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Possibly the biggest bike event in California, CicLAvia began as another pipe dream put on the table by a couple of visionary cyclists who had been inspired by the day-long open streets festival Ciclovia in Bogota, Colombia. Even fellow bike activists, including current CicLAvia organizer Joe Linton, initially scoffed at the proposal.

“‘This worked in New York, but L.A.’s different and it won’t work here,’” Linton recalls the words of skeptics. While the idea had been pushed for a few years, it wasn’t until Mayor Villarigosa witnessed a similar event in Mexico City that anyone at the city level began listening. “Even up to the week before 10.10.10, before the first one, there was a lot of skepticism. The police and other city staff were saying that it wouldn’t work. And then after the first one they pretty much apologized to us.”

By the L.A. Times accounts, nearly 100,000 people turned out for the first event, which has become a semi-annual event in the spring and fall, and grown to encompass 10 miles of streets across East L.A., Downtown and into Mid-City. Attendance has grown each time since.

“The first one was just so magic,” Linton recalls. “I don’t think it’s about bikes. I think it’s about the city and about people seeing each other at the same level, looking each other in the eyes, smiling.” And in a place where cars are pretty much second homes, that eye-to-eye exchange can be rare. What’s more, seeing the streets as more than motor speedways can be a strange new perspective. “I think there’s a lot of preconceptions that when you get a bunch of bikes out it’s a race,” Linton notes, “It’s difficult to get that person who’s at home and a little worried to actually try a new bike lane. A lot of the stuff that we push for makes things safer and makes it easier to bike for people who are willing to bike, but I think CicLAvia reaches a different kind of person who’s really worried about interacting with cars. I don’t think other events or bike paths or anything reach that same audience.”

Ten miles of L.A. streets will be cleared of cars for another day on April 15.

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