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LA to lauch bike share program

An innovative plan to scatter 4,000 high-tech bikes for rent around Los Angeles was announced Sunday morning as tens of thousands of people pedaled into a temporary bike road across the city.

CicLAvia, a 10.5-mile long zig-zag from Hollywood to Boyle Heights, allowed bicyclists and pedestrians to claim pavement that is used by cars, trucks and buses the rest of the year. This year, the city-wide party was given three new branches: north to Chinatown, east to Boyle Heights and south down Central Avenue.

When the event got under way at 9:30 a.m. at Olvera Street, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced the city's first "bikeshare" program, a European-style rental service that enables people to pick up bikes at kiosks across the city. Bike Nation plans to invest $16 million for 4,000 bikes at some 400 kiosks. The first are scheduled to open this fall.

The bikes will be free for 30 minutes' use, and then $1.50 for the next hour. Rates drop as rental periods increase — a three-day rental will be $12.

The bikes have built-in GPS devices, allowing a would-be bike renter to use a smart-phone app to find the nearest available ride. Bike Nation founder Navin Narang envisions expanding the concept nationwide.

"As we have seen with CicLAvia and "Carmaheaven," Angelenos are aching for a day without a car," Villaraigosa said before the event. "But in tough economic times like these, we knew it wasn't feasible to start a public bike share program. But we do know it's what LA needs."

"We're building the infrastructure, we're making it safe, and we're making it practical for Angelenos to get from point A to point B on two wheels," Villaraigosa said.

Today's CicLAvia closed streets between the eastern edge of Hollywood and the Westlake and Pico-Union districts, primarily along New Hampshire Avenue and 7th Street. At Figueroa and 7th streets downtown, the closure forked north to Chinatown, east to Boyle Heights, and south to "jazz row" on Central Avenue.

This was the fourth CicLAvia, which is now held twice a year due to overwhelming attendance. The event has become crowded with pedestrians enjoying stress-free walking and play on the streets, so much so that bicyclists are being asked to exercise caution and courtesy on some blogs.

CicLAvia is modeled on a popular event in Bogota, Colombia.

CicLAvia producer Aaron Paley said organizers want to mature the event and "integrate it into warp and woof of Los Angeles, make it the thing that weaves us together."

He said he wants CicLAvia to appeal to all demographics, "from hipsters to grandmothers."

The loosely-knit organization became a nonprofit last fall, and hopes to expand the concept to other cities including San Fernando, Huntington Park, South Gate, Lynwood and Pomona. A CicLAvia has also been tentatively scheduled for Sept. 16 in Long Beach.

Paley said he hopes to increase the frequency of the event to once a month within five years, with increased support from corporations and individuals.

Backers say the event exposes participants to local businesses along the route, providing restaurants, bars, shops and services with a "CicLAvia Bump" in customers.

"Having just 100 people go by your shop on a bike or by foot is significantly better than 1,000 speeding by in their cars," said Matt Berman, founder of Bolt Barbers, who has a haircut shop on Spring Street downtown.