Boyonabike!

Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

Archive for the category “Bicycle commuting”

Dangerous Drivers, Dangerous Roads

Approximate spot where driver cut me off

Approximate spot where driver cut me off

This morning I was on my way back from my ride to my daughter’s school, about to stop off at the local Trader Joe’s to pick up some groceries.  I was on a four-lane stretch of road that is clearly marked as a “Bike Route” (see photo).  I took control of the right-hand lane as state law allows, because the shoulder was intermittently occupied by parked cars and trash bins and the lane was not wide enough for a car to safely pass (In compliance with CVC 21202, sec a3-4).  It was daylight on a sunny day and I had my rear flasher on for safety.  Visibility was not a problem.
As I approached the intersection, I could see a white mini-van gaining on me in my rear view mirror. At the last minute he passed dangerously close to me and then swerved back into my lane, cutting me off with about a foot to spare (violating CVC 21760).  It was a straight intimidation move, designed to send a message that I don’t belong on his roads.  His life-threatening driving got him to a red light at the intersection literally 2-3 seconds earlier than he otherwise would have.  He was a white male about 65-70 years of age with his wife in the passenger seat next to him.  When I got to the intersection, I pulled up to the passenger side of his car and matter-of-factly said that he needed to give me three feet (I may have been talking loudly, because his window was initially closed, but I was not being hostile, despite the fact that he had nearly killed me and my adrenaline–not to mention my anger–were running high). As I explained the law, he rolled down the window and told me that I was “in the middle of the street,” and that I have to “get over to the side of the road.”  I tried to explain that there were parked cars and trash cans that prevented me from doing so, and he growled “fuck you, asshole” and then immediately sped off when the light turned green.  His intimidation tactic won’t keep me off my bike, but drivers like him are an effective deterrent to many more people riding their bikes for everyday transportation.  Until we protect bicyclists from motorists like him, we won’t see significant changes in mode share.
It’s sobering to think there are motorists, licensed to drive by the state, who don’t know the law and would kill you to save themselves the trouble of easing their foot off the gas for a few seconds.  When I got to Trader Joe’s, my legs were wobbly from the realization of how close I had come to serious injury or death because of someone’s reckless, ignorant, entitled operation of a motor vehicle—a potentially deadly weapon.  Moreover, I’ve had another close call in the bike lane less than half a block from that spot.  The streets in that part of Pasadena are dangerous for cyclists because of high traffic speeds and a lack of good bike infrastructure.  The City of Pasadena needs to make it safer for bikes, but I’m sure DOT staff get tired of hearing me complain.
Will they wait until I, or someone else, get killed before acting?

Street Fights

Visionary transportation planner Janette Sadik-Khan was the special guest of L.A. Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne at the Hammer Museum in Westwood last evening.  I was looking forward to a smart conversation about street space as public space and I wasn’t disappointed.  Sadik-Khan, the inspiring NYC transportation commissioner under former mayor Michael Bloomberg, was instrumental in remaking New York’s streets to be more people-friendly and safer, adding hundreds of miles of bike lanes (many of them protected bike lanes) and creating pedestrian plazas that have become destinations for New Yorkers and tourists alike.  Her new book, Street Fight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution (Viking, 2016), tells the story of how she did it.  Hawthorne is one of our most perceptive observers of LA’s public spaces who has a keen eye for the way designing the built environment around the automobile has impoverished our architecture and our civic life alike.  His eloquence and architectural vision have made him one of my favorite contemporary writers about LA.  Together their writings make a powerful case for the need to transform our city streets, and in so doing transform the way people experience city life.

In the old days when I used to drive everywhere, I would not have attended the lecture, since getting to Westwood from my home in the San Gabriel Valley would entail a teeth-gnashing drive through rush-hour (i.e., any time after 3:00pm) LA traffic and a hefty parking charge in Westwood.  Thanks, but no thanks.  Recent progress in LA Metro’s transit system, however, made it possible for me to take transit to the Westside.  I rode my bike from home to the new Arcadia Gold Line station and locked up my bike on one of the conveniently located bike racks there.  I then rode the Gold Line to Union Station, transferred to the Purple Line to Wilshire/Western, then took the Metro 720 Rapid bus down Wilshire to Westwood.  Total cost: $1.75 each way.  The total trip time door-to-door was about 2 hours, but unlike being stuck in the car, I could read, catch up on email, check social media, etc.  And it was much more relaxing than driving.

