Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

Archive for the month “July, 2012”

Pedaling Gas

I’ve been riding my bike and taking transit for almost all my trips this summer, so I hardly ever have to visit a gas station.  In fact, the last time I put gas in my little Corolla was in early June (and I still have about half a tank left).  Nevertheless, when my lawn mower and weed eater ran out of gas yesterday while my son was mowing the lawn, I needed to go to the gas station to fill the 2-gallon gas can.  So naturally, I rode my bike (what else?).

The gas station is less than a mile from my house, so it was an easy ride, but the clerk behind the counter and the woman filling up her minivan did a double take when I pulled up to the pump on my bike.  I paid 7 bucks for 2 gallons of gas, filled my can, and pedaled it home.  That 2 gallons should last me the better part of a year.  In the meantime, I’m going to keep riding.  With any luck at all, I won’t have to visit the gas station again for quite some time.

Bikes and Farmers’ Markets

Looking for ways to incorporate your bike into your life?  Try riding your bike to the farmers’ market.

Bikes and farmers’ markets are a natural fit.  Your local farmers’ market is probably within easy bicycling distance (i.e., less than 5 miles) from your house, and those fresh fruits and veggies are a healthy compliment to the exercise you’ll be getting on your bike.  In fact, one of the reasons people shop at farmers’ markets is that these local markets represent a healthy, sustainable lifestyle, so why take an unhealthy, unsustainable mode of transportation to get there?   Farmers’ markets are also family-friendly, and a family bike ride to the farmers’ market is a great way to enhance that family time.  If your family’s bikes have racks or baskets (which I highly recommend), everyone can easily carry a share of the produce home.

In recent months, I’ve seen an increase in the number of people biking to my local farmers’ market in Pasadena.  The Pasadena market has good road access for bicyclists, with bike lanes on Sierra Madre Blvd, the main road leading to Victory Park, where the farmers’ market is held every Saturday.  There are also plenty of places to lock up your bike while you shop and you’ll avoid the gridlocked parking lot.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gleefully zipped out of the parking lot while drivers honk and yell at each other over scarce parking spaces.  I do sympathize.  It’s got to be frustrating to have to find a space to park a 4,000 lb dinosaur to pick up 20 lbs worth of produce, (and then to drive to the gym to get exercise).

Some day maybe they’ll catch on.  In the meantime, I’ll see you (and your bike) at the farmers’ market!

Bikes and Health

Driving to Obesity

Rates of obesity have reached epidemic proportions in the United States, according to public health experts, with roughly two-thirds of Americans classified as either overweight or obese.  This is the highest level in the world and poses a host of other health risks, from strokes and heart disease, to diabetes, arthritis, and some forms of cancer.  Obesity and obesity-related diseases are estimated to be responsible for $147 billion in healthcare costs every year.  Adult obesity rates in the U.S. have more than tripled since 1960.  What is even more alarming is that rates of childhood obesity are rising, with roughly 30 percent of American children under 18 classified as obese, and these children will be at much higher risk for serious illness in adulthood.

While the reasons for the epidemic are complex, two factors stand out as most important: diet and exercise.  Americans tend to exercise less and eat more processed fatty foods than people in other countries (though the rest of the world may catch up as we export our sedentary lifestyle and our super sized hamburgers and soft drinks to the developing world).  Moreover, for a number of reasons (having to do with lack of access to healthy food and lack of opportunity for exercise), obesity disproportionately affects low-income Americans and people of color.

We’ve become a nation addicted to driving, sitting in our cars rather than walking and bicycling to our local destinations.  According to a 2006 study by the Pew Research Center, the number of vehicle miles driven by Americans rose from just over 4,200 in 1977 to 8,200 in 2000.  By 2005, Americans spent an average of 100 hours behind the wheel each year and reported a 56% increase in the amount of time stuck in traffic since 1991.  We’re also teaching our children to be car dependent.  Look at a typical school in your neighborhood, where parents drive their children to and from school from as close as a few blocks away.  Rates of walking and bicycling to school have plummeted in recent decades, and it doesn’t help that physical education programs have been cut from school budgets.

