Boyonabike!

Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

Archive for the month “January, 2015”

East Pasadena Exploratory Ride

Noreen Sullivan (2nd from left) joins members of the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition on a District 4 exploratory ride.

Noreen Sullivan (2nd from left), field representative for Councilmember Masuda, joins members of the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition on a District 4 exploratory ride.

Saturday morning members of Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition were joined by Noreen Sullivan, field representative for Pasadena City Councilmember Gene Masuda, on an exploratory ride around Masuda’s District 4 in east Pasadena.  PasCSC has been hosting exploratory rides for council members and their staff around Pasadena in order to raise awareness of the need for better bike infrastructure and build support for a citywide bike plan that addresses these needs.  The rides are an excellent opportunity for city council members to get a first hand idea of the importance of a bike plan and the need for specific improvements.  Nothing does this better than getting on a bicycle and experiencing it for yourself.

PasCSC members embark on their exploratory ride from the Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line station.

PasCSC members embark on their exploratory ride from the Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line station.

Our ride was organized by Candace Seu, an energetic volunteer for PasCSC, and took place on a gorgeous January day.  The ride started off from the Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line Station, and the group discussed the need for better bike access to the station, especially the need for bike lanes on Halstead, the safest bike approach to the station from the north and east.

Ride organizer and PasCSC member Candace Seu photographs motorists encroaching on bike lane on southbound Rosemead at Sierra Madre Villa.  The group also witnessed a motorist illegally cutting off a cyclist on the northbound side of the same intersection. Pasadena DOT, are you listening?

Ride organizer and PasCSC member Candace Seu documents speeding motorists encroaching on bike lane on southbound Rosemead at Sierra Madre Villa. We suggested that DOT needs to install bollards or some other means of keeping autos out of the bike lane.  The group also witnessed a motorist illegally cutting off a cyclist on the northbound side of the same intersection. Pasadena DOT, are you listening?

From Halstead, our group turned left on Rosemead Blvd, which has relatively new bike lanes for one block between Halstead and Sierra Madre Villa.  We proceeded to the corner of Rosemead/Orange Grove and Sierra Madre Villa, which is a dangerous intersection for bicyclists because of design features that encourage high motor vehicle speed and have insufficient protection for cyclists.  I’ve complained about this intersection before.  This intersection includes a right-turn merge lane from north(west)-bound Rosemead Blvd to northbound Sierra Madre Villa.  The traffic was too fast for bicyclists to feel safe because of the road design that prioritizes automobile speed over safety.  Indeed, while discussing the problems of the intersection, we witnessed a cyclist riding in the bike lane get cut off by a right-turning motorist who couldn’t be bothered to slow down for the cyclist.  We suggested to Sullivan that DOT redesign the right turn lane of that intersection and add green paint to the bike lane and signage to enhance motorists’ awareness of the bike lane.  She seemed concerned about the problems of this intersection and promised to share those concerns with Councilmember Masuda.

From there, the group rode west on Paloma street to Craig, Craig to Villa, and Villa back to Sierra Madre Blvd.  This part of the ride went mostly through quiet residential streets that are very pleasant to bike.  People in this neighborhood could easily bike to schools, parks, shops, and the Gold Line, but we stressed that the major streets surrounding the neighborhood connecting to these destinations need better bike infrastructure, otherwise most people won’t feel comfortable or safe bicycling them.

The group subsequently turned left on Sierra Madre Blvd and followed it past the farmers’ market at Victory Park and Pasadena High School then east as it climbs from Eaton wash to Hastings Ranch.  This portion of Sierra Madre Blvd has bike lanes, but as I’ve written before, they are narrow gutter or door zone bike lanes on a street with very fast traffic and wide traffic lanes.  By narrowing those traffic lanes just a bit the city would have space for wider, buffered bike lanes, which would make this stretch of roadway much safer and more comfortable for cyclists.  Since Sierra Madre Blvd is the main route to two high schools (Pasadena H.S. and LaSalle H.S.) and a major city park (Victory Park), safety for young people and families bicycling on this road is a crying need.  We also raised the possibility of a multi use path in the wide median on the boulevard, and this might be a good long-term project, but the buffered bike lanes are something that can and should be done right away.

From Sierra Madre Blvd., we glided down Hastings Ranch Road from and stopped at Rosemead Blvd, where we pointed out that there was room for bike lanes, and perhaps even protected bike lanes (sometimes called “cycle tracks”) on Rosemead Blvd.  We pointed out that Temple City has installed protected bike lanes on the section of Rosemead that runs through it.  Wouldn’t it be great, we said, to have those protected lanes continue into Pasadena?  Yes!

We concluded our tour back to the Gold Line station.  I was pleased that someone from the city council member’s office was able to hear our concerns, and see for herself some of the problems related to car-centric road design in this part of Pasadena.  I was also very pleased that the young people on the ride spoke up and asked for safer bike lanes for cyclists.  At the end of the ride Noreen thanked us for an enjoyable and informative experience and said she would report her observations to Councilmember Masuda.

