Not So Far From Home

April 18, 2010 at 1:26 pm Leave a comment

A street vendor in the historic center of Guadalajara

Last month, Aaron, Stephen and I went down to Guadalajara to experience the Vía RecreActiva. (See Stephen’s previous post).

After a short three hour flight, we descended over the mountains and landed in a sprawling, arid urban area that was warm and sunny in early March.

It was unlike traveling to New York or Houston or any of the other cities that I’ve flown into recently, where the interstitial experience of the airplane gives way to some kind of notable transition in location. I got of the plane and felt uncannily at home for having just arrived in a foreign country. People walked through the airport, conversing in English and Spanish; we drove to our hotel and observed the eclectic signage and advertisements on the streets along the way; we went to dinner and enjoyed some excellent tortas and pazole, which was pretty similar to what I’d had for lunch in East LA the day before. (Ok, way better, but still similar).

That was the thing that struck me the most about the whole trip: the similarity between Guadalajara and Los Angeles. Don’t get me wrong, of course there are a lot of differences, but I think it’s a worthy comparison. Guadalajara is culturally and geographically more similar to LA than any other city in the United States, and it’s because of this that I think the Vía RecreActiva can be a better model for how Los Angeles can have a successful regular ciclovía.

For one, I think we can partially thank the year round sunny weather in Guadalajara for the Vía RecreActiva’s success, and we should look to our temparate climate as another reason to make CicLAvia a year round weekly event.

But, more importantly, the urban structure of Guadalajara is strikingly similar to that of Los Angeles, and the way the Vía RecreActiva connects many diverse urban areas can be a model for us.

The metropolitan area of Guadalajara, like LA, consists of several adjacent municipalities: (Gudalajara, Zapopan and Tlaquepaque are the major ones), and each municipality has it’s own separate Vía RecreActiva route. The entire Vía RecreActiva is really more of a collaboration between the cities. The routes are interconnected and the cities work together to make the ciclovía a success every week. Although each municipality has its own identity for its segment of the Vía RecreActiva (from separate logos and maps, to separate uniforms for the traffic controllers on the route), the routes in the separate municipalities work together seamlessly, from the informational materials to the coordination along the route.

Similarly, one of the best things about LA is that it’s not just one city, but many characteristically different (yet equally awesome) cities all right next to each other. We should envision a time when CicLAvia will connect, not just different parts of central Los Angeles, but many different cities around all of LA County, from Santa Monica to Alhambra.

One of the most notable things to me about the route we took on the Vía RecreActiva was the socioeconomic diversity of the neighborhoods we rode through: both the wealthiest and poorest areas. In cities like Guadalajara and Bogotá that have had regular weekly ciclovías for several years, it’s been noted that the event has done a lot to bring down class barriers and alleviate tension within the community, by bringing people from these separate neighborhoods together on the route.

Imagine a CicLAvia route in Los Angeles that could bring kids from South LA (who may never have even been to the beach) to Santa Monica on their bicycle every weekend, while at the same time bringing people in West Hollywood, who think Silver Lake is the “east side,” all the way to Boyle Heights for some carne asada tacos.

Here is a map we’re working on that shows how we envision the future of CicLAvia. Our pilot route will connect seven miles of East Hollywood, Westlake, downtown, and East LA (an achievement in itself). However, we think that five or ten years from now, with all 88 cities in LA County working together, CicLAvia could be much more extensive.

Leave us comments on routes you propose for this future CicLAvia. What streets should be included and why?

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David Owen’s Green Metropolis on Ciclovia Spotlight on: Oaklavía

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