Making streets safer for bicycling and walking by providing bike lanes and traffic calming measures would enable more Americans to get their recommended 20 minutes of daily exercise by walking or bicycling to local destinations.  Making it safe for children to walk or bike to school is one of the most important things communities can do to provide the means for young people to get daily exercise.  How wrongheaded, then, that Congress recently cut funding for the “Safe Routes to School” grants that helped communities provide safe opportunities for kids to walk and bike to school under adult supervision.

Bicycling to Health

A growing number of people, myself included, think that bicycling can be a big part of the solution to our nation’s obesity crisis.  For example, last Tuesday evening, I attended a community forum addressing youth obesity in Southern California, sponsored by KPCC and Bike SGV, that featured Carlos Morales, the founder of the Eastside Bicycle Club, who made bicycling a part of his healthy lifestyle and encourages others to do so by sponsoring community bike rides.  As Morales tells it, bicycling literally saved him from obesity.  Ten years ago, he was obese (defined as having a body mass index of more than 30), and profoundly unhealthy.  He dealt with the stress of his job by overeating, and usually came home from work too tired to exercise.  As part of a doctor’s regimen of diet and exercise, he began to ride his bike, one mile at first, then gradually building up the miles he was able to pedal.  The bike also helped relieve his stress, and gradually he began using his bike to get around town.  The more he did so, the more the weight came off.  Morales’s story is an inspiring illustration of how bicycling can help save us from the unhealthy trajectory we’re on, by getting people active, by providing economical, personal mobility so that people have more options to get to where they can buy healthy food, and especially, by getting young people started on a life where regular healthy physical activity is built into their lives.

(L to R) Jose Martinez, Dr. Eric Walsh, Carlos Morales, and Dr. Karen J. Coleman address the Crawford family forum in Pasadena on the problem of youth obesity in Southern California.

What is especially inspiring about Carlos Morales is that he is not only a living testament to the power of the bicycle to change people’s lives for the better, but he has brought that message to his community through his organization, the Eastside Bicycle Club, where he tries to inspire others.

One of the questions raised by forum moderator Jose Martinez was whether government policy can play a role in changing the built environment so that people can live healthier lives.   The answer, when it comes to bicycling is an emphatic yes.  In fact we’re already spending the money, but we spend it almost exclusively on a system of roads that are designed primarily for cars, despite the fact that cars contribute to the sedentary lifestyle and stress that contribute to the obesity epidemic.  Many people (especially parents) are understandably concerned about using a bicycle for part of their transportation because there are so few bike lanes and bike-friendly streets in our communities.  The good news is, for a tiny fraction of what we spend on one mile of freeway, we can reengineer hundreds of miles of roads to make them safer for bikes, by building bike lanes, cycle tracks, and other measures that provide safe space on our streets for people of all ages to walk or bicycle for personal mobility and exercise.

We must make the commitment to bike-friendly streets.  Our lives, and those of our children, literally depend on it.

Pasadena’s Bike Plan (part 2)

The area around Pasadena’s Huntington Memorial Hospital (HMH) has a great deal of potential for bike-friendly infrastructure and transit-oriented development.

In previous posts, we’ve provided an overview of Pasadena’s proposed bike plan and offered suggestions for bike lanes to the north and south of the Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line station.  Today we shift to the area around the Del Mar and Fillmore Gold Line stations near HMH.  The Metro stations themselves provide ample bike parking, and there are numerous interesting destinations within a short bicycling distance from the stations, but the city must provide more bike lanes on key routes leading to the Del Mar and Fillmore stations if it is to meet its goals of increased bicycle mode share and decreased carbon emissions in this part of Pasadena.

Pasadena Avenue will eventually have a much-needed bike lane.

The good news is that Pasadena currently has bike lanes on Marengo Avenue south of Del Mar and on Glenarm east of Marengo, and plans to add a bike lane on Pasadena Avenue (above), a crucial north-south route west of the Gold Line that will provide bicyclists with safe access to HMH and the west end of Old Town.  The city is to be commended for these efforts at creating bike-friendly infrastructure on these streets, including a generous sprinkling of bike racks on sidewalks in the area, so there are plenty of places to lock up your bike when you ride these streets.

