Boyonabike!

Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

Same Old, Same Old

Resurfaced Sierra Madre Villa, looking south.

Resurfaced Sierra Madre Villa, looking south.

When I see a street resurfaced, especially a street that desperately needs a bike lane, a glimmer of hope stirs within me that maybe, just maybe, the street will be restriped to accommodate bikes.  This foolish glimmer of hope is usually dashed, as the local DOT simply returns the street to the same old, unsafe car-centric design it had before.

Silly me.

Case in point: the recent resurfacing of Sierra Madre Villa Blvd in East Pasadena between Rosemead Blvd and Sierra Madre Blvd.

"Share the Road"

“Share the Road”

The street is marked as a “bike route” with a couple of “share the road” signs, but hardly anybody rides it because automobile speeds average about 40 mph, and it’s designed for automobile speed, not bike or pedestrian safety.  The street would require some minor re-design to accommodate bike lanes, as I’ll demonstrate below, but there is room for them and the street is a good candidate for bike lanes because it would close a gap between nearby streets that have bike lanes and it is the main route connecting the the neighborhood to the nearby Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line transit station.

This station is the major bus and light rail hub in the area, and is slated to be a bike share station when Metro eventually expands its bike share program to Pasadena.  You would think Pasadena DOT would use the resurfacing as an ideal opportunity to redesign the street for multimodal commuting and safety at minimal cost.  But you would be wrong.

On-street parking forces cyclists to "take the lane" in 40mph traffic.

On-street parking forces cyclists to “take the lane” in 40mph traffic.

Sierra Madre Villa Blvd is a north-south arterial that heads up the hill from the Gold Line station to New York Drive in Altadena (which has buffered bike lanes).  As it heads north, it intersects with N. Rosemead Blvd (which has bike lanes) and Sierra Madre Blvd. (which also has bike lanes). Currently, the street has 2 travel lanes in each direction (one 10-foot and 1 12-foot), a 10-foot center turn lane, and 2 10-foot parking lanes on each side.  The southbound side is residential with a library at Rosemead Bl.  The northbound side has an LDS church and an apartment complex, both of which have ample off-street parking.  The northbound side is the most critical for some kind of bike lane, because of the large speed differential between 40mph cars and bicycles heading up the hill.

Below I lay out the current configuration, then offer two alternatives: one that removes on-street parking from the northbound side and provides buffered bike lanes in both directions (option 1), and another that keeps on-street parking but narrows the parking lane and one of the 12-foot travel lanes to provide sharrows on the downhill side and a bike lane on the northbound side (option 2).  Neither one of these options would have been cost prohibitive.

SMV Current

SMV option1

SMV option 2

Why didn’t DOT consider more bike friendly alternatives for Sierra Madre Villa, especially considering their stated desire for Pasadena to rival Long Beach for bike friendliness?  I have several theories, but one is that DOT staff tends to pay more attention to bike infrastructure in the gentrifying downtown area than in East Pasadena, a less glamorous part of town.

It’s a shame, because this was a real missed opportunity.  DOT needs to know that people on bikes in East Pasadena deserve safer streets, too.

Bike Battles

 

James Longhurst, author of Bike Battles. (Photo: Rory O'Driscoll, LaCrosse Tribune).
Author James Longhurst. (Photo: Rory O’Driscoll, LaCrosse Tribune).

Bike Battles, a new history of bike culture in the US by UW-LaCrosse history professor James Longhurst (University of Washington Press, 2015), tells the fascinating story of the legal and political battles over bicycles on the road.  Subtitled “A History of Sharing the American Road,” the book provides a background to today’s arguments over bike lanes, sharing the road, road diets, complete streets, and so on.  Viewing the road as a commons, a shared, limited, and necessary resource, he provides a detailed account of how this public resource came to be dominated and virtually monopolized in the mid-20th century by one user—the driver of the private automobile.  The outcome was neither inevitable, nor, as some might assume, primarily the result of Americans’ mythic “love affair” with the car or of free consumer choice.  It was the result of a complex interplay between public policy choices, law, design choices, the economics of road-building, and cultural shifts in the perception and marketing of the bicycle.  Longhurst’s book will be useful to anyone interested in the history of bike policy and roads in the US.  As Peter Norton’s Fighting Traffic shows how motor vehicle interests (“motordom”) marginalized pedestrians, Longhurst’s book illustrates how bicyclists were also marginalized.

Longhurst’s history of roads combines information that I was familiar with, such as the “good roads” movement that was originally spearheaded by bicyclists during the so-called “golden age” of cycling (ca. 1880-1910), with much new information that I was less familiar with.  For example, he highlights the importance of  Taylor v. Goodwin, an 1879 court case in Britain involving a high-wheel bicycle that established the bicycle as a legal vehicle with a right to the road.  The Taylor decision provided an important precedent subsequently followed by American courts.  However, case law establishing that bicycles had the same right to the road as other vehicles did not end conflict over road space, especially as the motor vehicle created a new set of conflicts on the road, and a new level of potential deadliness to other road users.

Sidepath, New York, ca. 1900. (People for Bikes)

Sidepath, New York, ca. 1900. (People for Bikes)

With the emergence of the automobile it became clear that some form of physical separation between bikes and cars was desirable, and there was a brief period when “side paths” for bicycles were built along many roads.  The perception of bicycling as an elite activity made separate infrastructure seem like a luxury for the benefit of a relative few and bicycle advocates failed to secure a steady source of funding for building and maintaining sidepaths.  Unfortunately, lack of funding doomed these promising efforts and the experiment was abandoned as the miles of sidepaths that existed were simply swallowed by roads that were widened for the automobile.  As the first bicycle boom ended in the 1920s, policymakers gave little thought to providing road space for bikes, and, except for a brief resurgence of bicycling during World War II, bikes gradually came to be marketed in mid-20th century American culture as primarily a means of mobility for kids until they were old enough to drive.

Protected bike lane, 1970s, Davis, CA (Streetsblog)

Protected bike lane, 1970s, Davis, CA (Streetsblog)

The next effort to build separated bike infrastructure in the US occurred during the second “bike boom” of the 1970s.  Longhurst analyzes the boom within the context of the rise in environmental consciousness in the early 1970s combined with the Mideast oil embargo.  These, along with reduced tariffs on lightweight, inexpensive Japanese-made bikes and components contributed to the boom in adult cycling.  California became the epicenter of innovative ideas for separated and protected bike lanes in the US.  Davis, California was among the first US cities to build separated bike lanes, and the university town became a model for bike-friendliness, a distinction it holds to this day.  Planners from UC Davis and UCLA wrote a groundbreaking study in 1972 that advocated the building of networks of separated bike lanes throughout the US where automobile traffic was heavy.  Longhurst notes that the California legislature passed a bill in 1973 to permanently earmark 1 percent of the state’s gas tax revenue to build bicycling infrastructure.  Things looked promising, but Ronald Reagan’s veto of the bike bill and a schism in the ranks of bicyclists between planners and “vehicular cyclists” who opposed separating cyclists from traffic thwarted plans for separated bike infrastructure of the kind called for by the UCLA study.  Yet another missed opportunity.

