Boyonabike!

Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

Archive for the month “September, 2013”

Greening Monrovia

Some time in 2015, foothill communities in the west San Gabriel Valley will get a light rail transit connection when phase 1 of the Gold Line extension opens from Pasadena to Azusa.  Stations have been designed and are being built, track is being laid, and in some cases, mixed-use condominium and apartment developments are being built nearby.  These developments, commonly referred to as “transit oriented development” (TOD), are designed to enable residents to commute by transit rather than automobile, reducing traffic, pollution, and GHG emissions.  In order for the Gold Line to effectively reduce traffic, pollution, and parking hassles, it must be designed in a way that enables people to access it by means other than the automobile.  To this end, cities along the Gold Line extension must begin to provide a network of safe pedestrian and bike access to the stations.

Chris shows me around the future Gold Line station in Monrovia where there are plans for bike lanes.

Chris shows me around the future Monrovia Gold Line station where the city could add bike lanes.

Recently I met with Chris, a local bicycle advocate from Monrovia, who took me around town to discuss the city’s bike plan and ride other streets where the city  could add bike lanes.

We rode from Colorado Blvd to Magnolia, then Magnolia south of the 210 freeway to Pomona Ave. where one of the new TODs is being built.  From there we rode to the site of the new Gold Line station, where Chris tells me there are plans for a new bike path running parallel to the Gold Line route east to the San Gabriel River bike path.  If this is true, it would provide a wonderful recreation and commuting route in this part of the San Gabriel Valley.

Monrovia Bike Plan

Monrovia’s bike plan (see map, above) shows bike lanes planned for installation on Colorado Blvd. (blue dotted line), while a class III “bike route” is planned around the Gold Line station for Mountain, Duarte, and Shamrock (solid purple line).  No bike path is shown anywhere in the plan.  As I’ve discussed in previous posts, the problem with class III bike routes is they usually do nothing to reconfigure traffic flow and provide no protected space for cyclists on the roadway.  This usually means a street gets signage indicating it is a “bike route” but little else.  On such streets, less experienced or less confident riders are unlikely to feel comfortable enough to make the switch to bike commuting.  Thus, they do little to increase bicycles as a mode share for transportation.

Chris and I next rode to Myrtle Avenue, the major north-south artery leading from the future Gold Line station to Old Town Monrovia, the city’s main shopping and entertainment district.  Chris thinks there are discussions in city hall about bike lanes on Myrtle, and, if so, this would provide the most direct route between the Gold Line and Old Town.  Chris wasn’t sure how far north the bike lanes would extend, and there are bottlenecks at several points on Myrtle, so the logistics might be tricky.  Moreover, this isn’t shown on the city’s bike plan, and it would be easy for the city to backslide and not provide bike lanes.

Even with bike lanes on Myrtle, riders would also have to negotiate the area around the on- and off-ramps to the 210 freeway and the heavy traffic around those freeway ramps.  Chris thinks a better alternative might be for the city to forego the Myrtle bike lanes, and instead reconfigure traffic on two adjacent north-south streets, turning them into one-way streets with wide bike lanes on both.  Magnolia, (just to the west of Myrtle) he argues, could be reconfigured as a southbound one-way and California (just to the east of Myrtle) a northbound one-way.  there would be enough room for buffered bike lanes on both, perhaps even double-wide bike lanes running both ways on each street.  This essentially would convert Magnolia and California into “bike boulevards” that would enable commuters to easily and safely ride their bikes to the Gold Line, reducing automobile trips and spreading the benefit of the Gold Line beyond the nearby TOD.  It would also enable residents of the TOD to bike to Old Town for entertainment, dining, and shopping.  Thus bike friendly infrastructure will also benefit Monrovia’s local businesses without adding to Old Town’s parking and traffic.

Plenty of room for bike lanes in front of Monrovia High School.

Plenty of room for bike lanes in front of Monrovia High School.

Another important link in a bike-friendly transportation network is connectivity to schools.  Currently there are no bike lanes on Colorado Blvd near the high school in Monrovia, despite the fact that there is plenty of room for them.  Narrowing traffic lanes and adding bike lanes would slow traffic speeds and increase safety in the neighborhood).  Well-marked class II bike lanes leading to Monrovia High School would encourage more young people to ride to school, and active transportation like bicycling and walking is much needed in our communities to combat the high levels of childhood obesity that is partly the result of a sedentary lifestyle.

