Santa Monica is overdue for its own “open streets” celebration

On Sunday morning, thousands flocked to Downtown L.A. for the fifth anniversary of CicLAvia. For the occasion, six miles of streets were closed to motorized vehicle traffic and opened to people of all ages and abilities.

What seemed like a revolutionary idea in October 2010 has, five years and 15 CicLAvias later, become a regular L.A. institution: people look forward to ditching their cars and exploring their streets by walking, biking, rolling, or by any other human-paced means.

With Expo opening to Santa Monica in a just a few months, our Bike Action Plan transforming our streetscape into a multimodal one, our Pedestrian Action Plan moving forward, and Breeze Bike Share, the county’s first such bike-share program, launching city-wide in just a few weeks, Santa Monica is undergoing a mobility sea change.

As such, we are long overdue for our own “open streets” event. Local community organizations like Santa Monica Spoke, our elected officials like Santa Monica City Councilmember Gleam Davis, and civic leaders have advocated for Santa Monica’s own open streets event for years. The award-winning bike action plan, unanimously adopted by the City Council in 2011, calls for these events. Because of all this hard work, it is likely that we will have our first open streets event next summer, shortly after Expo opens to Santa Monica.

L.A. City Councilmember Mike Bonin, whose district includes Venice, should be a part of planning this event in order to make sure that we get an open streets celebration that isn’t limited only to Santa Monica and is truly worthy of the momentous strides we are making in regional connectivity as well as sustainable, human-powered transportation.

These events are a chance to let people -- young and old -- experience the streets as open spaces, places for gathering and living, not just corridors that serve only to move vehicles.

Most important, perhaps, these events remind us that our streets are for people, first and foremost.

This is especially important to understand as Santa Monica moves away from an over-reliance on cars as our primary means of transportation. Santa Monica Mayor Kevin McKeown and the City Council have committed to a  “Vision Zero” future.

“Vision Zero” is a policy that says all street planning must start first with the goal of reducing -- and eventually eliminating -- traffic-related deaths, undoing the old paradigm of street planning which prioritizes vehicle travel speed over safety. We have learned from the mistakes of the past and have begun to design streets as community spaces for all, not just motor vehicles.

CicLAvia and other similar events are really street festivals celebrating people-powered mobility. They transform the streets into a safe place for all of us, whether you are an avid bicyclist or a casual rider, a toddler with training wheels or a senior who requires a walker, or just want to see the streets from a vantage point other than from behind the wheel.

Hubs are established along the routes with stages for music and other performances. Food trucks and other vendors sell to crowds who have worked up appetites. Local businesses along each route bring their wares outside and invite passersby, who may not have even noticed these shops while driving, to partake.

Pasadena had their own earlier this year, as did Long Beach, Culver City, and Venice. These open streets celebrations give people in the region a chance to explore neighborhood streets in a way they may not normally: at a human speed.

The idea, of course, is not new. These open streets events come to Southern California by way of Bogotá, Colombia, which has been closing off its streets for “ciclovías” -- meaning “cycleways” -- since December 1974.

The concept has spread around the world at a tremendous pace, with open streets events taking place in Australia, Belgium, New Zealand, and Canada, to name a few places.

And within the United States, dozens of cities have picked up on the idea, from Portland, Oregon to Tuscon, Arizona to Lincoln, Nebraska.

It’s about time Santa Monica join the fun. Don’t you think?

Elena Christopoulos, Richard Brand, Leslie Lambert, Jeff Kurram, Jason Islas, Stephen Rubin, Brian Derro, Grace Phillips, Dwight Flowers, Valerie Griffin, Cynthia Rose, Sharon and John Hart, Fred Zimmerman, Simone Gordon, Claire Bowin, and Hank Koning for Santa Monica Forward.