Cycle Track, Washington DC, 2014 (Bethesda Magazine)

Cycle Track, Washington DC, 2014 (Bethesda Magazine)

Today, in many cities around the world, we are witnessing a bicycling “renaissance.”  Along with this renaissance there is a renewed effort to establish separated road space for cyclists in the United States.  Longhurst’s timely study shows that the arguments over bikes and road space are not new and also holds lessons for present-day bicycle advocates who would be wise to avoid the mistakes that scuttled earlier efforts to build bike infrastructure in US cities.

Unlike the two earlier bike booms, this one seems to have a broader constituency and, one hopes, more stable funding.  Urban planners understand the need for multimodal commuting as we grapple with the interconnected problems of traffic congestion, sprawl, and climate change.  Public health advocates increasingly see “active transportation” as a public good, and the bicycling movement shows healthy signs of diversifying, spreading beyond recreational cycling and emphasizing the social equity aspect of bikes as economical transportation.  A growing number of people are realizing that a reallocation of road space will be necessary (though one must not underestimate the tenacity of drivers’ opposition).  One hopes that the current efforts to build world class bike infrastructure in the US will not fall victim to the fate that befell the two earlier efforts.  As Longhurst concludes: “[i]n the future, more than ever, we’ll need to share the road.” (p. 241)

Another Outrage

GhostBike_Fig4AllIt has happened again.  Another bicyclist killed by a hit-and-run driver who couldn’t be bothered to stop and render aid to his victim.  The driver, witnesses said, was traveling in excess of 60 MPH on North Figueroa Friday morning at approximately 3:30 AM when he allegedly ran a red light and struck the cyclist who was  legally riding in the intersection.  Witnesses told police the driver did not even brake and dragged the victim for 100 feet before speeding off.  When police arrested the suspect, he was found to have abandoned his car and walked home, and the next morning was still over the legal limit for alcohol in his bloodstream and had debris from the collision in his hair.

I didn’t know the victim but I thought it was important to pay my respects to yet another cyclist who lost his life to the car culture.  I attended a ghost bike ceremony on North Figueroa in Highland Park, where the tragedy occurred, and was heartened by the sense of solidarity that our suffering and vulnerability as flesh and blood in the face of speeding steel brings about.  But I also get so tired of having to meet my fellow cyclists under circumstances such as these.  Another life lost.  Another ghost bike by the side of another unsafe street.

Bike_Oven_Fig4All

The thing that makes this tragedy doubly infuriating is the fact that this stretch of North Figueroa had been slated for a makeover under the L.A. mobility plan that would have lowered automobile speeds and installed bike lanes.  No one can say for sure whether this “road diet” would have saved the victim’s life, but redesigning the street for the safety of all road users would have made it more difficult for any motorist to use Figueroa as a race track.  Unfortunately, the previously approved road diet was unilaterally halted last year by Councilmember Gil Cedillo who represents the district.  Some of the activists took matters into their own hands and painted DIY bike lane stencils on North Figueroa.  We shouldn’t have to do this, but when our leaders fail to act, the people must step forward and take matters into their own hands.

DIY_Sharrows_Fig4All2

In addition to paying my respects to the victim and his family and friends, I had to attend this memorial in order to bear witness to another example of the failure of car-centric road design and to the fecklessness of Councilmember Cedillo whose craven abandonment of the North Figueroa road diet is one of the more pathetic failures of L.A.’s political system in recent years.  Yet Cedillo blithely saunters on, mouthing concern for another victim of car violence while single-handedly blocking an approved road redesign that would have made North Figueroa safer for everyone.

The Pope and Sustainable Transportation

Pope Francis gives his thumb up as he leaves at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter's square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

Pope Francis, 2013. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

Pope Francis caught my attention a while back, when I saw reports that, as Cardinal of Buenos Aires, he got around town by bus instead of a limo, and encouraged young seminarians to get about town by bicycle.  Thus, I was very interested to read his Encyclical on climate change, “Laudato Si.”  The Encyclical ties together a number of important issues related to climate change and its threat to human society and the earth, our “common home.”  I recommend reading it for yourself, but for those without the time to wade through its 180-odd pages, here’s a good synopsis.

Laudato Si shows a good grasp of the scientific consensus on climate change and the threat it poses to humanity, and makes the case that we (i.e., global society) must end our dependence on fossil fuels sooner rather than later.  It is a courageous document, addressed to the entire human family, that urges people to rethink the current throwaway culture that wastes natural resources, pollutes the air and water, and results in profound alienation from nature and from one another.  More than this, it also calls on those in the global north (i.e., U.S. and Europe) to reduce our overall consumption of resources and work for a more equitable distribution of wealth within our own societies and between rich and poor parts of the world.

In this sense, I found the Pope’s message consonant with Naomi Klein’s powerful book, This Changes Everything, in that it looks at the climate crisis as part of a larger interconnected crisis of unrestrained capitalism, runaway consumerism, and inequality.  I may take issue with the Pope’s stance on reproductive rights, but I think he appropriately focuses on the outsized per capita consumption pattern and carbon footprint of people in so-called “advanced” societies like the US.

Exhibit “A” is the idea that everyone should drive around in a 2,000-lb climate-controlled easy chair with a personal entertainment system and that we must sacrifice our cities and our open spaces to promote the continued widespread use of these machines regardless of the ecological, economic, and social damage they do.  The US has the highest per capita carbon footprint of any nation in the world, and the Encyclical points out that it is simply unsustainable to export this model of consumption to the rest of the world. The US EPA calculates that more than a quarter of our national carbon footprint comes from transportation, and this is magnified by the automobile-induced sprawl that exacerbates the problem of distance and dependence on the car.

As part of this larger argument, the Encyclical makes a powerful case for a shift in social consciousness about the way we live and includes specific references to transit and more livable (i.e., walkable and bikeable) cities.  In every world city where public transportation is prioritized, bicycles play a significant role in the sustainable transportation network that helps people get to their destinations.  The reasons for this shift are not only environmental, Francis argues, they are social, as the shift from the automobile/consumerist system enhances human relationships and fosters greater social equity in our communities.

