On a roll with CicLAvia

In late April, some 200,000 people on foot and on cycles — most with two wheels, some with three or four and even one jerry-rigged to be two stories high — swarmed Venice Boulevard, clogging the roadway from downtown Los Angeles to the beach. They came from throughout the city, and they shared the road with grace, even under worse-than-rush-hour conditions. In its seventh incarnation, CicLAvia has truly come of age, its popularity reaching a level that defied even the highest of expectations.  

And so, it will happen again this Sunday, June 23, when the next CicLAvia takes place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., on a stretch of Wilshire Boulevard closed to cars to allow for pedestrians and cyclists to appreciate the shops, vendors and scenery of Los Angeles. Dubbed “Iconic Wilshire Boulevard,” the route will run from One Wilshire, at Wilshire and Grand Avenue downtown, to Fairfax, passing through Koreatown and MacArthur Park. Visitors interested in the history of the boulevard as they pass by can use a guide prepared by Catherine Gudis, an associate history professor at UC Riverside, which be available for free at the various “hubs” along the route. They can also download free podcasts by Edward Lifson, a senior lecturer at the USC School of Architecture, from ciclavia.org. Pedestrian areas at the beginning and end of the route will offer food trucks and activities sponsored by community partners and museums.

CicLAvia is modeled after a similar festival, Ciclovia, in Bogota, Colombia; both are intended to address the problems of traffic congestion and pollution that make it difficult for citizens to fully enjoy their home cities. In the spirit of promoting public space, participation in CicLAvia is free.

At least 100,000 people are expected to attend this weekend’s event, and Aaron Paley, executive director of CicLAvia, says he no longer worries about attracting a minimum number of people to the event, as it is the “largest event of its kind in terms of numbers in the U.S. and Canada.” He did not realize upon starting the project just how great the demand would be. CicLAvia’s success has allowed him to schedule two just two months apart, and he currently is working to make CicLAvia a monthly event, with new locations for in such places as Claremont, West Los Angeles, and the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys.

“Iconic Wilshire Boulevard” will cost $400,000 to $500,000. According to its Web site, ciclavia.org, the nonprofit organization CicLAvia provides 40 percent of the resources for the event through donations from individuals, grants and corporate sponsorships. The city covers the rest of the cost, including such services as police, fire, traffic regulation and sanitation. 

Paley has devoted much of his life to creating and utilizing public space. He is the founder of Yiddishkayt, an organization that attempts to infuse modern life in Los Angeles with Yiddish culture, both to enrich Jewish life in L.A. and to keep Yiddish alive outside of academia. He is also the president of Community Arts Resources, which uses marketing expertise, a database and other outreach methods to assist cultural and arts organizations in attracting a greater number of people to events and festivals. 

“For me … what they have in common is how we as people deal with this city, and how we as Angelenos treat each other and think about each other. Those values are all based on how I was raised as a secular, left-wing, Yiddish-ist Jew in L.A.,” Paley said. “I was raised with a very strong sense of social engagement and a very strong sense that it is important to understand ourselves as Jews within the context of the society we live in.”

This time, he is especially excited for people to experience “the absolute beauty” of Wilshire Boulevard, which he calls “the spine of the city.” And he points to the Jewish architecture along the route, including the iconic Wilshire Boulevard Temple and the Dunes Inn, the latter designed by Jewish architect Sam Reisbord. 

“A great Jewish outing in Los Angeles is to enjoy your city and your neighbors and to fall in love with this city all over again,” Paley said.

For more information on the upcoming CicLAvia, visit www.ciclavia.org.