Nobody Drives in LA — Los Angeles’s Open Streets

For decades since the introduction of the automobile to Los Angeles, the trend was to accommodate them more and more. Sidewalks were shaved away to all for more cars. Beautiful historic buildings were leveled and replace with surface parking lots. Interstate freeways were allowed not just to connect states but to slice through working class neighborhoods — and then widened and widened and widened — even though all evidence showed that doing so makes traffic worse. In the process, streets came to be seen less and less as public assets but as places to move and store private automobiles.

StreetFilms’s short about Bogotá’s Ciclovía

Streets are our biggest public asset, though, occupying 15% of the city of Los Angeles’s area — more than parks, which occupy 13% of the same area. While a handful of streets have been reclaimed from cars, for the most part, the trend has been in the other direction. Since 2003, however, Metro Los Angeles has hosted a growing number of open streets events — events in which cars and other motorized vehicles are temporarily banished from particular streets, allowing them, usually for a few hours, to be safe spaces for people to cycle, jog, play, scoot, skate, walk, breathe, and relax. In September 2013, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) adopted an open streets grant program that set aside $2 million dollars for open streets events. The pot has grown since then.

No longer novelties, open streets events are today an integral part of Los Angeles Culture and on this coming Sunday, there will be another CicLAvia in South Los Angeles‘s Westside along iconic Western Avenue between Exposition Boulevard and Florence Avenue, providing a unique opportunity to experience the neighborhoods of Canterbury Knolls, Chesterfield Square, Jefferson Park, King Estates, Little Belize (Lee Beliz), Manchester Square, Morningside Circle, and University Exposition Park West. If you’ve somehow never participated in an open streets event, what are you waiting for?

Here’s my look at the open streets past and present. If I’ve missed any, please let me know. And the map of open streets routes (in dark red) is a work in progress. Trying to translate the low res cartoon-ish maps from event websites onto a digital map takes time. If you want to help out, let me know and I’ll tell you how you can help out. Thanks.


ARROYO FEST (2003 and 2009)

ArroyoFest, 2003 (Image source: Amanda)

The first ArroyoFest took place on 18 June 2003. It was probably Los Angeles’s first open streets event. That Sunday, a stretch of the Arroyo Seco Parkway was closed to cars from 7:00 – 10:00. An estimated 3,000 cyclists poured onto the parkway first. Another 2,000 or so pedestrians were admitted at 8:45 to enjoy the a car-free six-mile stretch of parkway.

The California Cycleway

The idea came to bicycling advocate Dennis Crowley around 1993. It was also organized by William Deverell, Robert Gottlieb, and Marcus Renner. The route was significant to the history of the bicycle in the region as it took place along the planned route of the California Cycleway, which was to have been a bicycle tollway between Downtown Pasadena and Downtown Los Angeles. The California Cycleway Company‘s right-of-way was acquired from Pasadena to Avenue 54 in Highland Park. When the California Cycleway opened in 1900, however, it only stretched from Pasadena to South Pasadena. It was abandoned and scrapped a few years later. In 1940, much of the old right-of-way re-opened as the Arroyo Seco Parkway.

ArroyoFest was scheduled to return on 15 November 2020 but was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID also led to the cancellation or postponement of Downey‘s planned Downey Ride & Stride.


CICLAVIA (2010-present)

CicLAvia is the best-known and most prodigious of Los Angeles’s open streets events. CicLAvia (a play on La Ciclovía Bogotana) was founded in 2008. It was a project of Community Arts Resources, an organization co-founded by Aaron Paley and Katie Bergin. The first CicLAvia took place on 10 October 2010 and more than 100,000 participants are estimated to have shown up, including me. Since then, it has taken place every two months.

CicLAvia No. 5, in 2012

SOMOS (2014 and 2015)/DTSA 5K RUN & CICLOVIA (2016)

Santa Ana‘s inaugural SOMOS (Sunday on Main Open Streets) took place on 5 October 2014. I was invited by someone in city hall to preview the route, back when I was writing for KCET. More than 7,000 people attended. In 2017, the city changed the route and name to the DTSA 5K Run & Ciclovia. The 5K Run ended at 10:00 and then it transitioned to a Ciclovia. It was, by some accounts, much less successful and seems to have been Santa Ana’s last open streets event.


RE:IMAGINE GARDEN GROVE (2014-present)

The first Re:Imagine Garden Grove Open Streets event took place on 12 October 2014. I was invited, along with other members of the press, to preview the route on a tour hosted by Aaron Paley. Someone told me that it was to have been Orange County‘s first open streets event but that Santa Ana had swooped in at the last minute to steal their thunder. SOMOS is NOMAS, though, and Garden Grove is still hosting open streets events regularly. An estimated 35,000 people showed up at the last one, on 2 April.


BEACH STREETS (2015)

Bike-friendly Long Beach hosted its first Beach Streets on 6 June 2015. It has taken place regularly since then.


COAST (2016-present)

Considering how bicycle-friendly Santa Monica is, its somewhat surprising that they didn’t host an open streets event until 2016. Efforts for Santa Monica to host its own regular open streets event began in earnest in 2010 but it took CARS to launch COAST. At the first one, an estimated 50,000 people took part to enjoy two miles of car-free streets.


VIVA! SAN GABRIEL VALLEY OPEN STREETS (2016)

Viva! San Gabriel Valley Open Streets took place on 12 June 2016 in El Monte and South El Monte, the two cities which made the event happen.


626 GOLDEN STREETS (2017)

626 Golden Streets is a recurring open streets event put on by ActiveSGV. ActiveSGV began around 2010 life as the BikeSGV Facebook page created by Vincent Chang, then a Monterey Park Environmental Commissioner and president of the Greater Monterey Park Chamber of Commerce.


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Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, essayist, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LAAmoeblogBoom: A Journal of CaliforniadiaCRITICSHidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft ContemporaryForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store, the book SidewalkingSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery.
Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles TimesVICEHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistCurbedLAEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture.
Brightwell has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA?, at Emerson Collegeand the University of Southern California.
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles.

You can follow him on AmebaDuolingoFacebookGoodreadsInstagram, Mastodon, Medium, Mubithe StoryGraphand Twitter.

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