Since 2010 CicLAvia’s mission has been to catalyze vibrant public spaces, active transportation, and good health through car-free streets. Now, as the organization celebrates its 10th anniversary and cities around the world are working to ensure that streets currently emptied of traffic and congestion remain that way post-pandemic, TPR spoke with CicLAvia Executive Director Romel Pascual. He shares how 10 years of CicLAvia’s public open-space celebrations have offered the residents of LA County opportunities for rediscovery of their own communities. Pascual reflects on the importance of building Angeleno’s confidence in using their streets, the responsibility of drivers to share the road safely, as well his hope that CicLAvia can bring people joy and together again once shelter-in-place is lifted.
“It’s always been CicLAvia’s mission to have people reimagine what their streets could and should look like.”—Romel Pascual
TPR: Romel, our interview occurs on the 10th anniversary of CicLAvia and amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, when people are sheltered-in-place. Streets around the world are emptied of motoring and traffic congestion, and some cities are working to ensure the ‘new-normal’ will include far fewer cars on the streets. What’s your message, now, during this pandemic, as CicLAvia celebrates its 10th anniversary?
Romel Pascual: The message is behavior change. Inherently, it’s always been CicLAvia’s mission to have people reimagine what their streets could and should look like, even pre-pandemic. Over the last nearly 10 years, we’ve gone through more than 60 of the 120 communities that make up Los Angeles, and it’s clear that a couple of things happened.
People discovered in new ways their own communities, and communities they’ve only heard about but hadn’t visited. I think over time what we’ve been trying to emphasize was how CicLAvia shaped your thinking.
Having done 35 of these CicLAvia events, it’s all about the ability for folks to use the streets right in front of their door. Before, the first inclination was to jump into a car and go somewhere, now, with the shelter-in-place mandate, folks’ default isn’t to jump in the car. That was what we were hoping—that the default would change by just showing that the streets can be used in a very joyful way.
Even when I bike, ride, or walk in my neighborhood of Eagle Rock, I’m noticing a lot more people because there are fewer cars. If you’ve been to CicLAvia, there are certain fun memories that get triggered about the use of streets, and people are using them now.
TPR: In a TPR interview with CicLAvia founder Aaron Paley, more than 10 years ago, he said, “In many ways our success has made it a little difficult for me to get the message across that it’s not just about bicycles. Seeing 100,000 people on television and in pictures on bicycles at CicLAvia is a wonderful thing, but I can say that I really see this as a public space event more than anything else.”
RP: Yes, it is about public space, but over the years it’s become about being ‘one’ people-centric community. The physical space of a street—if you take the acreage of the streets we’ve been on—is bigger than any of the enormous parks we’re all familiar with. What we do with the public space is allow folks the confidence to use it. By doing that, it shapes their ability to use it more than just on a Sunday.
In the early days CicLAvia was, “Did you know we had these streets?” or “Did you know that Wilshire Blvd had this certain type of architecture?” When you’re in a car, your whole mindset is to go from Point A to Point B, and not anything in between.
By allowing people to see what’s in between, it really opens folks up to different experiences, and we’re not talking about any one kind of experience. I think the beauty of it is allowing folks to just do what they feel comfortable doing. You realize that there’s a certain level of equity associated with what we do, because it doesn’t matter what income level you are, what part of the city or region you’re from, or what shoes you’re wearing. What matters is that everyone is experiencing that one thing in real time and having the same set of feelings about it.
You don’t start with “where are you going?” at a CicLAvia; you just say “I’m here.” Nothing really has changed over the years. Especially now with the pandemic, people are rediscovering their neighborhoods.
Recount, given this is CicLAvia’s 10th anniversary, some of the events and distinct neighborhoods that have been featured over the decade.
We’ve had 35 of those events, the first one being in the Heart of LA in 2010 with a 7-mile route. In those 7 miles, you’ve gone through MacArthur Park, Westlake, Pico/Union, Little Tokyo, Chinatown, Downtown, Arts District, and Boyle Heights. You realize that there are dozens of neighborhoods that you experience in a very short distance.
Over time, we’ve really diversified where we’ve been because the City of LA is over 500 square miles with more than 100 distinct neighborhoods. We’ve gone as far south as San Pedro/Wilmington and as far north as San Fernando Valley. Regionwide, the furthest east we’ve been is Claremont. The neighborhoods that we’ve been to are places that I think folks have only heard about. Certainly, in South LA and Watts, people have been very open to doing CicLAvia—the community has been tremendous—but folks realized that the local gems in the neighborhoods are not the ones we normally know about.
We did Hollywood Blvd to West Hollywood. Hollywood Blvd is very iconic, but folks didn’t realize that when we did West Hollywood—on Santa Monica and Highland—we had to translate all of our materials into 5 different languages. You begin to appreciate the diversity of Los Angeles just by virtue of how we do outreach. Some folks didn’t realize there was a Little Armenia or a Thai Town, we just pass by those blue signs.
For the complete interview, go to //www.planningreport.com/2020/05/19/romel-pascual-ciclavia-s-10-years-reimagining-public-streets
The Planning Report