In Ch. IV, Sec. III. of the Encyclical, he calls for “substantial” investment in public transit and critiques the automobile-based transportation model in terms that could have been said by any contemporary new urbanist planner:

  1. “The quality of life in cities has much to do with systems of transport, which are often a source of much suffering for those who use them. Many cars, used by one or more people, circulate in cities, causing traffic congestion, raising the level of pollution, and consuming enormous quantities of non-renewable energy. This makes it necessary to build more roads and parking areas which spoil the urban landscape. Many specialists agree on the need to give priority to public transportation.”

header-bikesThe shift away from the single occupancy vehicle (SOV) mode of transportation he calls for in Ch. VI, Sec. II. is part of a broader change that prioritizes frugality over consumerist excess:

  1. “. . . . A person who could afford to spend and consume more but regularly uses less heating and wears warmer clothes, shows the kind of convictions and attitudes which help to protect the environment. There is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about real changes in lifestyle. Education in environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting which directly and significantly affect the world around us, such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices.”

The bicycle represents so many of the values Francis emphasizes in the Encyclical:  it is inexpensive to own and operate, making it accessible to all; it consumes relatively few resources to manufacture or use; its carbon footprint is a tiny fraction of the automobile; it’s utilitarian instead of luxurious; it promotes health, happiness, and well-being; and it connects us to our communities in ways that the automobile does not.  When combined with transit, it can reduce automobile use significantly.

The Encyclical speaks powerfully of the ethical dimension of our personal choices—the “little daily actions” we take.  When we ride a bike, take transit, or carpool, we act in such a way that directly affects the world around us.  During a recent forum on the Encyclical Brian Treanor, Professor of Environmental Ethics at LMU and bicycle commuter, noted that while one person bicycling isn’t going to end climate change, it is the larger ethic of the act that carries value, and when combined with efforts to organize for broader social change, makes a big difference.  When we become the change we wish to see, we send a powerful message of hope to all around us.

MetroGHG_graphic2

It is refreshing to see an influential global religious leader who understands the role alternative transportation choices play in reducing our carbon emissions and promoting community, equity, and health at the same time.  I hope other leaders, religious and secular, begin to send the same message.

CicLAvia Pasadena

CicLAviaPas1

It has been a while since I’ve attended CicLAvia, but with this one practically in my backyard, I could not resist.  It was the first ever CicLAvia outside the city limits of LA (and not the last) and the first one I attended with my whole family.  As we rode to the event, we encountered others headed to the event.  As we got closer, we saw more people, different ages and cycling abilities (i.e., not “cyclists”), and families with children who were headed to CicLAvia.  We waved, smiled, and exchanged pleasantries.  I always get excited as I see more and more people on different kinds of bikes headed to the open streets, like we are headed to a gathering of the tribes, distant kin on the same pilgrimage.  As always, it seemed everyone had a smile and the crowd represented a huge, diverse cross-section of Southern California.  As always, there were lots of families, lots of people of different ages, colors, backgrounds.

CicLAviaPas2

I loved observing my wife and kids experience the delights of car-free streets and the sense of community that pervades CicLAvia.  My 15-year-old daughter, who rides to school with me each Monday, was awed at the sight and feel of Colorado Blvd filled with cyclists.  “This is so cool,” she said as we cruised the Boulevard.  “I wish it was always like this!”  Uh-huh, I smiled.  My wife, something of a chatty Cathy, particularly seemed to relish the conviviality of the event, striking up conversations with what seemed like every other person on the route.  After lunch at a local restaurant, as we rode up Raymond Ave next to a young couple who were singing a Maroon 5 pop song, my wife spontaneously joined them singing the chorus (much to the embarrassment of my daughter).  I smiled at the serendipitous, joyful human connections people make when they are released from dependence on their rolling isolation chambers.  Just another CicLAvia moment.

CicLAviaPas3

This particular route was only 3.5 miles, the shortest CicLAvia to date, but since we rode there and back home, it didn’t seem too short to us.  There were local “feeder rides,” sponsored by a variety of groups, but I’d like to see a greater effort to get even more people to and from the event on their bikes, so that more of the surrounding streets become informally “CicLAvia-ized” on the day of the event.

I’m a huge fan of such Open Streets events not only because they’re wonderfully fun and allow everyone to connect with their community in ways they cannot in a car, but because they also enable people to experience the freedom of car-free streets.  When I asked my son what he liked best about CicLAvia, he told me it was the freedom of being able to ride around town “and not have to worry about cars.”

CicLAviaPas4

This experience, I believe, is potentially subversive of the domination of our public spaces by the automobile, and offers an immensely popular signal to political leaders that people hunger for car-free streets.  As the open streets movement expands and becomes a regular part of the Southern California landscape it may alter people’s perceptions of what streets can be and expand their understanding of mobility beyond the automobile.

On our ride home, when I asked my son what he thought, his one word answer: “Awesome-tacular.”

Yup.  ‘Nuff said.

CicLAviaPas5

Bike Week 2015

The annual national Bike Week event always provides a good opportunity to reflect on the state of bicycling where I live and ride.  On the one hand, things are moving much too slowly in terms of the implementation of good, bike-friendly infrastructure where I usually commute.  On the other, there are hopeful signs that change is in the air.

Campus bike week events at Cal Poly Pomona, where I teach, highlighted the continuing need for complete streets and improved campus access for bikes, pedestrians, and transit users.  The campus transportation director has yet to embrace bicycling and transit as anything but last resort options and instead is spending more than $41 million on a new parking structure.  Moreover, campus transportation officials were largely absent from the student-organized bike week events.  Nevertheless, the LA County Department of Public Works (DPW) has recently proposed a road diet and protected bike lanes (!) for Temple Ave., a major thoroughfare that runs next to campus. The campus also has a new President and there are signs of a willingness to work with local transit agencies to possibly bring bus service closer to the heart of campus.

Rendering of possible protected bike lanes on Temple Ave between Mt.SAC and Cal Poly Pomona.

Rendering of possible protected bike lanes on Temple Ave between Mt.SAC and Cal Poly Pomona.

 

Bike week at Cal Poly kicked off with a roundtable discussion of alternative transportation visions for Cal Poly.  The discussion was organized by the University Cycling Coalition and included representatives from Foothill Transit, the City of Pomona, the LA County Department of Public Works and LA Co. Dept. of Public Health, advocacy group Bike SGV, Students for Quality Education, Cal Poly’s sustainability coalition, as well as students and faculty from Cal Poly and Mt. San Antonio College (Mt. SAC).

Cal Poly's University Cycling Coalition leads a discussion of alternative transportation during Bike Week.

Cal Poly’s University Cycling Coalition leads a discussion of alternative transportation during Bike Week.

Attendees heard a presentation from students pointing out the desperate need for alternatives to exorbitant parking rates, the university’s lack of action on a bike master plan (called for during last year’s bike week), and marginalization of transit access and transit users.  Despite the university’s own 2007 “Climate Action Plan” (CAP) that calls for reducing single occupancy vehicle use by 30%, the number of students who drive to campus alone has remained at 80% since the report was released.  Clearly, what is needed is leadership that will help this university make good on its commitment to reduce its reliance on the automobile for transit to/from campus.