The bad news is that the city continues to rely too heavily on its “bike routes” and “enhanced bike routes” for much of its planned bike infrastructure expansion in the area.  As we’ve seen, these routes usually allow automobile parking on the road’s shoulder or curb, creating a danger zone for cyclists as they are pinched between the parked cars and moving vehicles in the traffic lanes.  Years ago I had a bad experience while riding on such a route, squeezed between a truck and a parked car, so perhaps I’m particularly sensitive to this problem, but it highlights the serious safety compromise that is made when parked cars are given priority over bike lanes.  It also highlights a key problem for non-car mobility, namely, that the existing and proposed bike lanes in this part of Pasadena do not form a contiguous network and do not connect directly to and from the Metro stations.

Not much room for bikes on this “bike route” at the Del Mar Gold Line station.

Riding my bike in the area around HMH last week, despite my years of cycling experience, I had to be an aggressive urban street warrior when I was riding in the heavy weekday traffic on streets like Raymond Avenue or Del Mar (a “bike route,” above).  Forget about Fair Oaks Ave. (see picture below) or California Blvd. (another “bike route” east of Marengo), where I opted for the relative safety of the sidewalks and had to crawl at low speed around pedestrians.  These “bike routes” may be quite comfortable for cyclists on early Sunday mornings when there’s little traffic, but if people are to be expected to use them for commuting, they have got to feel safe to ride during normal weekday traffic, and, to me, they don’t.

Despite nearby parking lots, free curb parking for cars on Fair Oaks takes precedence over bicycle safety near the Fillmore station.

Because “bike routes” and “enhanced bike routes” provide signage, but not protected space for cyclists, they will do little to entice less aggressive or experienced riders.  The bottom line is, if cities don’t make riding safe and comfortable for a broad swath of people (not just experienced cyclists), and don’t make it safe, easy, and comfortable for this wider range of people to access transit stations by bicycle, they will not see significant increases in the number of people using bicycles for daily transportation in this part of the city.  This is a shame, because the medical center surrounding HMH is filled with many young health-conscious doctors, nurses, and medical employees (see picture below) who could take advantage of a network of safe bike lanes connecting their workplaces with nearby transit stops.

Huntington Memorial Hospital (HMH) provides bike lockers for its employees. This weekday, all but one were empty. Not surprising considering the dearth of bike lanes nearby.

Getting Started

Let’s say you want to incorporate your bicycle into your life, or drive less and be healthier.  How do you get started?

First, of course, you need a bike.  If your bike has been sitting in the garage gathering dust, check it and make sure the tires are properly inflated and the brakes work.  If you’re looking to buy a bike, I suggest getting a practical, comfortable bike with gears, lights, and a rear rack and/or front basket to carry things.

You certainly don’t need the most expensive full-suspension mountain bike or a lightweight carbon fiber racing bike.  In fact, these bikes are often more appropriate for super-specialized riding (i.e., racing), not all-around practicality.  Beach cruisers, while popular, tend to be limited in terms of gearing, so if you live in a hilly area (as I do) they’re not very useful.  Get a bike with regular “platform” pedals, so you don’t need special shoes to ride (“clipless” pedals are great for racing, but they require special shoes).

Second, set a goal for yourself.  A good goal to get you started is to substitute your bike for one short car trip per week.

Third, find your address on a map, and draw a one-mile radius around it.  Find all the places you go within that one-mile radius (school, library, bank, post office, grocery store, friend’s house, park, etc.).  Then scout less traveled side streets, if possible, to make your cycling more comfortable.  If you’ve got bike lanes or bike paths around you, use them.

Now, a word about bicycling in traffic.  Some parts of your short trip will involve bicycling in traffic.  It’s actually safer than most people assume, but you should ride defensively, be aware of your surroundings, and know the rules of the road (the LA County Bicycle Coalition website has an excellent overview).  In California, bicyclists have all the rights and responsibilities of any other vehicle on the road.  That means by law you have every bit as much right to the road as cars do and you have to obey the traffic laws, just like cars do.

