Something Happening Here
When Phillip O’Neill was struck by a motorist and killed while riding his bicycle on Del Mar two weeks ago, a cry of grief went up from Pasadena’s cycling community. But unlike last year when two cyclists were killed by automobiles in Pasadena, there is a chance that this tragedy has galvanized the community in a way that may bring about change. In response to the tragedy, a “Complete Streets Forum” attended by upwards of 50 people was held last night at Pasadena Presbyterian Church on Colorado Blvd, and that meeting may be the genesis of a new organization that will push Pasadena officials to move faster to create safe streets for all road users (I say may be, for reasons I’ll explain below). Participants included many from the DPNA, as well as Caltech and PCC students, quite a few bicycle commuters and recreational riders from the area.
The Forum emerged from an email conversation initiated by Margaret Ho of the Caltech Bike Lab and Wes Reutimann of the Pasadena Downtown Neighborhood Association. Margaret was the first to call for a meeting to discuss the need for more bike-friendly streets, and Wes worked with the DPNA to host the event at Pasadena Presbyterian Church. The DPNA, active in livability issues in Downtown Pasadena, brought Rich Dilluvio, chief administrator for the Pasadena DOT, to give an overview of Pasadena’s proposed Bike Plan, which will be voted on by the City Council on July 15.
I have my own critiques of Pasadena’s bike plan, which I’ve written about here, here and here, so I won’t rehash them on this post, but it was clear from the questions to the DOT plan that many in the audience were unsatisfied with the slow pace and unambitious scope of the city’s plan and want improvement to the city’s bike infrastructure beyond the current proposal. After the Q and A, Dr. Mark Smutny, pastor of PPC and a board member of DPNA, facilitated a strategy session in which attendees broke into small groups and shared ideas. There were three “rounds” of small group discussion, followed by a sharing of ideas as a whole group. The small groups allowed everyone a chance to share their views and the whole group discussion distilled the major themes that emerged, providing the group with a vision for where we go from here.
As each group shared its findings, several larger themes became apparent. First, people are afraid to ride on many of Pasadena’s streets. They want to ride to school, work, socialize, exercise or run errands, but they’re afraid because of a lack of separated bicycle infrastructure on city streets. While the city’s proposal relies heavily on “bike routes” and “sharrows,” most people in the group said they wanted cycle tracks, buffered bike lanes, or at the very least clearly marked bike lanes, not class III bike routes. Second, they are frustrated that the city currently has no dedicated funding for bike infrastructure. Related to this is the fact that the city currently has no implementation goals aside from a vague goal in the current plan of 10 years or longer if funding is not available. So the group consensus was that the city has to put its money where its mouth is and fund infrastructure change sooner rather than later, with shorter-term goals and timetables that can be measured.
Finally, there was a consensus that the group needs to organize to make its voice heard by those in power. Several suggested the formation of a bike/pedestrian safety task force to work with the city’s Police Department on enforcement of traffic safety. But it is clear to many in the room there is a desperate need to push the city to improve its infrastructure, and that change will not come by itself. There seemed to be a feeling (that I strongly share) that we need to organize some sort of group to this end. It was suggested that the group call itself the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition, but one participant thought that sounded “too political,” so it was decided that the name of the group would be decided later.
Nevertheless, the tide seems to have turned in Pasadena. With or without an official title, there is a new organization in Pasadena with energy and with a sense of purpose advocating complete streets as part of a livable, sustainable city. The group’s next mission is to develop a series of talking points and make our voices heard at the July 15 City Council meeting. But if real change is going to happen, the group will need to mobilize a wide range of grass roots constituencies in and around the city, develop an effective communication strategy, and organize to put sustained pressure on elected officials. If the group does these things, Pasadena could be poised to be the next great walkable, bikeable city in Southern California.
To put your name on the email list for the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition, please go to the DPNA website here.