The major takeaways from the discussion were:

1.  Improve transit access to campus.  Currently, Cal Poly is served by 6 bus lines (2 Metro, 4 Foothill Transit), and working with Foothill Transit to establish a stop for the nearby Silver Streak express bus would make it 7.  What the campus needs is an on-campus bus station that is conveniently located, has shelters and benches, and is well-lit for safety at night.  Bus riders currently stand in the dirt on Temple Ave and wait for buses.  A campus that has $41 million for a new parking garage surely has money for decent campus bus stops.  Students for Quality Education (SQE) is calling for subsidized student bus passes, provided by many other campuses, including neighboring Mt. SAC.

2.  Bike Lanes.  Major streets on and around campus are designed to maximize automobile flow and speed.  As a result, they are dangerous and extremely uncomfortable for cyclists.  The County DPW has a draft plan for protected bike lanes on Temple Ave, a major thoroughfare near campus. The county is seeking the University’s support for the proposed Temple road diet as part of its grant proposal.

3.  A Bike and/or Mobility Master Plan Committee.  Campus activists called for this last year, with nothing to show for it from the previous campus administration.  Without this, we are at the mercy of a car-centric Transportation department.

After the roundtable discussion, students led a rally and march to the campus transportation office to demand more transit, bike, and pedestrian access to campus.  It was inspiring to see students take the initiative on alternative transportation issues.

Cal Poly students call for more transit access, and bikeable, walkable streets near campus.

Cal Poly students call for more transit access, and bikeable, walkable streets near campus.

On Thursday of bike week, the University Cycling Coalition hosted a well attended and stimulating panel discussion on “Cycling and Social Equity,” that featured several big names in the LA cycling advocacy community.  Panelists Tamika Butler (Executive Director of LACBC), Erika Reyes (Ovarian Psyco Cycles), Maria Sipin (Multicultural Communities for Mobility), and Don “Roadblock” Ward (Wolfpack Hustle), all discussed the importance of cycling as a vital part of an equitable transportation system.  Panelists agreed that investment in transit-friendly, bike-friendly, and walkable neighborhoods and streets is a social justice issue and that these investments should not be limited to upscale, or gentrifying communities.  They also urged advocates for alternative transportation to get a seat at the table where transportation decisions are made.  “If you don’t have a seat at the table,” LACBC Director Butler told the audience, “you’re probably on the menu.”

(l to r) Tamika Butler, Erika Reyes, Maria Sipin, and Olivia Offutt discuss Cycling and Social Equity at Cal Poly Pomona.

(l to r) Tamika Butler, Erika Reyes, Maria Sipin, Don Ward, and Olivia Offutt discuss Cycling and Social Equity at Cal Poly Pomona.

 

Not only was I inspired by the energy of the student advocates, I was heartened to see the continued growth of this vibrant movement on campus, even if it is currently being ignored by the University’s transportation officials.  Change is in the air, even if car-centric attitudes remain stubbornly persistent.

Pasadena Mayoral Runoff

Pasadena voters will decide on April 21 whether Vice-Mayor and Councilmember Jacque Robinson or Councilmember Terry Tornek will be the new Mayor.  With an ambitious new mobility plan expected to come before the Council in the Mayor’s next term, I wanted to get a sense of which candidate would provide stronger leadership for the plan and which would be more likely to support sustainable transportation and walkable, bikeable, neighborhoods.

While there are a number of important issues in the campaign, a lot is at stake for those who walk, bike, and/or use transit in Pasadena—and for those who’d like to, but are intimidated by the idea of riding a bike in traffic.  My family and I regularly bike, walk, and use transit in Pasadena, so installation of better bike infrastructure is very important to me.  As the “Crown City” goes, so goes much of the San Gabriel Valley, thus the election of a bike-friendly mayor has regional implications, too.

Pasadena is in dire need of a bold new bike plan—and that plan must be implemented sooner, not later.  Anyone who rides here knows that Pasadena’s bike infrastructure is at least 20 years out-of-date, and Pasadena’s deadly streets have been the cause of several deaths in recent years, such as that of Phillip O’Neill in 2013.  And while the city benefits from good transit, with numerous Gold Line stations, Metro, Foothill Transit and ARTS bus lines, transit users who wish to use a bike for “first mile/last mile” transportation will find very little in the way of bike infrastructure.  The city lacks virtually any street that incorporates the latest designs in protected or buffered bike lanes that other cities have been installing.  It’s a shame, too, because Pasadena has such potential to be a bike-friendly city.  Pasadena’s draft bike plan, while far from perfect, is a good first step toward remedying this, but there will undoubtedly be pushback from car-oriented residents and it is imperative that the next Mayor possesses the vision and political courage to withstand the pushback.

A good place to start an assessment of the two candidates is with their responses to the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition survey on issues such as bicycle and pedestrian safety, which both Tornek and Robinson answered.

Most urgent transportation needs:  On the question of the city’s most urgent transportation needs, Tornek cites “traffic calming” and “protected bike lanes” as the main elements of improving roadway safety and he specifically mentions Colorado Blvd as a potential “great street” project.  These are excellent ideas.  Unfortunately Tornek’s brief answer left me wanting to know more.  What elements of the complete streets policy should be prioritized?  How would he deal with the notorious timidity and foot-dragging of Pasadena DOT?  What about other streets and road treatments short of protected bike lanes (i.e., bicycle boulevards, greenways, etc.)?  How about bike share and connectivity to transit?

In her answer, Robinson mentions that she supports the mobility plan, but she specifies an approach focused on “traffic mitigation” to be achieved by “synchronizing lights on thorough fares to encourage movement of traffic.”  Unfortunately, this car-prioritized approach would neither encourage a modal shift from cars nor improve safety for bikes or pedestrians.  Robinson also notes that in her efforts to revitalize the Lincoln Ave. corridor she has “pushed for a traffic diet [road diet?] to narrow the street in certain sections and slow traffic to encourage walkability and make the area safe for bikers and pedestrians.”

While Colorado Blvd. includes protected bike lanes as part of the proposed bike plan, Lincoln Ave. does not.  A road diet that would significantly slow automobile traffic on Lincoln would be welcome, but without any plan for bike infrastructure on Lincoln it is difficult to see how it becomes “safe for bikers,” let alone how it would encourage others (i.e., schoolchildren, families, commuters) to ride Lincoln Ave.  And, note to candidates: if you don’t want to appear out-of-touch or downright hostile to the cycling community it’s best to avoid the term “bikers.”  Bikers wear leather jackets and ride Harley-Davidsons.

Advantage: Tornek.

