CicLAvia in South LA
December 7, 2014 • Los Angeles
If you ride a bicycle and haven’t been to CicLAvia, it’s definitely a worthwhile experience. I’m excited that for the first time in the event’s five-year history, the route today runs through South LA, right into the heart of Leimert Park. Cars are banned from major thoroughfares for six hours so that cyclists and pedestrians can enjoy the streets. Personally I love the opportunity to check out the architecture at a leisurely pace. Cycling down the middle of a boulevard with no cars has the unusual effect of making everything seem closer together, like there’s a spatial dilation effect going on. The CicLAvia concept was borrowed from a similar project in Bogotá. With a lot of luck, the nonprofit that runs our event might secure enough funding to run the event every weekend, like they do in Bogotá, scaling it up from its current three or four times of year.
The route this time is mostly along MLK Boulevard and Central Avenue. Before legal segregation was ended by the courts in the late 1940s, Central Avenue was the center of African American cultural life; the CicLAvia route runs past the historic Dunbar Hotel, where jazz luminaries like Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Billie Holiday stayed. The Dunbar was preserved as an affordable housing building under the stewardship of Jan Perry, once the city council rep for that area and a 2013 mayoral candidate. Jan isn’t in an elected position these days, but I was happy to see her speak at an event a few months ago with Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre using the dramatic lobby and courtyard as a performance space.
Since 1948 the cultural heart of African American LA has shifted to Leimert Park, and the plaza in the neighborhood is the focal point for parades, marches, and peaceful protest. Rowdier and violent protests seem to happen elsewhere, most recently downtown and on the freeways. The LA Times contribution to promoting CicLAvia this time around is a lone article about whether the event will bring any attention to Leimert Park, which they claim often feels overlooked. I wondered if the Times had robots writing its news items this weekend, because the story was almost identical to the Times piece about CicLAvia in Boyle Heights in October. Most of the paper’s earthquake reports are written and posted by software without human intervention, so it wouldn’t be a big surprise if there were no humans at all there on Saturday.
Ah, you have to love the LA Times. Can’t live with it, can’t live without it. For at least a week this fall, the calendar section of the electronic version of the Times was labeled “Calender.” Who could blame them for recycling the story about yet another neglected neighborhood? Their reporting about Leimert Park and South LA generally is only about murder, which is admittedly more common here than in whiter neighborhoods, along with things that happen at USC, which is decidedly not part of South LA in any way except geography. But we can’t live without the Times because it’s the only media outlet in town with the resources and the occasional interest in exposing corruption in local government.
But today is a happy day, when we can forget about the newspaper for a while and enjoy the streets without fear of death by automobile. I hope people who have never been to Leimert Park and Central Avenue will take the opportunity to visit these lovely neighborhoods.