(Side note: the only downside to an otherwise pleasant round trip was a homeless guy who got on the Gold Line near Downtown on my late night return trip.  The poor guy smelled.  Really bad.  Here’s the thing: this is not Metro’s fault, and simply kicking homeless people off public transportation is neither humane, nor is it the answer.  Shutting yourself off from homelessness by driving your private metal box may spare you the smell, but it won’t solve the problem–in fact, it enables people to ignore it, to pretend it’s not their problem.  Reviving public transportation doesn’t allow us to turn our backs on social problems like private automobility does.  We as a society must find a way to provide basic housing, medical, and social services for all.  Other countries do it.  We can too.)

Back at the lecture, Sadik-Khan offered an inspiring, optimistic message about the transformative possibilities of remaking our street space, offering examples from her book, like the creation of the Pearl Street plaza, the pedestrianization of Times Square, and the installation of parking protected bike lanes on numerous streets.  She discussed the ways cities can and should shift from seeing streets merely as corridors for the movement of cars and more as places for the movement and social interaction of people.  She made a point of highlighting how unsafe our current car-centric design is, causing an average of 34,ooo deaths in the US per year.  We should no longer tolerate such an appalling human cost, and remake our streets accordingly.

For anyone paying attention in LA, the problem here is not vision.  LA has a good bike plan, and its updated Mobility 2035 plan is even better.  Our problem is implementation and lack of political will.  When asked how she overcame political and community intransigence, she said the keys were to (a) have a plan; (b) rapidly implement temporary, or pilot projects to show people how they work, and (c) have data to show safety and economic improvements that result.  Here in LA, long, drawn-out processes and political short-sightedness have stalled several important street improvement projects, including North Figueroa and Westwood Bl.  Her underlying argument, however, is that change is coming and it is good.  Car-centric planning and design is a relic of the past, safety, revived public space, and mobility choices are the future.  “Inaction is inexcusable,” she writes in her book.  To my fellow advocates, that means we must not give up.

One final point worth mention, is the subject of self-driving cars.  This topic makes some of my fellow bike advocates slobber all over themselves with techno-utopian glee.  Sure, they have the potential to make streets safer and possibly result in more efficient use of urban space if–and this is key–only if they are not used in such a way to allow automobiles to “re-invade” city space that we’re working so hard to make car free.  As both Hawthorne and Sadik-Khan pointed out, they also have the potential to increase sprawl and traffic.  Self-driving cars may address the safety issue, but not necessarily any of the other issues related to public space and people-centered design.  The point is to de-center the private automobile from our design priorities, whether it’s self-driving or not.

Fixing A Broken System

It’s not news to say our transportation system in Southern California is reliant on cars.  Such a system is incomplete, unsafe, and incredibly unhealthy for our communities and for the planet.  What is difficult is getting people to realize this transportation system is broken and convincing them they need to change it.  Sometimes I feel hopeful about our prospects, other times, not so much.  The victories seem small, and so few and far between.  The setbacks are not permanent, but with so far to go these delays prolong the time it takes to fix our broken system.

Nope, no room for bike lanes here.

Nope, no room for bike lanes here.

Last week, the City Council of Temple City voted not to adopt a “complete street” redesign of Las Tunas, a commercial street in the heart of that city.  The redesign proposal included bike lanes and would have made the street safer and more pleasant for pedestrians and bicyclists.  The redesigned street would have made downtown Temple City a destination, not just a thoroughfare.

I thought the signs looked good, but I was wrong.  A couple of months ago I attended a community meeting on the Las Tunas redesign and, though there was some opposition from local NIMBYs (one old codger at the meeting said bike lanes were a “sign of mental illness”), the city council voted unanimously to move forward and place it on the agenda for the next meeting.  At last week’s city council meeting (which I could not attend because of work commitments), opponents were apparently out in force, and the “streets-are-for-cars” crowd won the day.  The opposition—mostly older residents—pressured the city council to abandon even a modest proposal for bike lanes.

It was a setback for the region, and leaves Las Tunas a dangerous commuter arterial instead of a vibrant center for local people and businesses.  I have no doubt that the people of Temple City will eventually see the light, but in the meantime the design of Las Tunas remains stuck in the past, serving only a part of the community’s needs, forcing everyone else into a steel box.

Another example of the broken system is that there is still no real usable network of bike lanes that would allow people to get around without a car.  Who would want to do such a thing?  Consider a family friend of ours, a student at Whittier College.  Like many college students, she doesn’t have a lot of money or a car, and she recently got a part-time job down the road from her college.  She wants to ride her bike to work, but she’s not particularly experienced, and the route includes some busy arterials  like Lambert Rd., where automobile speeds can reach 40mph.  There are a few streets with bike lanes (shown in solid green lines on the Google map, below), but there are large gaps including a long stretch of Lambert that would leave her stranded halfway to work on a busy street with no bike lane.

