Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

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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6 thoughts on “Pasadena Bike Plan

  1. Mike Wingis on said:

    A good disection of the plan Pasadena is pushing; as noted, political will is what is needed to make this a system they can be proud of. Anyone who has ridden a bike in Pasadena already knows that Pasadena does a poor job maintaining existing bike lanes, so much so that they can be dangerous to use. Improvements are badly needed!

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