Reducing Pasadena’s carbon footprint:  Robinson prefaces her answer with the claim that Pasadenans are “very dependent” on their cars and says residents would drive less only after transit alternatives “become more frequent and efficient.”  I’m certainly supportive of more frequent transit service, but without a concrete proposal for more frequent transit and a plan to fund it, this answer looks like an excuse to maintain a status quo of continued car dependency.  Tornek says he supports “mixed use development and high density housing in appropriate locations,” which have been shown to reduce a city’s carbon footprint by promoting more walking, bicycling and transit use, especially when located near transit.

Advantage: Tornek.

Safe Routes to School:  Asked what they would do to promote active safe walking and bicycling to schools, both candidates say they would promote neighborhood schools . . . (cue crickets chirping).

This partial answer by both candidates ignores the fact that neighborhood schools in PUSD already suffer from very low levels of walking and bicycling to school.  Simply encouraging families to attend neighborhood schools without following through with infrastructure improvements, safety programs and walk/bike to school programs will fail to change this.  The problem is not primarily distance, it is lack of bike infrastructure leading to/from schools.

Here was an opportunity for both candidates to knock one out of the park, to promote local schools AND Safe Routes to School programs AND safer sidewalks AND better bike infrastructure near schools.  Encouraging active transportation for our youth is a no-brainer, instead we’ll continue to suffer from the same unsafe car-choked streets around schools twice daily, continuation of the obesity epidemic (along with much hand-wringing about how our kids don’t get enough exercise), air pollution, stressed-out parents, and another generation that thinks it’s “normal” to be chauffeured in an SUV a mile and a half to school every day.

Advantage: Neither.

Reducing collisions between cars/bicycles (“vision zero”):   Robinson emphasizes “a bike safety initiative to help drivers and cyclist [sic] better understand how to co-exist on the roads together.” Good answer.  However, Robinson’s answer says nothing about the problem of infrastructure.  While I’m not opposed to bike safety programs, anyone who’s ridden a bike on the streets of Pasadena knows the main problem is a lack of safe infrastructure for people on bikes (a result of streets primarily designed for rapid “movement of traffic”).  For his part, Tornek answered that the city should “provide protected bike lanes wherever possible.”  I love the idea of protected bike lanes, but where are the specifics?  And, since even in my wildest dreams we’re not realistically going to have protected bike lanes on every street any time in the near future, shouldn’t bike (and driver) safety also be mentioned?  What about road treatments short of protected bike lanes?  What about a citywide safety program for youth and adults?  Stepped-up enforcement of traffic violations?  We need a network of infrastructure improvements, safety education programs, and enforcement.  Unfortunately, neither candidate really gets this one.

Advantage: Neither.

Riding a bike:  This may seem like a small thing, but it’s not.  There’s no way around it:  riding the streets of your city gives you a significantly different perspective on traffic and road safety than one behind the wheel of a car.  Having a mayor who understands what it’s like to ride a bike makes a huge difference.  Neither candidate, to my knowledge, rides a bike regularly, but even riding occasionally broadens one’s perception about streets.  Last year, PasCSC did outreach to all members of the city council, inviting them to schedule an organized ride in their individual districts.  Such events offer a concrete opportunity to see and feel how the streets work (or fail to work) for pedestrians and cyclists.  It’s something that cannot be fully understood from behind the wheel of an automobile.  Tornek went on a district ride with PCSC.  Robinson expressed interest, but was unable to fit it into her schedule or send a staffer.  I’d feel better about Robinson if she’d made the effort to actually get on a bike with PCSC volunteers and see what the streets in her district are like from a bicyclist’s perspective, as Tornek did.  It makes a difference.  Former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was not thought of as a pro-complete streets Mayor until he was knocked off his bike by a cab driver while on a ride and saw the serious need for better bike infrastructure.  In other words, actually riding a bike in the city can wake a person up to the serious need for specific infrastructure changes like protected bike lanes.

Advantage: Tornek.

Websites:  What do the websites of the two candidates tell complete streets voters?  Robinson’s website has no section dedicated to complete streets, but on a statement about development promises to “increase pedestrian and public transportation options with areas south of the [210] freeway.”

Tornek’s website includes a more specific statement about complete streets as part of his issues page regarding “reducing traffic and increasing walkability” in Pasadena:

Pasadena needs wider sidewalks and more welcoming public spaces. As Mayor, I will prioritize reducing neighborhood traffic while increasing the walkability of out [sic] streets and making them more bicycle friendly. I believe streets are for people to walk, bike and ride transit…not just drive cars.

Advantage: Tornek.

Debate 1:  What have the candidates said about complete streets and/or active transportation in the two debates they’ve had?  During the first debate, moderated by Star-News editors Larry Wilson and Frank Girardot, the only transportation-related question was regarding the proposed 710 freeway tunnel.

Robinson and Tornek both told the debate audiences they opposed the 710 extension.  Robinson specifically mentioned “alternative modes” of transportation for the route and Tornek said the tunnel would be expensive and the route would soon be every bit as congested as it currently is (see the 405, for example).  Of course, they are both correct.  The well-documented phenomenon of “induced demand” or “latent demand” will mean that the 710 route will soon fill up with cars, solving nothing, and the only real long-term solution is transit—either light rail, or real BRT.

Unfortunately, during the debate neither candidate took the opportunity to tout the benefits of complete streets as part of a well-rounded social and environmental policy.  On questions about the city’s economic situation, for example, they might have brought up the ways walkable, bikeable streets have been shown to benefit local businesses, but neither did.  When asked about local schools, they could have mentioned how encouraging walking and bicycling to school through programs like Safe Routes to School (SRTS) benefits students’ health, improves safety, reduces traffic congestion around schools, and has even been shown to improve test scores, but they didn’t.  They might have mentioned the benefits of active transportation to overall public health and lower healthcare costs, but they didn’t.  When addressing the needs of the city’s low income residents, they ought to have discussed how redesigning our streets for alternative modes of mobility can foster social equity, but they didn’t.

Advantage: Neither.

Debate 2:  During the second debate, hosted by KPCC’s Larry Mantle, candidates were asked what they would do to promote complete streets and improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians.  Robinson explicitly said she supports the bike master plan and the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition’s efforts to “educate the public” that roads should be multimodal.  However, when Mantle pressed her on whether she still supported a road diet for Colorado Blvd., even if it meant, in Mantle’s words, “losing a lane of traffic,” she hedged.  “Yes,” she answered, “provided that we have the complete information.”  She said the Council would need to be “mindful that it [a road diet] may not always have a positive impact.”

