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.