There’s a huge debate among bicyclists about helmets that I think is ultimately time-consuming and fruitless.  In California, all bicyclists under the age of 18 have to wear them.  I usually wear one, especially if I’m going someplace where traffic is heavy.  I think being visible, paying attention, and following the rules of the road are much more important for safety than helmets, but when I wear one it’s nice to know I’ve got the protection it affords.

Once you start substituting your bike for some of your short car trips, you’ll enjoy the exercise it provides, appreciate the little things in your community that you miss in a car, and know that you’re doing your part to reduce carbon emissions and pollution.  Oh, and you’ll be saving money on gas, too.

Best of all, you’ll be having fun.  So, get out there and ride!

The Pathology of the Automobile

There is a peculiar pathology that overtakes a society dedicated to the car, one that values the car over the well being of people who are not in cars.  Once you’ve succumbed to what I’ll call the pathology of the automobile, it makes perfect sense to hop in 4,000 lbs of steel to pick up a quart of milk, and any pedestrian or bicyclist who gets in your precious way be damned.

As Europeans have sought to make their cities safer for bicyclists and pedestrians, some auto manufacturers have attempted to market some of their cars as less deadly to pedestrians.  The problem is there’s really no way to make a 4,000 lb car “safe” when it plows into a human body.

Take the $126,000 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL 550, which boasts a new, blunt front end, so that your gleaming Benz will cut a hapless walker off at the hips instead of the knees and a hood that “gives” a bit more when a person lands on it, presumably increasing the survival rate.  Thus the Mercedes allows its well-heeled owner to drive to the fitness club and pay for the privilege of walking on a treadmill, secure in the supposition that any poor sap who’d gotten in the way would wind up in a wheelchair instead of a coffin.  I guess that’s one way of looking at progress.

Lest you think I’m a bit too cynical, or that I overstate the blindness of our car-addicted society to the absurdity of this, consider automotive journalist David Undercoffler’s review of the Mercedes SL 550 in the L.A. Times.  The problem, as far as Undercoffler sees it, is not the obscene death toll wrought by the automobile, it is that the car’s redesign for pedestrian safety has “thrown a wrench into the aesthetic evolution” of the Mercedes, giving it “a bug-eyed face.”  Such “regrettably conspicuous” “collateral damage” to the previously sleek lines of the Mercedes could have been avoided, Undercoffler suggests, “if Europeans didn’t walk so darn much.”  Yeah, leave it to those darned Europeans, who had to go and ruin a perfectly good-looking car out of a silly concern for the losers who had the misfortune of not being in one.

It would be fairly easy to laugh this off as the pathetic musings of a car-addled brain if the pathology weren’t so common, and if the death toll wasn’t so serious.  Automobiles kill an average of 13 pedestrians every day in the United States.  That’s almost 5,000 a year.  That doesn’t include the many more seriously injured every day.  We’ve become so enthralled with our cars and so convinced of our entitlement as drivers that we can’t—or won’t—see the incredibly high social cost they impose.  Instead of driving less and refashioning our cities around less deadly alternatives (transit, bicycles, walking), a society suffering from the pathology of the automobile tinkers with its death machines and bemoans the maudlin concern for human life.

Now, I don’t mean to imply that we shouldn’t try to make cars safer, but the focus on reshaping the car’s bumper seems a bit like trying to make cigarettes less deadly by putting filters on them.  Complaining about the loss of a car’s sleek front end is like complaining that cigarette filters destroyed the macho look of unfiltered cigarettes.  It sort of misses the point.  Since both products are inherently deadly, ultimately we’ll really make things safer only if we reduce our dependence on them.

If we were to look at cars the way we look at cigarettes–another deadly consumer product that produces an irrational addiction–then it might lead us to some “crazy” ideas.  We might start, as we’ve done with cigarettes, by taxing them more heavily to discourage their use and defray the myriad health and environmental costs they impose on society.  We could use the money to build safer, convenient transit systems that would wean us off our auto-dependence (not to mention our wars for oil).  We could ban automobile advertising or have PSAs that show the real carnage produced by the automobile to counteract the multi-billion dollar car-and-oil propaganda campaign we’re subjected to every time we turn on the TV.  Let’s create car-free spaces in our cities and on our streets, just as we have smoke-free spaces so that people can move about without fear of death or dismemberment from a 4,000 lb blunt-nosed projectile like the Mercedes SL 500.  Let’s assume that the right to walk across the street without being hit by a car is as important as the right to breathe smoke-free air.