The draft bike plan for Pasadena has many positive elements–especially for downtown—but east Pasadena is relatively neglected in the plan and I hope Councilmember Masuda will insist on the Pasadena DOT addressing key problem spots in east Pasadena as part of the bike plan.  Among these, the most pressing are the Halstead approach to the Gold Line station, buffered bike lanes on Sierra Madre Blvd, bike lanes on Rosemead Blvd., and the seriously dangerous intersection at Rosemead/Orange Grove and Sierra Madre Villa.

These exploratory bike rides are a wonderful way for city leaders to get out and explore their districts in a way that driving can’t.  In so doing, PasCSC hopes they see the need for prioritizing an ambitious new bike plan and—most importantly—implementing it sooner rather than later.  In so doing, Pasadena would move closer to its potential as a healthy, green, multimodal city.

Being an Advocate

A friend recently asked me how I got into bike advocacy.  Well, actually, she asked me how I got into “advocacy,” and I assume she meant bike advocacy, though I think I’ve been an advocate for social justice most of my life.  It’s just part of who I am, I guess.  I see something that needs changing and I research the issue and often join with others who are working on that issue.  We call such people “advocates” or “activists” or sometimes “troublemakers,” but, really, when you get right down to it, isn’t that just citizenship?  We’ve created these labels for active citizenship in part because we live in an era when our role as citizens is supposed to be passively consumed on TV or social media, not in real life.   Those who get out and organize for change are thus labeled as an aberration—a “special interest”—when in fact that’s what every citizen should probably be doing.

Back to the main question.  I got into bike advocacy because the moment I started riding my bike for transportation I started to realize most of our streets had been misdesigned.  It was only as I studied the issue further that I realized how badly misdesigned they were and how it was connected to other misuses of social space and resources.  About the time I began substituting my bike for some of my short car trips (around 2008 or so) a colleague at work showed me an article on bicycle infrastructure in Europe—focused on either Copenhagen or Amsterdam, I can’t recall which—and it fired my imagination for what could be, what might be, and what is possible.  Since then, I’ve immersed myself in the history of how our society constructed a car-based infrastructure that limits how we live, interact with each other, and get from place to place.  It has underscored the importance of radically changing our infrastructure to adapt to more socially and environmentally sustainable transportation modes.

Shortly thereafter I started finding and joining bicycle advocacy (there’s that word again) organizations like the LA County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) and CICLE that connected me with others who had a similar vision.  I went on the LA River Ride sponsored by LACBC and several other group rides sponsored by CICLE.  Around 2010, I went on a CICLE-sponsored “tweed ride” in downtown LA.  In many ways I really saw LA for the first time.  Oh, I’d driven through LA many times, usually on my way to someplace, but being on my bike revealed the rich texture of the city for the first time.  It was a revelation that you could feel safe riding city streets if there were enough other people riding too.  I also met Joe Linton on this ride, and he inspired me to continue my effort to be the change I wished to see in the world, as Mahatma Gandhi would say.  I wanted to write about my experiences, share them with others to show that another world is possible, but I was reluctant.  Joe provided the encouraging words that helped me to start this blog, too.  I think that the experience of CicLAvia really reinforced how different—how much better—our human interactions could be in car-free spaces.  CicLAvia sort of turned me into an evangelist for creating car-free space in our communities and giving people realistic alternatives to the car.

This hasn’t been easy.  Recognizing how badly we’ve gone wrong when others don’t even recognize the problem exists can be a lonely and frustrating experience.  Reading writers like Jane Jacobs, Jane Holtz Kay, Jeff Mapes, Charles Montgomery, Jeff Speck, Peter Norton, Christopher Wells, and others, made me realize I wasn’t alone and helped me deepen my sense that these changes were not only possible but highly desirable.  Reading deeply about the existential crisis of climate change has reinforced that the status quo is unsustainable and that radical change is essential.

Change is never easy, but without a movement of organized people pushing for change it will not happen by itself.  When I see the need for safer streets for myself, I know that they’ll benefit others, too.  I also know that it won’t happen if we don’t shake people out of their complacency.  No individual can do it alone—it takes a group of people to get anything accomplished and the bigger and more diverse the group, the stronger it is.  It’s only working in concert with others that my choices make a larger difference.  And really, we build on the work of those who came before and we’re dependent on others joining the struggle after us, too.

My experience as an historian leads me to understand that going against the automobile-fossil fuel-industrial complex and changing people’s living habits will not be easy, but neither was the abolition of slavery, the struggle for workers’ rights, women’s rights, or civil rights.  Indeed, as Naomi Klein has suggested in her latest book This Changes Everything, these movements for human rights must be seen as part of the larger struggle for peace, civil rights, economic justice, a livable planet, and livable social space.   Making our streets and communities safer and more convenient for alternative modes of transportation (walking, bicycling, and transit) doesn’t solve all of these issues, but, properly understood, it is part of the solution that addresses each of them in part.

Change is happening, a movement is emerging.  Why am I an advocate?  I want to be a part of it—even if only a small part.  I don’t know exactly where the movement will lead, but that is what makes it exciting.

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