Unfortunately, I thought both the question and the answer reflected a singular windshield perspective.  Yes, there’s an adjustment at first, but (a) road diets don’t cause roads to “lose” a lane, they repurpose a travel lane in a way that will encourage a transportation mode shift and provide protection for vulnerable road users who already use the streets; and (b) there are a wide variety of long-term positive impacts that far outweigh any temporary inconvenience to motorists.

When Mantle pressed her about her “qualms” on the road diet, a centerpiece of the draft bike master plan, Robinson backpedalled further.  The road diet, she said, “is something we should consider.”  She then explained:

When you remove a lane … the number of cars is not going to go anywhere so there’s either going to be more cars traveling on the street in a single lane, which will create more traffic, or they’re going to move to other streets, so we have to be mindful of that as we move to these new ideas.

The answer raises a troubling question in my mind about whether she’d actually vote for the road diet (rather than just “consider” it) let alone whether she’d have the determination to defend it when opposition arises.  Moreover, road diets don’t “create more traffic.”  They may shift it, they may slow it (not necessarily a bad thing from a safety perspective), and they may actually reduce it if alternative modes of travel are convenient and safe.  Blaming bike lanes or road diets for “creating” traffic reflects a narrow windshield perspective.

Tornek noted that everyone says they support multimodal transportation, “until you actually have to remove a lane.”  He reiterated his support for the road diet and parklets on Colorado Bl., despite the “great resistance” he anticipates this will initially generate.  The complete streets concept, he said, is now state law, and it forces cities to come to grips with the reality that streets are not just for cars.  “All of us,” he continued, “will learn to view the way our streets operate in a different way.”  As for the Colorado Blvd. road diet and its effect on traffic, he cited the DOT’s data that showed only a 2% reduction in travel speed for cars, and noted that there is capacity on adjacent streets and “if it’s not going to work there [on Colorado Blvd.] it won’t work anywhere.”

Advantage: Tornek.

Conclusion:

Both candidates appear to support the city’s draft bike plan, but voting for the plan when it comes before council and implementing road diets and bike lanes are two different things.  I get the impression from the second debate that Tornek would be more likely to follow through on the latter, even in the face of opposition.  When pressed on the more ambitious specifics of the bike plan in the second debate, Robinson’s support wavered.  Contrast it with her unequivocal (and admirable) support for raising the minimum wage, which she said she’d support even if some local merchants were opposed.  She offers no specifics about bike lanes and sometimes betrays an uncritical windshield perspective on traffic and safety issues.

There is much I like about Robinson, such as her support for public schools, her work on the Lincoln corridor, and her advocacy of a higher minimum wage.  It would be inspirational and historic for Pasadenans to elect a woman, a person of color, and a product of Pasadena’s public schools to the highest office of this staid old city.  That said, her positions on complete streets issues tend to reflect a cars-first mentality.  Even when she says she supports an element of the bike plan, she almost always hedges her answer.  This is especially disappointing since she represents a district where a relatively higher proportion of low-income residents rely on walking, bicycling, and transit for transportation.  One wishes she had been able to find time to go on a ride or walk in her district to see what her constituents on bicycles or on foot experience every day.  Her answers on the Complete Streets survey were not as strong as Tornek’s and her apparent waffling on the Colorado road diet during the second debate was also extremely disappointing.

On the other hand, on his website and in the second debate, Tornek offers explicit support for specific infrastructure improvements such as protected bike lanes that we need on our streets.  His answers in the second debate suggest he’s willing to support the proposed road diet on Colorado Blvd. even when opposition arises.  His answers demonstrate a bit more insight into the way mobility choices can be reconfigured when infrastructure and development patterns are steered in that direction.  On the City Council, Tornek, along with Councilmember McAustin, was instrumental in getting Pasadena DOT to revise and strengthen its draft bike plan last year and he made the time to go on an exploratory ride in his district.

Shifting away from car dependency is not going to be easy, but, aside from health and safety concerns, the issue is critically important as we face an unprecedented crisis of climate change.  We need to think anew about transportation planning, especially in urban areas.  We must view our streets differently to meet different transportation needs for the 21st century and shift our priorities accordingly.  Fortunately, shifting to transportation alternatives brings with it a variety of added benefits for the economy, public safety, and public health.

Pasadena, like the rest of our society, cannot afford to waste more time.  Bold leadership is required, as is the willingness to stand up to the inevitable resistance to change.  Pasadena needs a mayor who thinks of streets in terms of moving people, not just moving cars.  Though I’m somewhat disappointed in the brevity of some of Tornek’s answers on the PCSC survey and I have some minor reservations, for the most part he seems to get it.  His answers on the issues and his strong performance in the second debate suggest he is more likely to help the Council approve the new bike plan and its timely implementation.  For these reasons, I would recommend a vote for Tornek.

So, I encourage Pasadenans to read the Complete Streets survey, read the candidates’ websites and view the debates, and make up your own minds.  But by all means please “bike the vote” on April 21.  I also recognize that the work is just beginning.  Those who want complete streets in Pasadena must continue to organize, speak out, and vigorously press the city’s leaders and staff to follow through with a bold vision for sustainable, equitable, safe, and people-friendly streets … regardless of who wins on election day.

CicLAvia and Bike Lanes

Much has been happening in the bike-sphere, but I’ve been buried under a hectic schedule at my university, and it is only a brief spring break that allows me to break my silence.  We’re still fighting bad ideas like Sen. Carol Liu’s ill-considered mandatory helmet law and the multi-billion-dollar 710 freeway tunnels, but there are some hopeful signs here and there.  Here in the San Gabriel Valley, the Gold Line extension is nearing completion, and there is potential for this light rail to be a game-changer for commuters in the foothills of the SGV, especially if local cities make an effort to connect bike lanes to the stations.

One of the other bright spots is the growing willingness of cities to consider protected bike lanes (sometimes called “cycle tracks”) that have some form of physical separation, such as planters, curbs, medians, bollards, or other decorative barriers between cars and bikes.  For decades, the traffic engineering profession in the US has resisted protected bike lanes, but they have been extremely popular where they’ve been installed, and now they are starting to appear in cities all over the United States.  Long Beach was the first Southern California city to install one, and Temple City recently installed another on Rosemead Blvd.  There is a proposal by LADOT for the first one in Los Angeles, and I hope that there will be at least one in Pasadena’s pending mobility plan.  Once these protected bike lanes begin to proliferate, I believe they will significantly change perception of cycling for transportation in US cities.

Another bright spot is the growth of the “Open Streets” movement throughout Southern California and the US.  LA’s own “CicLAvia” is a prime example of an open streets concept that has spread and gained popularity wherever it has been tried.  Last weekend, CicLAvia held an open streets festival in the San Fernando Valley, and it was extremely popular (a bad cold kept me from attending).  The Valley was in many ways the epicenter of Southern California’s traditional car culture, so the success of a car-free event in the Valley is an indication of how far we’ve moved from the stereotype of American Graffiti.  The Valley’s CicLAvia also featured a “pop-up cycle track” on Chandler Ave. that gave people a taste of what it feels like to ride in a protected bike lane.  These events are important insofar as they provide people with a vision of street space radically flipped from cars to people and bikes.  The popularity of these events underscores the reality that people are hungry for public space that is safe to walk and bicycle in.  And where there is popularity, politicians will follow, perhaps even changing their own perceptions.