In a society suffering from the pathology of the automobile everyone and everything–even human life–must be sacrificed to the presumed rights of the driver.  In a recent story on the ostensibly baneful increase of bicyclists on city streets, John Bowman, a spokesman for the National Motorists’ Association (described by the Detroit Free Press as “a drivers’ rights advocacy organization”), exhibited this pathology when he told the paper,

In certain cities, where they’re very bike-friendly, you often see bikers [sic] asserting themselves maybe more than they should. . . . Bicyclists need to look out for cars because they’re most vulnerable.  In any type of conflict between a car and a bike, the car always wins.

So, let’s get this straight, if bicyclists “assert” their right to the road, they’re automatically at fault because in a “conflict” between a human and 4,000 lbs of steel, “the car always wins.”  There is a certain logic to this, and it is the logic of the sociopath: I’m bigger than you, so get out of my way and keep your mouth shut or I’ll kick your ass.  Thus forewarned, it’ll be your own fault when I beat the crap out of you.

A more balanced perspective that cared more about human lives than the continued dominance of the automobile would turn Bowman’s logic on its head.  Cars, Mr. Bowman, need to look out for pedestrians and bicyclists, precisely because they’re most vulnerable.  See that little brake pedal in your big car?  Just apply a little pressure on it and you could save a human life.

Human life more important than the car?  Sounds crazy, I know.

Bike Paths (part 2)

Eaton Wash, Pasadena. A bike path is under consideration for this location.


An easy bike path addition in the San Gabriel Valley would be this existing pathway along the Eaton Canyon wash in Pasadena, which could made bike-ready with minimal upgrades.  This route runs along the Eaton Canyon wash between Altadena and Pasadena and would provide an excellent recreational bike path as well as a convenient north-south route for bike commuters.  This route is currently listed in the L.A. County Department of Public Works bicycle master plan as a future bike path, but there is no timetable for opening it.  There is no doubt this would be a popular route, the only question is, how long will we have to wait?

Bike Lanes Needed (part 2)

In light of the City of Pasadena’s proposed new bike plan, here is the next in my series of articles on areas of Pasadena that need more protection for bicyclists.

Last month I posted a story calling for bike lanes on the northern approach to the Metro Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line station in Pasadena.  The area south of the Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line station is, if anything, even more difficult for cyclists to navigate safely, with high speed traffic and very little room on the shoulder of the road.  Transportation planners often refer to the “last-mile” problem, that is, the problem of how to get people from a transit stop to that last mile to work or home.  Integrating bicycles with transit is an ideal solution, but if the routes around transit centers are not bicycle friendly, that integration cannot occur.  If bicycle infrastructure is properly integrated with mass transit, however, it enables many more people who live or work within a 2-mile radius of light rail stations to leave their cars at home.

As currently configured, the southern approaches to the Sierra Madre Villa Metro station cannot be considered bike-friendly, limiting its usefulness for bike commuters who live to the south of the station.  Moreover, the lack of bike lanes places many of the businesses and shops on nearby Colorado Blvd in east Pasadena out of reach for all but the most intrepid (or desperate) bicyclists.

Looking north on Sierra Madre Villa at entrance to Pasadena Gold Line station.

In the first photo, we see the Sierra Madre Villa entrance to the Metro station, looking north.  A cyclist approaching the entrance from the south (effectively the only direct approach, since the 210 freeway cuts off all other approaches from the south) must either ride in the street dangerously close to heavy traffic moving at 35-40 mph, or ride on the sidewalk.  A cyclist exiting the Metro station here and heading south on Sierra Madre Villa would also have to ride on the sidewalk to avoid crossing 4 lanes of traffic to get to the southbound side of Sierra Madre Villa.

