Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

Archive for the month “December, 2012”

Pasadena: Clean up your act.

Bike Lane Debris

This week, as I was riding in the bike lane on Sierra Madre Blvd in Pasadena, I noticed a distinct difference between the condition of the pavement in the car lanes and the bike lane.  As the City of Pasadena readied this street for the annual Rose Parade, it had apparently swept the gravel and debris from the automobile lanes, no doubt making it easier for parade floats and marching bands, but it had left the bike lanes on both sides of the street a mess of sand, gravel, rocks, and other road debris.  At first I thought this might simply have been a case of the sand blowing to the side of the road from the turbulence of car traffic, but two observations convinced me this was an intentional failure of the city to clean the bike lanes.  First, the traffic lanes were completely free of any road debris whatsoever.  Second, the line of heavy debris coincided exactly with the edge of the bike lane the entire length of the street, as shown in the photo (above).  The unmistakeable pattern of debris strongly indicates that the city swept the streets and intentionally avoided sweeping the bike lanes.

This is more than just an aesthetic issue, it is a safety issue and an economic issue as well.  Trying to avoid slipping on loose sand or getting a flat tire on a rock or broken glass on debris like this may force bicyclists to swerve into the fast-moving automobile traffic.  I also question the economic wisdom of avoiding sweeping the entire street.  Why only sweep part of the street, leaving the rest of it loaded with debris?  Doesn’t the city just make more work for itself with a job half-done?

Whether the city’s public works department realizes it or not, they sent bicyclists an unambiguous message:  you don’t matter.  Despite paying taxes for public services like everyone else, bicyclists get the back side of the city’s hand when it comes to the maintenance of bike lanes and other bicycle infrastructure.

Pasadena: clean up your act.

Christmas by Bike


It’s been perfect weather for bicycling here in Southern California lately, and I’ve done almost all of my Christmas shopping by bike this year (with the exception of a few things I’ve ordered online or by catalogue).  For the most part, it is an enjoyable experience.  The shopping center shown in the picture of my Salsa Fargo and Croozer cargo trailer (above) has a number of well-placed bike racks, which allows bike riders to lock up directly in front of most stores and makes it safer and more convenient for people on bikes.  I wish more merchants and municipalities understood the value of good quality bike racks and bike access to add to their bottom line.  In the absence of a bike rack, the shopper is forced to look for a sign pole or railing on which to lock up her bike, and these aren’t always located in the most convenient or safe places.  The presence of a good bike rack says to the bicycling customer, “you are welcome here and your business matters.”  Moreover, designing or retrofitting businesses with bike access costs far less than providing access and parking for cars.


As for locks, I recommend a good quality U-lock or chain lock (shown above).  You should use the lock to secure the frame of your bicycle to a rack or other immovable object.  If possible, place the U-lock around your wheel and your frame for extra security, as shown in the photo.  Don’t lock your bike to a post unless it is high enough and there is a sign on top of it which would prevent someone from lifting your bike over it.  Avoid cable locks (except perhaps to wrap around wheels and secure to a U-lock).  Most cable locks are relatively easy to cut with bolt cutters, and I wouldn’t use a cable lock if I was going to leave my bike unattended for more than a minute. Good locks aren’t cheap, but unlike many overpriced bike accessories, they’re definitely worth the expense.  Locking your bike properly will avoid giving a bike thief a Christmas present.

Wishing all my readers a joyous holiday, goodwill, and a safe journey on your bike!

Remembering Jane Holtz Kay


I first read Jane Holtz Kay’s wonderful book Asphalt Nation in the late 1990s, and it was one of the first books I’d read that systematically dissected the problems of the car-dependent culture.

Oh sure, growing up in Southern California, I knew firsthand about smog alerts, sig alerts, and oil spills, but, like so many American adolescents, I couldn’t wait for my 16th birthday and the California Driver’s License that signified freedom and the state’s semi official recognition of my nascent adulthood.

By the late 1990s, my growing concern over climate change and resource depletion got me thinking more critically about the automobile in our society (though I still drove a car pretty much everywhere), and prompted me to pick up her book and read it.  It got me thinking for the first time about the centrality of the automobile to a wide range of issues, not just air pollution, but sprawl and the sacrifice of public transit and people-centered urban space to the car.  It began an altering of my consciousness about the automobile that continues to this day.

Last week I was saddened to read of the passing of Jane Holtz Kay at the age of 74.  Her New York Times obituary noted that she “felt like a voice crying in the wilderness,” and that people’s response to her book was either “so what?” or a belief that they were powerless to change things.  As an advocate for alternative transportation, I certainly understand those frustrations, yet there was something else in the obituary that made me feel a sense that she was a kindred spirit, her own decision to give up her car and move to an apartment in Boston, within walking distance of public transit.  “She was a big believer in doing things,” her sister told the New York Times.  She lived her ideals, and she never quit trying to open people’s eyes to the necessity of shifting away from the car-centered culture if we are to live sustainably.

The notice of her passing prompted me to reread Asphalt Nation, and what is striking is how relevant it remains and how much it is not so much a voice in the wilderness as a voice ahead of its time.  The book is well worth reading today, and I’d urge anyone who is interested in “taking back” America from the automobile juggernaut—or even creating pockets of walkability and bikeability—to read it.