Whittier, CA: some bike lanes, but mostly incomplete streets.

Whittier, CA: some bike lanes, but mostly incomplete streets.

Bike lanes—let alone protected bike lanes—are still a rarity in this part of the San Gabriel Valley.  As with many suburban areas, there are few transit options, either.  Her parents face the choice of allowing her to ride her bike on incomplete car-streets or shelling out thousands of dollars for a car (adding another car to already-congested roads, adding more pollution and GHGs to our air, depriving a young person of healthy exercise, etc).  Here is a person who wants to ride to work, yet our transportation system makes this choice so daunting that one feels almost forced to choose a car.  This is the opposite of freedom, the opposite of a complete transportation system.

When we create a transportation system that only works for cars, we create a partial system that excludes and marginalizes people who can’t afford cars, don’t want a car, or who are unable to drive.  We essentially force all but the most experienced and confident (or desperate) to buy into the car system.  Once people buy into that system they expect cities to design infrastructure for their convenience, which further reinforces the incompleteness of this unsafe, inequitable, unsustainable, people-unfriendly system.

We must create a transportation system that works for everyone and prioritizes more sustainable, healthy, and socially-equitable modes of transportation.  We must have the courage to change a car monoculture that impoverishes our public spaces, marginalizes those who can’t afford a car, contributes to our climate crisis, and kills tens of thousands (and injures or maims hundreds of thousands) of Americans every year.  We owe it to our children to create a better system.  At times the enormity of the task seems overwhelming.

But the work continues and I am not free to abandon it.

Talmud

Vehicular Violence and Victim Blaming

Riding a bike for transportation isn’t easy.  Well, let me rephrase that.  It is easy, but our society makes it harder than it should be.  Among the problems cyclists face are 80 years of mis-designed roads that are dangerous for people who walk or ride bikes, a legal system that too often enables drivers to get away with mayhem or murder of vulnerable road users with the tired excuse “I didn’t see him/her,” and lack of basic amenities such as secure bike parking, even in areas that are supposedly “bike-friendly.”  Finally, there is the pervasive tendency of the driving public to reflexively, unselfconsciously, implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) blame cyclists for the danger caused by cars.

Our car culture has become very good at shifting the blame away from cars and drivers’ behavior.  Bicyclists getting struck and killed by motorists?  Make them wear helmets, hi-viz, spray their bikes with reflective paint.  They still might get killed by a distracted driver, but ultimately anyone who rides a bike on the streets is asking for it, right?  Whether motorists realize it or not (and for the most part, they don’t) this is the most infuriating kind of victim-blaming.  It would be as if we sought “solutions” to gun violence by marketing bulletproof vests and kevlar helmets to everyone.  “She got shot and killed?  Doesn’t she know the streets are dangerous?  Too bad she wasn’t wearing her bulletproof vest and kevlar helmet!

Let me repeat.  The overwhelming danger on our roads is not bicycles.  The real danger is cars, or more specifically impatient, reckless, selfish, distracted, impaired, and/or careless drivers.  After 70 years of designing roads primarily to maximize the speed and volume of automobiles on public roadways, we need to re-engineer our roads for multimodal commuting, safety, and environmental sustainability.  Some people get this, and things are changing.  People in cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen ride bikes everywhere.  Hardly anyone wears a helmet and no one sprays themselves with paint.  You know why?  They’ve designed their streets for the safety of all road users.

In addition to redesigning our roads, to prioritize transit, bicycling, and walking instead of the private automobile, we need tougher laws for drivers who crash into, injure, or kill vulnerable road users.  Those are slowly being implemented, too.  Finally, we need a comprehensive education campaign on road safety, focused primarily on those operating dangerous heavy machinery in public spaces—cars and trucks.

Frankly, what we don’t need (or what is so far down the list as to be irrelevant) is bullshit products like “Volvo Life Paint,” the car company-sponsored reflective paint marketed for bicyclists.  Listen, I think bicyclists need to take reasonable measures to be seen, including reflectors and front and rear lights.  What we don’t need are motorists who see products like helmets and sparkly paint and think that absolves them of the need to change their behavior and support the re-engineering and re-prioritizing of our road spaces.

Instead of telling cyclists what to do, here’s a hint: slow down and pay attention while you’re driving.  Drive as if you’re at the controls of a potentially deadly projectile.

