CicLAvia and Festival of Books

Well, I’m exhausted, and so am certainly not going to give you a full report on everything right now. I hope to do another post with my usual time-lapse video of the ride some time later (but soon). They are uploading from my camera right now. All I will give you right now is a shot of the crowds at a typical stop along the route. Also, I will say a few words that will probably get me into trouble.

cicLAvia_April_2013_crowd_a

The bottom line is that I remain a huge supporter of cicLAvia, and the idea that it is planting in everyone’s minds – getting out of your cars and cycling. This is especially important for a city like LA. And it is not just for all the environmental reasons, to do with energy use, air quality, and so forth. I can go on about those but I won’t. See earlier posts for that sort of thing. It is also because many people get to properly see their city in these events, which is really important. You can’t see it from a car – and I don’t just mean all the buildings and wonderful hidden gems I sometimes talk about, but I mean the other people who live in the city with you. That’s a big deal, and an important one for when it comes to how we all work and live together. I’m also very excited that the organizers tried this cross-city route, linking East and West, getting West side based people involved in the fun. And overall I enjoyed today a lot… I love the event and will keep coming and keep supporting it.

But.

But. Yeah, I’m going to say something negative, but only in the spirit of support for the effort. I also know how annoying it is to hear someone make remarks about an event’s organization when you’re an organizer who has done the actual hard work of organizing and maybe did the best you could with difficult choices to make… So sorry about that. Anyway, here goes:

But.. there were far more people than the event could really support, in both space and time:

Space-wise because there’s just not enough space if only half of Venice boulevard is used for the event, and certainly not if so very many of the major cross streets were running their usual traffic light cycle – this produced huge tailbacks of vast amounts of cyclists who then had to crawl slowly through the junction more often than not, pushing their bikes instead of riding them. I worry that this will discourage a lot of people from coming back – the spirit of the event that people seem to talk about most (form previous events) is that freedom from traffic jams, the freedom to fly free on your bike in no traffic. Well, that lovely picture I have at the top is great to see in terms of the amount of good will and participation… but it is actually mostly a picture of a huge traffic jam. (Click to view it larger and see the wonderful crowd going off to the horizon, and note that it is not the fun jam of the start, or the party at the end, but a fairly typical stop along the way.) There needs to be either fewer stops negotiated with the city, or allow more of them to skip several light cycles to let the cyclists not build up so much that they effectively cannot ride. Jams like this can happen a few times and be sort of novel and even fun (as in previous events) but they need to be the exception rather than the rule. Today it was the other way around.

Time-wise because there’s no way that people are going to be able to get from Downtown to Venice and back between 10:00am (when the event kicks off) and 3:00pm (when the streets go back to normal) if things are so congested. It took us (I cycled with a friend and colleague, Krzysztof who also has a Brompton) from 10:30am to about 1:30pm to get to Venice. Maybe longer. This was due to the aforementioned congestion caused by not enough room and too many car-traffic-priority stops. So a lot of people ended up on the wrong side of town at 3:00pm. For many of us, that’s fine as we cycle in the city all the time, but for the inexperienced cyclists this event is (in part) designed to attract, that’s not ideal. Could it start earlier in the day, or go later in the day, maybe by about 2 hours? (I know that not everyone wants to do the whole route and back, and some people only plan to do small chunks local to them, but actually many hope to do the whole thing and really go outside their local area and explore. It is really hard to do in the time given at the speed the congestion allows.)

I got back East by avoiding the congested cicLAvia route altogether on the return and using some of the splendid other routes (like the Ballona Creek bikeway – thanks Krzysztof!) to navigate back to Culver City and then jumped on the Expo line to get back to USC to see some things at the LA Times Festival of Books. And as I said in my previous post: Why are these two splendid events overlapping? That seems odd to me. Given that they were overlapping, the opportunity for the two events to have had some major connectivity was lost, I’d say, by not having some signage of some sort at the point where cyclists could have veered off down to USC at the closest point of the ride, after it came off Alvarado on to Hoover before going along Venice. The bike paths leading from there the relatively short way down Hoover to USC could have been a pleasant way to pop down to the Festival of Books, if more people knew about it… Seems like a missed opportunity. Oh well. Maybe next year. (I mentioned that Aaron Payley had said to me that they clashed with the Festival of Books because they wanted to help bring cyclists to it. I guess he was joking after all?)