Riding on the sidewalk is not illegal in Pasadena, but neither is it always safe.  First, drivers pulling in or out of driveways are not looking for cyclists on the sidewalk, creating a danger zone at every driveway.  Second, where the 210 freeway overpass crosses Sierra Madre Villa, there are freeway on- and off-ramps that cyclists must cross and, as with driveways, motorists are not looking for cyclists at these crossing points.  Third, intersections are particularly dangerous for cyclists riding the sidewalk, especially from cars making turns across the cyclist’s path.  In 2011, cyclist Alan Deane, was killed in Pasadena when he was riding in the crosswalk at an intersection on Colorado Blvd.  In such cases, cars making turns often do not look for cyclists riding from the sidewalk into the intersection, even though the cyclist may be riding legally.  Fourth, the sidewalks here are relatively narrow, especially under the freeway, and it forces pedestrians and cyclists to share a narrow strip of concrete, making it more dangerous for pedestrians.  Forcing bicyclists to use sidewalks is a poor substitute for bike-friendly infrastructure.

Bicyclists on Colorado Blvd near Pasadena’s Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line station are forced to ride in the danger zone between parked cars and heavy traffic or “take the lane.” All but the bravest retreat to the sidewalk.

In the second photo, we see the view of Colorado Blvd. looking east towards Sierra Madre Villa.  Here, cyclists who ride on the road, as is their legal right, would be pinched between fast-moving, heavy traffic and parked cars along the curb.  Cyclists who want to bike to work or shop along this stretch of Colorado Blvd. face a decision to brave the white-knuckle ride on the street or ride on the sidewalk.  Needless to say, most choose the sidewalk.

Under the city’s proposed bike plan, neither Sierra Madre Villa nor Colorado Blvd. are slated for any bikeway upgrades, without which bicycle access to the Gold Line station from the south will remain problematic.  As a result, bicycle ridership in that part of Pasadena most likely will not increase from its current anemic levels, and transit ridership will not grow as much as it otherwise could.  Colorado Blvd. is wide enough for bike lanes, but it would probably require the elimination of curbside automobile parking to open up space for bike lanes.  Doing so would be politically difficult, but would improve safety and provide much-needed bike access to a key commercial district and the key Metro station in east Pasadena.  When we decide that the safety of bicycle commuters is at least as important as a curbside spot for parked cars, then we will have made real progress.

Pasadena Bike Plan

Pasadena city officials explain the new general plan.

Last week I attended one of the public meetings on Pasadena’s new general plan that includes new transit-oriented and bike-friendly developments. The meeting offered the public a glimpse of an exciting new vision for Pasadena that will allow people to get around the city more easily without a car by encouraging the development of more compact, multi-use “villages” that city leaders hope will allow for economic growth without sacrificing environmental sustainability.

For its land use guidelines, the city hopes to develop what it calls “neighborhood villages” and “transit villages.”  The neighborhood villages will be developed around key intersections (for example, Hill and Colorado, near PCC) and the “transit villages” around the city’s six Gold Line stations.  All of these villages will be bikeabile and walkable, with mixed-use development and will allow people to live, work, and shop without having to drive.  The city wants to maintain the historic feel and orient buildings toward sidewalks rather than parking lots.  Such development will allow Pasadena to continue to grow, according to city staff, without increasing automobile traffic, greenhouse gasses, energy consumption or water consumption.   I am delighted to see the City of Pasadena planning department incorporating some of the cutting edge urban planning concepts in their general plan.

The Mobility Plan

After an overview of the general plan, participants broke into small groups to examine detailed maps of various portions of the city plan, including a separate group devoted to the city’s mobility plan, centered on the concept of “complete streets.”   City officials are very keen on bringing some of the latest in “complete streets” design to Pasadena, including bike lanes, sharrows, and even, in some cases, separated bikeways called “cycle tracks” seen in many bike-friendly cities such as Long Beach.  In fact, city officials admit they are emulating Long Beach, whose bike-friendly streets earned it a prestigious award from the League of American Bicyclists in 2011 for being one of the top 20 bike-friendly cities in the U.S.

