Go Play in the Street: How CicLAvia and Other Public Events Promote Health

Takepart.com

On Sunday, more than nine miles of streets in Los Angeles will be closed to traffic—no, it’s not carmageddon III, but a temporary urban playground called CicLAvia.

This is L.A.’s fifth time around for CicLAvia, which encourages residents to abandon their cars and take to the streets to walk, bike, skate, skip or hula hoop their way toward better health and a stronger sense of community.

It’s one of many such urban outdoor events such as Sunday Streets in San Francisco and Summer Streets in New York that put the “public” in public health. Although each city puts its own spin on the day, the end result is pretty much the same: helping people realize that getting healthier doesn’t have to be drudgery. Treadmill haters will be happy to know that events often feature yoga classes, plus capoeira demonstrations and spontaneous dancing in the streets.

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CicLAvia and its ilk are tailor-made for cities like L.A., where people hop in their cars for a two-block errand. But even in cities with more walkable neighborhoods, there are still benefits.

“It brings people out into the streets to interact with their neighbors, and there are the same health benefits,” Catherine Geanuracos, a CicLAvia board member, told TakePart. “The process of walking or biking through neighborhoods is still a positive one, no matter where you are.”

CicLAvia and other such events owe their existence to Ciclovia, weekly car-free zones that started in in Bogota, Colombia decades ago and gets people active. Most events in the U.S. are held in summer, but the idea has spread quickly in recent years, with cities like L.A. adding more dates and expanding routes. The last event in the city drew more than 100,000 people.

“We’ve got a nice, flat ground open for us to move around in,” 22-year-old Shiloh Vallentyne, of Vallejo, California told the San Francisco Chronicle during Sunday Streets in Chinatown this summer.

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The events still have a lasting effect long after traffic takes back the streets, Geanuracos says: “Once people have explored the city on foot or bike, and get a sense of that different kind of experience, they’re more likely to do that on their own.”

She adds that promoters also encourage people to take public transportation to the site, something many Angelenos have never tried. Going to CicLAvia even boosted her use of the city’s Metro system. Some studies suggest that taking public transportation increases physical activity and boosts health, since there’s walking involved to and from stops.

“The most important message is that it’s always fun,” Geanuracos says. “I used to work in public health, and lecturing on what you should do is not always the best way to get people to do things, but giving them fun, exciting experiences is a great way to get people to change.”

Do you think more cities should adopt events like CicLAvia? Let us know in the comments.

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Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal, and has gotten in a boxing ring. Email Jeannine | TakePart.com