Her book helps us to see that the problems associated with the automobile do not just revolve around tailpipe emissions (though those emissions are themselves a huge problem), but also have to do with other quality of life issues.  Consider the freeway, the big box, the parking garage: all car-friendly/people-unfriendly places that will continue to dominate our landscape when everyone’s driving a hybrid.  Consider the alienation and monotony of suburban sprawl, the sedentary life behind the wheel, the fast food “drive-thru” meal, and the obesity epidemic it engenders.  Consider, too, the huge drain of car payments, insurance, and auto maintenance on the average family budget.  None of these problems will be ameliorated by buying a Prius.

She saw the end of the age of the automobile as historian Frederick Jackson Turner had seen the end of the frontier in American History, the end of en era that had defined the nation, and the beginning of an era, she hoped, marked not by the desire for “escape,” but by “the cultivation of a landscape that values place more than passage, that restrains auto mobility in the name of human mobility, that re-thinks the way we live.”  She hoped to create a “human and humane frontier” in the 21st century.  (9)

She drew the veil away from many of the myths of automobility:  that cars made us “free,” (they left us dependent on them and cost us extravagant amounts of money); that cars meant “progress,” (instead of destroying walkable communities and replacing them with “road-wrapped sprawl,” marked by its signature architectural monuments—the freeway and the big-box store in the middle of acres of asphalt parking lot.); and that they were simply a reflection of “free market” forces (instead of the massively subsidized system they are).  But her book was more than just a litany of complaints about the automobile, it was also a window offering a glimpse of a way forward, where we might salvage our landscape and environment by shifting the focus from moving cars to moving people.  This would mean reorienting our streets away from the car toward walking, bicycling and public transit.

She asked us, in short, to re-imagine our lives beyond the automobile:

Suppose we didn’t have pockets emptied by car costs and a world sullied by their toxins.  Suppose we didn’t have traffic jams for the rich and cars on blocks and broken-down buses for the poor.  Suppose we had an easier, fuller way to live.  How better to live on traffic-calmed streets with grassy medians and leafed-over sidewalks, to stroll or bike down greenways, to traverse car-free Main Streets.  It is time to create a living space for humans and a healthy planet habitat.  It is essential to retrieve and absorb the walkable, bustling wonders of city life. (p. 357)

The movement to reclaim our culture from the automobile continues.  Her passing merely reminds us that the task is yet unfinished. Like Jane Holtz Kay, we need to be believers in doing things to shift away from the car- and oil-dominated society.

Bikes Good for Local Business

Portland bike corral

A new study by Portland State University shows that walkable and bikeable neighborhoods are good for local businesses.  The study showed that, while drivers spent more at supermarkets, walkers and bicyclists spent more at other local businesses.  The study, which surveyed about 20,000 Portlanders in neighborhoods where there is good bike and pedestrian infrastructure, concluded that, Drivers spent more per visit, but bicyclists and walkers made more frequent visits and tended to spend more per month.

It also reinforces the findings of a recent New York City Department of Transportation study that found significant sales increases for businesses on streets with protected bike lanes.  The conclusions of these studies confirm what most bicyclists know intuitively.  You’re more likely to stop by a pizza shop, coffee shop, or bakery when you’re walking or riding by than if you’re driving by at 35 MPH.  Moreover, this makes sense from a macro-economic perspective, too.  Consumers who spend less money on gas every month because they’re not driving as much have more disposable income to spend at local stores.

Such data is important to counteract the resistance some business owners have to, say, remove on-street parking to make room for a bike lane, cycle track, or bike corral (shown above).  It also reinforces the economic benefits of reallocating public space from cars to alternative transportation, such as walking, biking, and public transit.

Just one more reason rethinking our public space for walkability and bikeability makes good sense.

Stan’s Monrovia Bike Shop

Stan's Bike Shop openingI’ve long been a supporter of local bike shops.  They are part of the backbone of any healthy community.  A place to get your bike fixed, pick up that new light, lock, spare tube, or other accessory.  A place for riders to hang out.  And, of course, a place to buy that shiny new bike you’ve been wanting.  Local bike shop owners also contribute to their community in important ways: sponsoring rides, clubs, and other activities.  So, when a new bike shop opens, or an old one takes on a new life, as in the case of Stan’s, I think it’s cause for rejoicing.

Saturday, December 1, Stan’s Bike Shop held its grand opening under new ownership, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in front of a crowd of about 50 who gathered for the occasion.  Stan’s, a local institution on 880 N. Myrtle Ave in Monrovia, has changed owners, but didn’t change character.  New owner Carlos Morales hopes to maintain the shop’s traditional focus on local road riders, and expand the focus to include casual riders as well.   Morales promises to continue the service the shop’s old clients have come to expect, and expand his inventory to include a wider range of bikes for people of all ages.  He’s expanded the shop’s service department and added clothing, bikes, and other inventory for women.  Especially exciting to me is his commitment to reaching out to local youth, through bike safety workshops, bike rodeos, and other community events the shop will be involved in.  In short, he hopes to reach out and get more of the community on bikes.

I’m delighted to see Carlos taking ownership of Stan’s Monrovia Bike Shop.  His energy and vision have helped him start the Eastside Bike Club and helped him become an activist for the American Diabetes Association’s “Tour de Cure.”  These talents will help him in his new role as a bike shop owner.  If you’re in the Monrovia area, need a new bike, an old bike repaired, or want to find out about local bike events, stop by Stan’s on Myrtle Ave, or check out their facebook page.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: