Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

R.I.P. Phillip O’Neill

It happened again.  Another dead cyclist.  Please forgive the tone of today’s post, ’cause I’m pissed off and not in the mood to be charitable.

Last week, 25 year-old Phillip O’Neill and a female friend were riding on Del Mar Blvd. in Pasadena on their first date.  Phillip was struck from behind by a motorist and died at the scene.  Now, Del Mar has plenty of room on the shoulder for bike lanes, but the powers that be in Pasadena think empty cars make better use of that space, forcing bicyclists to “take the lane” in 40-plus MPH traffic.  The driver apparently struck Phillip from behind, which suggests he was riding in the lane, as he was legally entitled to do.  At this time, little additional information is available, but one thing is certain, Pasadena’s leaders bear some responsibility for this tragedy.  This isn’t the first time a cyclist has been killed on Pasadena’s dangerous streets.  Last year, two cyclists were killed in separate incidents.  It isn’t as if the city hasn’t known its streets aren’t safe.  Caltech Bike Lab has been circulating a petition to the city to address the dangerous lack of bike infrastructure on the city’s major east-west routes like Del Mar for a year.  I and others have criticized the city’s lack of bike infrastructure, and poor maintenance of what little it does have.  I complain to anyone in the city who will listen.  Nothing happens.

Oh, I take that back.  2 months ago, the city installed a bike lane on one block of Rosemead Blvd. between Sierra Madre Villa and N. Halstead.  It includes a dangerous vehicle crossover zone on the westbound side that is an accident waiting to happen (about which I’ve complained to the city’s transportation administrator … but that seems to have disappeared into a bureaucratic black hole).  Second, the bike lane on both ends of the block lead to streets where cyclists are once again forced into traffic because of, yup, you guessed it, parked cars.  There have been a couple other piecemeal efforts here and there, but the city remains a dangerous place to ride a bike.

Pasadena has been “considering” a bike plan for some time now.  I’ve had a look at it and provided my input at public forums, and online.  Now we hear the city council will “take up” the issue at its next meeting in July.  About f***ing time.

Even if it is adopted whole, the Pasadena bike plan is, sad to say, distinctly underwhelming.  It looks great on a map, with lots of lines showing new bikeways throughout much of the central city.  Here’s the problem (which I’ve articulated before): with a few notable exceptions, the city’s bike plan relies on lots of “sharrows” and class III “bike routes,” which look great on a map, but are absolutely meaningless when you actually have to ride on them.  In fact, Del Mar, where Phillip tragically lost his young life, is currently a “bike route.”  Fat lot of good it did him.  Sharrows and “bike routes” that don’t provide separated or protected road space for bicyclists do nothing to protect cyclists from automobile traffic.  Sharrows (such as those recently installed on Glenarm) merely signify what is already the law—namely, that cyclists have a right to the lane.  Pasadena’s city leaders should ask themselves whether they would feel comfortable with their children or grandchildren riding to school or the store on Pasadena’s streets with only sharrows to protect them from speeding 2,000-lb cars and distracted, impatient, hostile drivers.  If the answer is no, then, well I guess we know where their priorities are.  Sharrows do offer politicians cover, however.  I’m sure there will be a lot of back-slapping and glad-handing by Pasadena officials that they’re making the city more “bike-friendly,” by putting sharrows down, but it’ll be for show.  I repeat, sharrows don’t do sh*it.  Tiny road signs that say “bike route” do even less.

The real hard work of making a city bike-friendly comes from providing things like buffered bike lanes and intersection bike boxes. But these things may require road diets or exchanging curbside parking for bike lanes.  Those things take political courage, because there is an adjustment period when drivers are angry and complain.  But drivers eventually adapt and people’s lives are saved.

Until now, Pasadena’s leaders have preferred to sacrifice the lives of cyclists and pedestrians rather than incur the temporary wrath of motorists’ overblown sense of entitlement.  Pasadena leaders, show me where you stand.  When you have the courage to reallocate road space to cyclists, I’ll be impressed.  In the meantime, rest in peace, brother Phillip.  I will continue the fight.

Phillip O'Neill's ghost bike on Del Mar Blvd.  Photo courtesy Elizabeth Williams.

Phillip O’Neill’s ghost bike on Del Mar Blvd. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Williams.

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15 thoughts on “R.I.P. Phillip O’Neill

  1. Alan on said:

    I avoid Del Mar like the plague! I use San Pasqual instead, travelling west bound from Sierra Madre to Hill, then south to California.

    • Alan, I too have used San Pasqual instead of Del Mar. But if you want to get to the shops and restaurants on South Lake, San Pasqual does not go there from the west, and is interrupted by Caltech if you’re coming from the east. Isn’t it ironic that we expect cyclists to go out of their way, because we lack the political will to remove on-street curbside parking from even one of the major east-west streets in Pasadena to provide bike lanes.

      • Kathy on said:

        My daughter was the “female companion” with Phil O’Neil. This has been heartbreaking for all of us. In one moment they smiled at each other and the next, he was gone. Sharrows? I had to Google it. I DO think sharrows would be noticed far more than the curb side “Share the Road” signs. Ghost Bike installations are the most thought provoking, outstanding eye-catchers for drivers to be aware, I think, right now. I am in contact with my City Councilman, Gene Masuda, and will start weekly, daily if necessary, emails to him about the need for bike safety here. Drivers’ hostility needs to be dealt with and as long as they’re distracted (phones, people, etc.,) they still look straight forward at the street and will see the sharrows. I do like sharrows and have not seen them in Pasadena myself. (I’m sure they’re there, it’s just me.) The CalTech area is loaded in bikes, there’s no excuse for the loss of my daughter’s friend. None.

      • Kathy. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Please accept my sincere sympathies for the loss of your daughter’s friend. You are absolutely correct that there’s no excuse for what happened. It is possible that sharrows might have made a difference, but many drivers don’t even know what they mean, and I’m not sure they do much good. In my view, a much better solution is for the city to provide a network of bike lanes on more of its streets, so that people can get to school, work, and shopping safely on their bikes without having to jockey in heavy automobile traffic. As you mention, distracted driving is an epidemic in our society that needs to be addressed with education and stiffer penalties, just as we do with drunk driving. I’m glad you’re emailing councilmember Masuda, and I would also encourage you to attend the July 15 Pasadena City Council meeting to add your voice to those who will be calling on the city to provide safer streets for cyclists and pedestrians. John.

  2. If you would like to sign the petition for better east west bike routes in Pasadena, here is the link! We have over 700 signatures and we need all the help we can get to push for change in Pasadena

  3. Kathy on said:

    This and other cyclist deaths are beyond unacceptable and I think we should hold the city responsible. I am permanently maimed and have been disabled for more than a year from an auto-on-bike accident in Pasadena. I’ve just now started to ride a little. I live very close to Del Mar. This is just sickening.

    I have signed the petition. I agree that sharrows are useless and actually kind of dangerous. Let me know how I can help.

    • Kathy, thank you for your comment. I am so sorry to hear about your injuries, but I am glad that you’re slowly getting back on your bike. We need to change the streets in Pasadena to make them safe for all. It is absolutely necessary, and I’m going to keep up the fight. Thank you for reading.

  4. Pingback: Lotsa links: Memorial rides, CicLAvia Sunday, the Summer of Cycling, and a VA bike rider says you suck | BikingInLA

  5. Hey everyone, Phillip was a member of the 5 star martial arts family, and as a way to support him and his family, the school is hosting a charity Muay Thai workshop, all the proceeds will be going to the O’neill family. The workshop will be hosted at 5 star martial arts, 4201 wilshire blvd suite 105, los Angeles Ca 90010 (323) 933 1708. The event will start Monday and Tuesday June 24th 25th from 6:30-8:30, we would love to see you all there.

  6. I am not sure, if you call the school I am sure someone would be able to help you better. Thanks (323) 933 1708

  7. Pingback: DPNA convenes “Complete Streets Forum” in response to cyclist’s death | Downtown Pasadena Neighborhood Association

  8. As a friend and a coworker of this dear man I am still saddened by his loss (let alone his families loss). I pray to God that the situation in LA county would improve for bikers. We miss him and his kindness everyday. May you rest in peace young man and God save your soul.

  9. Pingback: Pasadena Mayoral Runoff | Boyonabike!

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