Anyway, I will stop here by saying that I am sure that the cicLAvia organizers had a hard enough time negotiating what they were able to get for today’s event, so I am grateful that they got what they got. I also know that they are probably looking to learn from the event to make future ones even better. So this is why I am writing this… to point out things that I observed, and to note that while people were having fun, there was a lot of remarking about how congested things were, and how many people trying it for the first time might not return. I hope they do. I hope some of these things get fixed, and I hope that they are announced as being fixed as the publicity for the next event builds up again so that those people will come again. They certainly won’t come again if it means trading one kind of traffic jam for another one.

(I will try to have a little about the Festival of Books tomorrow. And the time-lapse video too.) [Update: Time lapse video here.]

-cvj

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25 Responses to CicLAvia and Festival of Books

  1. Will Campbell says:

    I’m with you, Clifford. My plan had been to combine CicLAvia as part of a commute by pedaling the entire route and then heading to Hawthorne for a 1 p.m. appointment. I got on the route later than I wanted, at about 10:45 a.m., and it took me more than an hour to get from downtown to Venice and Arlington (and it would’ve been longer if I hadn’t bypassed the massive crush jam at 7th and Figueroa). At the mandatory dismount zone on Hoover I got the sense I wasn’t going to make it to Venice, and by Arlington I knew my CicLAvia was over and thus bailed off the route and headed to my destination.

    I’m sad to say that it was almost a relief to find myself pedaling on streets that were car-full and bike-free.

    My hope ia that in the wake of the “success” of this CicLAvia in terms of the sheer number of participants, city officilas will realize that future routes need to be operated in full-closure mode like the LA Marathon.

  2. keith says:

    Wow, who knew is my best guess. I left early heading to Venice & it was a super easy commute all the way. Ideally it would be great if it were a longer event. I met cyclists from San Francisco who were here just for the event & when I reminded them its over at 3pm the wait for our tacos was ticking away.

    The return ride there were amazing traffic jams but was a great way to meet & chat with other cyclists often times we talked about how great it would to have these kind of cycling days more often.

    Someone else mentioned too bad that the event wasn’t tied into the Festival of Books & Free admission day at the Science Center which they cycled to instead of going to Venice.

    Yep these are merely suggestions as going forward I know they want to make improvements. Mayoral candidate Garcetti, on the stump in Venice, assured us there would be MONTHLY Cyclavias if he’s elected. (hmm, well we all know about those kinda promises, perhaps he would do it)

  3. Nicole Gustas says:

    I found it interesting reading your take. My first CicLAvia was the one this past fall. I had to walk my bike through most of Downtown because traffic was so bad. It shows just how different our experiences were because the big buzz among my cycling group was “Wow! There is SO much less traffic here than there was at the last one!” Yes, there were a couple of cross-the-light traffic jams in Culver, at Sawtelle and one really tough one at Lincoln, but at least they were separated by more than a few hundred feet (unlike the terrible blocks-long traffic jam on 7th last year).

    It may have helped that we left early. We left downtown at 10am, took a break at a friend’s around Fairfax on the way, and were at the beach by about noon.

    We did notice on the way back that there seemed to be a lot of traffic around Culver. It makes sense, as that’s an area that is population-dense and is traffic-jammed with cars on a weekend. Having both sides of Venice open would have been great there, but once you got to the other side of the 10 it never seemed to be so crowded that it was necessary (until Venice narrowed) we crossed traffic again near Fairfax on our way back with no problem.

    One thing I saw that was a hitch was that all but one of the hubs were positioned on the north side of Venice. This meant people heading toward the beach could easily access them, but people heading away from the beach caused a traffic jam trying to get to them. (The Palms hub was probably the worst for this.) It would be great if they could be more evenly distributed.

  4. David Garza says:

    Agree with the comments. I was glad to see so many people participating, and the city workers and volunteers were abundant, but when you have joggers going faster than the bikes because of the congestion, it’s apparent the event’s a victim of its own success. The the route from downtown to the beach is very appealing, but if it takes 6 hours to get there and back, that’s out of the question for everyone except the truly hardcore.

  5. Calwatch says:

    My main concern is that Ciclavia is too long and showed the worst of the “bicycle freeway” complaints along the straightaways that I complain about, yet in some sections like through Culver City there were too many crossings. Since the hard core cyclists and folks that want to beat the heat bike in the morning, I’d extend it two or three hours in the AM direction. There is little traffic that would be affected and the road cyclists can get their head start.

    One issue with this Ciclavia is that there were a markedly reduced number of walkers. In past events you’d have some power walkers in the street and quite a few people strolling either on the street or in the sidewalk. Much less of that, perhaps of the length. A few more skateboarders and rollerbladers but just a lot of bikes. The Expo Line is also not a high capacity bicycle carrier, unlike the subway. So there were long backups on that end.