People who participate in these events often realize they haven’t really seen their city until they’ve seen it on a bike.  Businesses realize there is money to be made from clientele on bikes.  Open streets events also introduce people to the idea that distance is not really as much a barrier to bicycling as people assume.  When you realize that (with car free space) you can easily bike from one end of LA to the other, or one end of the Valley to the other, it erodes the automobile imperative just a little bit more.  These events bring people of different backgrounds together in an atmosphere of healthy, active, fun.  Every time CicLAvia occurs, I hear someone say I wish it was like this every day.  Gliding down the street, free from the fear of cars, free from the noise and the pollution, people begin to imagine car-free space every day.

I’m excitedly awaiting the next iteration of CicLAvia, which will come to Pasadena at the end of May.  As it becomes regularized, expected, and anticipated, I think it will continue to grow in popularity and, with it, the subversive idea that streets are not just for cars.  To paraphrase Che, we need “one, two, many CicLAvias,” to overthrow the tyranny of the automobile.

SB 192

Last week, CA state senator Carol Liu proposed a mandatory helmet law for California.  First, let me say that I almost always wear a helmet when I ride my bike.  I say “almost” because there are a few times when I don’t.  Riding the quarter mile to the bus stop, for example, most of which is on an off-road path where I’m unlikely to encounter any cars.  I also generally wear a hi-viz vest when I ride at night and I have two sets of lights for the front and rear of my bike, as well as a helmet-mounted light set.  I want to see and be seen when I ride.  That said, I think most mandatory helmet laws are misguided at best and pernicious at worst.

Senator Liu’s proposed bill (SB 192) would mandate helmets for all bicyclists as well as hi-viz clothing for anyone riding at night.  Currently, bicycle helmets are required for anyone under the age of 18 riding a bike.  Liu’s bill would expand that requirement to adults and also require hi-viz clothing for anyone riding a bike after dark, or be slapped with a $25 fine.

Senator Liu’s office claims her bill was drafted in response to a recent Governor’s Highway Safety Association report which found that the number of bicycle fatalities increased nationwide between 2010 and 2012.  The report caused a predictable scary media reaction, such as that of the near-hysterical headline in the Los Angeles Times,”Bicycle Traffic Deaths Soar” complete with a sensationalistic photo showing a crash test dummy on a bicycle flying through the air.

As a number of analysts pointed out, however, there were serious problems with the GHSA report, including short-term cherry-picked years that distorted the rise in bicyclist deaths, ignored local variations and the long-term decrease in the rate of bicycle fatalities on America’s roads.  In other words, as more people ride bikes for transportation and recreation, the US saw a short-term uptick in the total number of bike fatalities, but a drop in the rate of fatalities.  For the individual on a bicycle, riding is getting safer, especially because of the increased number of cyclists on the road and the spread of good bike infrastructure.  The GHSA report focused on the total number rather than the decrease in fatality rates and erroneously concluded that helmets for bicyclists were the solution to this alleged “problem.”  This raised yet another inaccuracy in the use of the GHSA data: there was absolutely no evidence that helmets (or lack thereof) were the primary reason for the fatalities, or how many of the fatalities could have been prevented by a bike helmet.  It’s easy enough to make that inference only if you assume that bicyclist behavior is the main safety problem.  The GHSA report ignores the elephant in the room: motor vehicles. The main culprit gets off scott free.

Statistically, the number one thing we could do to decrease roadway deaths (of all kinds: drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists) is to reduce the speed of cars.  As motor vehicle speed increases, fatality rates increase, helmets or no.  Of course, infrastructure also matters.  In bike-friendly cities like Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and elsewhere, most people on bikes don’t need to wear helmets or hi-viz because the infrastructure is designed to accommodate them.  As a result, their road fatality rates are significantly lower than the U.S.

The other thing we can do to improve safety is to increase the number of people riding bikes, because research has shown that when drivers expect to see people on bikes they drive more carefully.  Unfortunately, where mandatory helmet laws have been enacted (such as New Zealand), they have been shown to reduce the number of people who ride.

The GHSA report came from a typical windshield perspective: blame the victim and don’t change the destructive behavior of the “kings of the road.”  As the old saying goes, figures don’t lie, but liars figure.  Both Senator Liu and the GHSA report offer what seems to be a nice quick fix: change bicyclists’ behavior rather than that of motorists (or heaven forbid, build some protected bike lanes and road diets to slow traffic speeds and increase road safety for all).  That way you can appear to be doing something for roadway safety.

If Senator Liu is really interested in increased safety for people on bikes, there are other ways: (1) secure more funding for California cities to build networks of bike lanes—especially protected bike lanes; (2) slow down motor vehicle speeds by redesigning roadways to increase safety; and (3) encourage more people to ride by working with bicycle advocacy organizations like LACBC and CalBike on safety campaigns.  Mandatory helmet/hi-viz laws are not themselves going to increase safety.

In fact, a good case in point is the case of Senator Liu’s own nephew.  According to the Sacramento Bee story on her proposed helmet/hi-viz law:

Liu’s nephew, Alan Liu, was killed in 2004 by a drunk driver while riding in Sonoma County. Liu was wearing a helmet.

With all due sympathy and respect to the Senator and her family for their irreversible loss, was Alan Liu’s tragic death the result of not wearing a helmet?

Another case in point was my own experience riding home on my evening commute from work last week on the very same day the Senator’s bill was announced.  As I approached a red light, the driver of a late-model minivan decided she had to beat me to the red light, gunned her engine, sped around me into the oncoming traffic lane, and swerved in front of me dangerously close before slamming on her brakes to stop at the red light.  Wouldn’t it have been safer for her to take her foot off the gas pedal for—literally—three seconds and arrive at the red light after me?  I was riding fast enough that it wouldn’t have inconvenienced her to slow down behind me.  Her life-threatening driving had risked my life and saved her exactly no time on her drive.  It’s not the first time I’ve had to deal with shit like that when I ride.  Here’s the kicker: I was wearing a helmet and a hi-viz vest, as I always do on my commute home.  I was riding legally, visibly, and predictably, as I was taught to do in the numerous bike safety courses I’ve taken and taught.  As I mentioned, I also have 2 sets of bright lights in the front and rear of my bike as well as a helmet-mounted front and rear light.

