Ciclovia Comes to Orange County

What if we could change the way we view the role and purpose of our streets?  That’s what many cities in the U.S., including two in Orange County, are trying to do by hosting their versions of Ciclovia.

Ciclovia began in Bogota, Colombia.  The principal idea is to close off certain main streets to automobile traffic and to give bicyclists, skaters, strollers, runners and walkers the chance to use the street.  The idea has certainly caught on.  San Francisco began its own version of the event, called “Sunday Streets,” in 2008, and San Mateo County did the same with “Streets Alive San Mateo County” in 2009.  Los Angeles has hosted its “CicLAvia” since 2010 with increasing frequency every year.

Recently, this trend reached Orange County.  On October 5, the same day as Los Angeles’s most recent CicLAvia, Santa Ana closed Main Street from Santa Ana Boulevard to Warner Avenue.  The event was titled “Sunday on Main Open Streets (SOMOS).”  Attractions included karaoke stages, a rock climbing wall and informational booths from organizations like the Orange County Fire Authority and America on Track.  It also gave local businesses the opportunity to showcase what they offer to potential customers who might not otherwise discover them, like the OC Roller Girls roller derby team.  The route diverged from Main Street to connect to the P.E. Bike Trail, which represents the fact that Santa Ana encourages biking and active lifestyles every day of the year, not just during special events.

Not to be outdone, Garden Grove put on “re:imagine Garden Grove” on October 12.  The winding route included the northern half of Garden Grove Boulevard, Main Street, Euclid Street and another part of the P.E. right of way, which Garden Grove has turned into a temporary bike and pedestrian path (and which hopefully will become more than temporary).  Garden Grove’s event had similar attractions as Santa Ana’s, as well as food trucks serving a variety of culinary treats.  In addition, Garden Grove closed off sections of the event area to bicyclists, allowing only pedestrians.  (Bicyclists could walk with their bikes.)

The open street events in Santa Ana and Garden Grove went well.  By the author’s estimation, both events were heavily attended.  Traffic signs and barriers, along with the local police force, helped to ensure the safety of all participants.  Local businesses seemed eager to take part in the events, and larger businesses were able to adjust by directing drivers to side-street entrances. While the shock of limited access and increased traffic may have bothered some drivers, advance notice and increased awareness should help to minimize potential negative reactions to these types of events.  Moreover, the event organizers did a good job customizing the flavor of each event to the local municipal character.  And the events themselves were a lot of fun.

As quality-of-life factors play an important role in the ability of cities to attract residents and visitors, the growing popularity of open street events like CicLAvia, SOMOS and re:imagine Garden Grove mark an important shift in the perception of the purpose of our streets and their potential use.  More significantly, the idea of complete streets — that streets need to be planned, designed, operated and maintained for use by walkers, bicyclists and people riding transit, as well as automobiles — will help cities provide the benefits of open street events year-round.

Written by Dima Galkin, who is an Analyst at RSG.