The mobility plan, if it is implemented as envisioned, will be a major improvement in the city’s streetscape.  The new map of proposed bikeways (shown below) appears to roughly double the mileage of streets that are slated for some kind of bike-friendly treatment throughout the city.  In my view, the bike plan is most welcome and has the potential to put Pasadena “on the map” of bike-friendly cities in Southern California, but there are some aspects of the plan that could be strengthened.

Pasadena’s proposed bike plan.

First, where new bike infrastructure is planned, I’m afraid city officials rely a bit too much on sharrows, (shown in dotted yellow lines on the map, above) “bike routes,” and “enhanced bike routes,” (shown in light and dark green dotted lines on the map) instead of the more politically challenging alternative of bike lanes (dotted blue lines).  Sharrows, bike routes and enhanced bike routes don’t require any reconfiguration of street space or restriction of curbside parking, and this is what makes these alternatives less safe.

Sharrows are markers on the street showing that bicycles may share the lane with cars.  As Joe Linton has pointed out, however, while sharrows look good on paper, and appear to accommodate bicyclists (who already have a right to the road without sharrows) while doing very little to actually make the roads safer for them.  In fact, recently I noticed a few faded sharrows on South Lake Ave. between Colorado Bl. and Del Mar.  They’ve not been maintained, and I wonder if anyone even knows these faded markers still exist.  As a result, bicycling in the right lane down South Lake would be inadvisable for any but the most experienced and steely-nerved cyclist, and my recommendation for any cyclist going to South Lake would be to take one of the lesser-traveled side streets instead.  In short, if the city really expects its mobility plan to achieve its goal of increased bicycle travel, it’s going to have to do more than paint sharrows.  Bike lanes or cycle-tracks would be far more effective in enticing more people to use their bikes for transportation.

Similarly, the city’s proposed bike plan also relies too heavily on “bike routes” and “enhanced bike routes.”  Bike routes are streets that have been designated as a route appropriate for bikes with signs indicating such.  Aside from the signs, there are no other enhancements, and these offer no insulation from automobile traffic.  Where traffic is light, this is not a problem, but on some designated bike routes, such as California Blvd. west of Lake, there is no protection from a high volume of fast-moving traffic, and parked cars often force cyclists into the flow of traffic or on to the sidewalk.

Meanwhile, “enhanced bike routes” are designated with a 4-inch white edge line and “share the road” signage.  In an earlier post I noted that these enhanced bike routes often force bicyclists into the traffic lane to avoid the dangerous “door zone” of parked cars on the shoulder of the road.  Other enhanced bike routes, such as Washington Blvd. between Allen and Los Robles, need more than signage to make them safe for all but the most experienced bicyclists, and seem to force bikes onto the sidewalk for refuge from traffic.  In the case of sharrows, bike routes, and enhanced bike routes, share-the-road road signage is a low-cost substitute for carving out bike lanes.  The absence of bike lanes on some of the busier roads will make it difficult to encourage all but the most committed cyclists to take to these routes.

My final point is that there will need to be a commitment to follow through from Pasadena’s political leaders.  Do the City Council and the Mayor have the political will to put the resources behind the complete streets plan or will it wind up little more than an attractive map on a city website?  Will these complete streets initiatives be undertaken in a timely manner, or allowed to languish for years?  The question of political will is, I believe, the most crucial one.  This will be especially crucial when it comes time to make the hard political decisions to reallocate a relatively small amount of street space to bikes and pedestrians.  In order to give people real alternatives to automobile travel, it will be imperative for city leaders to make those tough decisions and devote sufficient resources to create a bike- and pedestrian-friendly streetscape.

In crafting a mobility plan that focuses on people, not just cars, Pasadena is taking an important and necessary step and the city’s vision of walkable and bikeable neighborhoods is welcome news.  Taken as a whole, the bike plan is a positive step, but looking at the relatively small number of new bike lanes in the plan, the city still has work to do to achieve its goal of complete streets.  My suggestion would be for the city to immediately implement its proposed bike lanes, and then, over the next 10 years, upgrade at least half of the bike routes and enhanced bike routes to bike lanes.

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