    Also there was a disregard of a lot of folks who cut on the left, on the other side of the cones, to jump the line. They get in the way of oncoming traffic and this is unsafe. It’s fine if you want to ride on the left to bypass traffic and get a jump start in the light but many people bypassed the queue and found themselves facing heavy bike traffic coming towards them. Fortunately there were no major issues I saw. The cyclists seemed to respect LAPD more than the poor volunteers yelling, but at the key locations there needs to be cops issuing tickets for bicyclists that jump the line on the other side of the cones.

    I think the mandatory dismount zones were a plus to force people to slow coming down the hill. Perhaps a compromise of dismount zones at the hubs and fewer road crossings… Every mile or two instead of almost every half mile (with designated pedestrian crossings spaced in between them) would be better. A lot of folks chose to ride eastbound on Venice in car traffic just to avoid the crush.

  6. jenn says:

    It was a fun day, but there were very long stretches where it was easier to walk my bike than try to pedal. Many intersections took four or more cycles to clear. Tres crazy. Maybe if Ciclavia does become a monthly event it will become less of a huge draw, and more civilized, less frenzied. When I pedaling along with my dog on nearly empty streets downtown, it was amazing.

  7. I agree the scheduling needs to be tweaked. I made the mistake of trying to get back to Downtown from USC after the end of the event and every car in the Exposition train was filled with bikes that prevented anyone else from getting in after the Culver City stop even though there were the many empty seats behind all the jammed in bikes.

  8. Bill says:

    There needs to be a major education campaign about maintaining proper – and safe – bike traffic flow.

    Slower traffic made no effort to keep to the right, and was spread out across the full breadth of the streets. Small children were pedaling along on tricycles, weaving about on the left side of the left lane. Parents were crawling along in the left lane with their bike / baby carriage combos. Constantly.

    It wasn’t just inconvenient to those who wanted / were able to move a bit quicker, but downright dangerous.

  9. Calwatch says:

    Bill, this is part of the inherent tension between bicycle freeway vs linear park that I refer to. People with their jerseys and road bikes zooming down hills at 25 mph when they see an open stretch if road are an issue. In the first Ciclavia you had people chalking and playing dodgeball in the middle of the street. That has not happened ever since. While a wider area (ie both sides of Venice) would help reduce the chokepoint feeling, it also unfortunately will increase speeds and make it more difficult for cross traffic. In business districts you almost need to enforce a walk your bike rule like the beach bike path near the pier, for the safety of slower traffic and pedestrians who have nothing to do with the event, but the veteran cyclists will chafe at these restrictions. If you want to do a training ride, go up the Amgen route before they let the racers through. Ciclavia is for everyone not in a car or truck.

  10. Bill says:

    Calwatch,

    I’m not advocating a dramatic increase in speeds, or anything approaching a training ride, but there has to be some effort to make better use of the roadway space available and ensure that people aren’t put in a postion where other riders are threatening to crash into them due to a lack of situational awareness. CicLAvia’s organizers put up signs encouraging slower riders to keep right, but they were largely ignored.

    I averaged about 8 mph. I would have been quite happy with 10. Random weaving and walls of riders blocking entire lanes at extremely low speeds created bottlenecks and more importantly, collision hazards even for riders traveling at a very modest pace.

  11. David says:

    I live in Venice, and this was my first CicLAVia. I ride down Venice Blvd. to mid-town or downtown once or twice a week, and it was fantastic to be on the same road without having to be on high alert the whole time. I don’t know what the turnout has been before, but I think the organizers must have been overwhelmed by the turnout. Clearly, Venice Blvd needs to open on both sides the entire way.

    But I have to think the crosstown traffic might not have been a bad thing. Yes, there were phenomenal traffic jams, but it also slowed everyone down. At every light my son and I talked to people and had a chance to look at everybody’s bike. On the long stretches, there were too many people bombing down the center both ways and became dangerous.

    We had no intention of going the whole way — my son isn’t that strong of a cyclist yet — and maybe too many people set off on a 30 mile roundtrip jaunt without really understanding how long and hard it can be. But what was great about CicLAvia was that you didn’t have to go anywhere. The hubs were fun, the shops that had music or food were great, and even though we had to get off the route on the way home, I really hope that this is just a beginning. Next year this could be even better, but of course work needs to be done.

  12. Hey, I walked, and had every intention of walking the whole 15.8 miles! However, it was way too hot, there was not enough shade on the route, and by mile 9 I realized I’d better bring my participation to a close if I wanted to not pass out.

    I never got anywhere near Culver City, but I suppose it would be predictable that this would be the area everyone would congregate at. Trendy neighborhood and all that.

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