Question: what was the glaring “safety” issue here?  Lack of a helmet?  Lack of hi-viz clothing?  Lack of safety training for the bicyclist?  Or dangerous, irresponsible, impatient, and possibly distracted driving?

Look, nobody’s a bigger advocate for roadway safety than I, especially now that I ride a bike, and I’m generally a supporter of wearing a helmet and being visible on a bike.  California state law already requires lights and reflectors on bikes.  If a driver isn’t paying attention enough to see a cyclist with lights, how is further shifting the burden/blame onto the cyclist going to change things?  I think people on bikes should be encouraged to wear helmets and reflective material (especially at night), but a requirement that everyone do so will be a burden to many lower income riders and result primarily in lower rates of bicycling.  Perhaps this is really what Sen. Liu wants.  Discourage cycling and you reduce the “problem,” right?

The real safety problem on our roads has very little to do with what people on bikes are wearing, but dangerous, unsafe, and illegal behavior by people driving shiny motorized death-boxes.

It’s not the bikes, it’s not the helmets, it’s not the hi-viz.  It’s the cars, stupid.

East Pasadena Exploratory Ride

Noreen Sullivan (2nd from left) joins members of the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition on a District 4 exploratory ride.

Noreen Sullivan (2nd from left), field representative for Councilmember Masuda, joins members of the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition on a District 4 exploratory ride.

Saturday morning members of Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition were joined by Noreen Sullivan, field representative for Pasadena City Councilmember Gene Masuda, on an exploratory ride around Masuda’s District 4 in east Pasadena.  PasCSC has been hosting exploratory rides for council members and their staff around Pasadena in order to raise awareness of the need for better bike infrastructure and build support for a citywide bike plan that addresses these needs.  The rides are an excellent opportunity for city council members to get a first hand idea of the importance of a bike plan and the need for specific improvements.  Nothing does this better than getting on a bicycle and experiencing it for yourself.

PasCSC members embark on their exploratory ride from the Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line station.

PasCSC members embark on their exploratory ride from the Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line station.

Our ride was organized by Candace Seu, an energetic volunteer for PasCSC, and took place on a gorgeous January day.  The ride started off from the Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line Station, and the group discussed the need for better bike access to the station, especially the need for bike lanes on Halstead, the safest bike approach to the station from the north and east.

Ride organizer and PasCSC member Candace Seu photographs motorists encroaching on bike lane on southbound Rosemead at Sierra Madre Villa.  The group also witnessed a motorist illegally cutting off a cyclist on the northbound side of the same intersection. Pasadena DOT, are you listening?

Ride organizer and PasCSC member Candace Seu documents speeding motorists encroaching on bike lane on southbound Rosemead at Sierra Madre Villa. We suggested that DOT needs to install bollards or some other means of keeping autos out of the bike lane.  The group also witnessed a motorist illegally cutting off a cyclist on the northbound side of the same intersection. Pasadena DOT, are you listening?

From Halstead, our group turned left on Rosemead Blvd, which has relatively new bike lanes for one block between Halstead and Sierra Madre Villa.  We proceeded to the corner of Rosemead/Orange Grove and Sierra Madre Villa, which is a dangerous intersection for bicyclists because of design features that encourage high motor vehicle speed and have insufficient protection for cyclists.  I’ve complained about this intersection before.  This intersection includes a right-turn merge lane from north(west)-bound Rosemead Blvd to northbound Sierra Madre Villa.  The traffic was too fast for bicyclists to feel safe because of the road design that prioritizes automobile speed over safety.  Indeed, while discussing the problems of the intersection, we witnessed a cyclist riding in the bike lane get cut off by a right-turning motorist who couldn’t be bothered to slow down for the cyclist.  We suggested to Sullivan that DOT redesign the right turn lane of that intersection and add green paint to the bike lane and signage to enhance motorists’ awareness of the bike lane.  She seemed concerned about the problems of this intersection and promised to share those concerns with Councilmember Masuda.

From there, the group rode west on Paloma street to Craig, Craig to Villa, and Villa back to Sierra Madre Blvd.  This part of the ride went mostly through quiet residential streets that are very pleasant to bike.  People in this neighborhood could easily bike to schools, parks, shops, and the Gold Line, but we stressed that the major streets surrounding the neighborhood connecting to these destinations need better bike infrastructure, otherwise most people won’t feel comfortable or safe bicycling them.

The group subsequently turned left on Sierra Madre Blvd and followed it past the farmers’ market at Victory Park and Pasadena High School then east as it climbs from Eaton wash to Hastings Ranch.  This portion of Sierra Madre Blvd has bike lanes, but as I’ve written before, they are narrow gutter or door zone bike lanes on a street with very fast traffic and wide traffic lanes.  By narrowing those traffic lanes just a bit the city would have space for wider, buffered bike lanes, which would make this stretch of roadway much safer and more comfortable for cyclists.  Since Sierra Madre Blvd is the main route to two high schools (Pasadena H.S. and LaSalle H.S.) and a major city park (Victory Park), safety for young people and families bicycling on this road is a crying need.  We also raised the possibility of a multi use path in the wide median on the boulevard, and this might be a good long-term project, but the buffered bike lanes are something that can and should be done right away.

From Sierra Madre Blvd., we glided down Hastings Ranch Road from and stopped at Rosemead Blvd, where we pointed out that there was room for bike lanes, and perhaps even protected bike lanes (sometimes called “cycle tracks”) on Rosemead Blvd.  We pointed out that Temple City has installed protected bike lanes on the section of Rosemead that runs through it.  Wouldn’t it be great, we said, to have those protected lanes continue into Pasadena?  Yes!

We concluded our tour back to the Gold Line station.  I was pleased that someone from the city council member’s office was able to hear our concerns, and see for herself some of the problems related to car-centric road design in this part of Pasadena.  I was also very pleased that the young people on the ride spoke up and asked for safer bike lanes for cyclists.  At the end of the ride Noreen thanked us for an enjoyable and informative experience and said she would report her observations to Councilmember Masuda.

The draft bike plan for Pasadena has many positive elements–especially for downtown—but east Pasadena is relatively neglected in the plan and I hope Councilmember Masuda will insist on the Pasadena DOT addressing key problem spots in east Pasadena as part of the bike plan.  Among these, the most pressing are the Halstead approach to the Gold Line station, buffered bike lanes on Sierra Madre Blvd, bike lanes on Rosemead Blvd., and the seriously dangerous intersection at Rosemead/Orange Grove and Sierra Madre Villa.

These exploratory bike rides are a wonderful way for city leaders to get out and explore their districts in a way that driving can’t.  In so doing, PasCSC hopes they see the need for prioritizing an ambitious new bike plan and—most importantly—implementing it sooner rather than later.  In so doing, Pasadena would move closer to its potential as a healthy, green, multimodal city.

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