Both of us agreed that Monrovia has great potential to be a more bike-friendly, and greener, city, but bold leadership will be needed.  Those who want safer and greener streets in Monrovia will need to organize to press the city to do the right thing.  If members of the the local community can come together and make their voices heard for bike-friendly streets, we could see some positive changes with the coming of the Gold Line to the San Gabriel Valley.  Monrovia, how much do you want safer streets?  How much do you want a greener, healthier city?

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Traffic Safety 101

LCI Dorothy Wong prepares class for obstacle course.

LCI Dorothy Wong prepares class for obstacle course.

Last weekend I attended an 8-hour bike safety class in Pasadena sponsored by the LA County Bicycle Coalition (funded by a grant from Metro).   The safety class, taught by three LCIs, provided an overview of the basics of proper bike fit, maintenance, and especially how to ride safely on the road.

The course leans heavily on the vehicular cycling philosophy that:

Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles. 

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a certain amount of ambivalence toward the VC philosophy.  The VC creed assumes people on bikes “fare best” as vehicles in the absence of separated bike infrastructure.  I would argue that people on bikes fare best when they ride predictably according to the rules of the road, but only up to a point.  On the one hand, bicycles are not cars and never will be.  When automobile traffic reaches a certain level of speed, I think cyclists fare best when they are provided with separated bike infrastructure.  Riding a bicycle in automobile traffic scares most normal people, and limits the number of people willing to ride bikes for transportation.  The low mode share of bikes in our transportation system will not change appreciably until we build a network of good, separated bike infrastructure on busier streets (also connected to a transit network).  One can argue about the form the infrastructure should take (bike lanes, buffered bike lanes, physically separated cycle tracks or bike paths), but the reallocation of street space away from cars is one of the big challenges of our time, in my opinion, and a philosophy that relies solely on education of bicyclists (however necessary that may be) remains only part of the larger task of redesigning our transportation system.

That said, I do appreciate the principles of vehicular cycling for streets on which there is no bike infrastructure (and that is the current state of most of our streets in the US, unfortunately), and the skills taught in this course could benefit anyone who wants to ride a bike on any street, from residential street to multi-lane road.  It not only taught me new skills, it reinforced those things I’ve already been doing right.   It was also great to meet other cyclists who commute by bike, some of whom go totally car-free.  Such interactions with fellow bike commuters remind me that I’m not as alone as I sometimes feel on my nightly commute in a sea of steel boxes.

The classroom portion of our course emphasized the safest and legal positioning of bicyclists on the road when there are no bike lanes (ride as far to the right as practicable but take the lane if it is too narrow for a car to pass you safely), the proper way to change lanes, make left turns, and signal your intentions to drivers.     Instructors drilled into our heads the importance of obeying all applicable traffic laws for our own safety.

The second half of the course was devoted to an obstacle course practice in road hazard avoidance (i.e., how to brake suddenly or dodge a hazard immediately in front of you) and culminated in a ride in traffic on the streets of Pasadena.  It was this last portion that was the most useful, enabling us to put the principles of vehicular cycling into practice.

For me, the hardest part of cycling is the sometimes nerve-wracking process of riding in a busy traffic lane when there’s no bike lane for protection.  I’m not a particularly fast rider (and never will be one, due to my old knees), and I don’t like the feeling of cars creeping up behind me or zooming past me too close for comfort.  I shared this with the instructors, all experienced riders, and they sympathized, but said that I should remember that I have a legal right to ride on the road in the lane, and that drivers would respect my assertiveness.  Moreover, I’d be safer if I held the lane in situations where it would be dangerous for cars to pass me and I shouldn’t compromise my safety for a drivers’ convenience (or my own, for that matter).  The key was to use hand signals and eye contact to communicate my intentions with drivers (and to read their intentions), and to confidently assert my right to position myself in the lane when necessary to prevent unsafe passing.

After the ride I felt a sense of accomplishment in taking a step toward being a bit more assertive on the road.  Since taking the class, I have noticed that I feel a little more confident on the road.  I know that I can assert my right to the lane when my safety requires it.

Everyone can derive benefit from these classes, and I’m sure that I’m a better, safer cyclist because of it.  I hope LACBC and other organizations continue to offer these classes, for the skills learned in these classes will make you a better rider, even if you only ride on bike lanes.  So, the bottom line is, these vehicular cycling skills work in situations where you must ride in the vehicle lane, and they are essential for everyone to learn.  But I still think we need better and more bike infrastructure and I still feel safer when there are bike lanes on the street–especially busy streets.  The thing is, as valuable as these skills are, you shouldn’t have to go into full road warrior mode to ride your bike in America.

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