling baked goods and large companies like REI and Coca-Cola had a presence. Areas of town that are usually dead on a Sunday afternoon were thriving. But obviously not all businesses were catching on, such as what I caught on Twitter as I stopped for a water break:

Why are the two bike shops in downtown closed on #CicLAvia#jerks 

Leon Kaye, based in California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business. You can follow him on Twitter.

Photos courtesy Leon Kaye.


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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ligon-Webb/678318439 Ligon Webb

    I am in Los Angeles for the American Planning Association’s annual conference – being held at the downtown convention center. Unfortunately, (as far as I am aware) the only promotion of the CicLAVia by the APA was a small informational sheet placed in our registration packets (good). However, there appeared to be no further coordination or mention of the event at the conference…again, considering how important, and often discussed, bicycling and walking is amoung city, town and regional planners it’s too bad a “block” of rental bikes were not provided to conference attendees…

    Regardless, when I woke up early Sunday morning, and walked outside my hotel room located near MaArthur Park, I was amazed to see the number of bikers “taking over” the streets in one of the most notorious “car centric” cities in America…as an avid bike rider, the thought of not participating in such an event was almost too much to bear…through persistence (and general annoyance) I somehow  was able to find a free rental bike from one of the biking organizations set-up in MacArthur Park..I was very thankful, because most the the bikes had been reserved for weeks in advance…

    As for the 10 mile ride: I’d like to think that I’ve been to a few places, and experienced a few things (here and there) in my life…however, the CicLAVia ride was one of the most amazing recreational, social and cultural experiences I’ve ever had! The various park “hub” areas were amazing, and I enjoyed the diversity and range of folks in attendance. I took my time, enjoyed street vendor food, and purchased some gifts from street vendors for family back home…To me, the one common theme was the politeness and simple joy (as observed in the thousand of ubiquitous smiling faces) that exuded from the riders…again, a big “thumps up” to the event organizers and the city of Los Angeles…

    Unfortunatley, in order to attend the CirLaVia, I had to miss an afternoon conference session entitled “Community Bikeability Tools”…very ironic. My plan now, is to take CicLaVIA back east with me in order let other know about this wonderful event!