I commute home by bike nearly every evening, in all conditions.  I am a trained cycling safety instructor and have years of experience riding the streets.  I also have a drivers’ license and a good driving record for over 30 years.  I’ve thought a good deal about the risks and extensively studied the scholarly and popular literature on issues facing cyclists and the need to improve safety conditions.  When I ride at night I wear reflective accents on my clothing and have two sets of lights (two in front and two in rear) on my bike and another set on my helmet.  Despite this, I frequently encounter drivers who drive carelessly or dangerously around me.  You’d be surprised at how my vantage point on the bike allows me to see drivers talking—and texting—on their phones while driving.  If I am struck by a motorist (heaven forbid), it’s not going to be because I didn’t have Volvo’s effing sparkly paint on my bike.

We certainly can do more to educate cyclists and provide lights for night riding (as advocacy groups are doing all over the country), but that’s not the main problem.

The main problem, let me say once again, is cars.  It’s a lack of safe infrastructure.  It’s unsafe driving.  It’s a car culture that sells cars on TV by overt appeals to fantasies of speed and danger.  These are systemic problems that need to be confronted and changed sooner rather than later.  A bullshit product like Volvo Life Paint takes our eye off the ball.  It allows motorists to persist in the comforting (for them) fiction that the only thing that needs to change is cyclists’ behavior or appearance.  It allows a company that manufactures machines of death and environmental destruction to market itself as the savior of cyclists.  Car companies know that their business model is destructive of the environment and human life, they know that millennials are driving at lower rates than previous generations, that young people want to live in walkable, bikeable communities with access to transit.  They’re desperate to appear “cool.”

Volvo Life Paint is not going to solve a road violence problem that is ultimately caused by cars and car-centric infrastructure.  Just as VW’s “Clean Diesel” cars weren’t going to reduce air pollution.

Time to tell the car companies to take cynical marketing gimmicks like “Volvo Life Paint” and shove it where the sun don’t shine.  Meanwhile, some of us are going to continue working for real change in our transportation system.

New Bike Co-Op in El Monte

Ribbon cutting at the new bike co-op

Ribbon cutting at the new bike co-op

A new bike co-op opened its doors yesterday at the Seymour Family Center (formerly Mulhall elementary school) in El Monte.  Sponsored by BikeSGV, the local bike advocacy organization, the “Bike Education Center” (BEC) provides the members of the community a space (for a nominal fee) to work on their own bikes, learn bike repair, and even rent bikes.  There will also be regular bike safety classes taught by local LCIs (League Certified Instructors).  I’ve been calling for more bike co-ops for years, and it is especially gratifying to see this one finally come to fruition.  Aside from the CalTech Bike Lab (open only to students, faculty and staff at CalTech), it is only the second bike co-op in the San Gabriel Valley.  Bike co-ops can be great spaces not only for wrenching and education, but for bike community organizing, advocacy, and activism.

Wrenching at the new BEC

Wrenching at the new BEC

The BEC fills a very great need in El Monte, a working-class community that has a large proportion of people who depend on bikes for transportation.  Riding the bus or my bike in and around El Monte, I’m constantly struck by the fact that it really is “bike city USA” if you look at all of the people riding utilitarian bikes for transportation, carrying their groceries or work gear with them.  Many of these individuals are immigrants or people of color and their bikes are their means of transport.  Further, with El Monte’s main transit hub, the El Monte bus station, nearby, the bike/transit transportation connection is very strong in this city.  Sadly, El Monte has very few (read: almost none) streets with bike lanes.  As a result, you’ll see a lot of people sidewalk riding.  I sometimes do likewise for a stressful portion of my commute on Lower Azusa Ave. near the Rio Hondo bike path.

I hope the BEC becomes a place where this often “invisible” segment of the bicycling community can begin to make its voice heard in City Hall to demand better bike infrastructure in and around El Monte.   I think BikeSGV is doing a great job of outreach to youth and families in the area.  In addition, I expect to see some bike wrenching workshops and safety classes offered in Spanish, and I’d love to see them offered (and run) by women, too.  Perhaps BikeSGV can set up a monthly wrenching event run by its WoW (Women on Wheels) group.  Bike repair and maintenance in most bike shops is too male-dominated, but the bike itself  can be a tool of empowerment for women.  Making the BEC a place where women feel comfortable working on their own bikes can be a very liberating function.  With outreach efforts in these directions, the BEC could become a place of community engagement and empowerment.

There was fairly good media coverage of the BEC grand opening on the local ABC news and the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.  And, while it may be petty to quibble about media coverage, I was disappointed that the editors at the Tribune filed Brian Day’s story under “Sports.”  This isn’t the first time Tribune editors have been tone deaf when it comes to transportational bicycling.  It’s ill-conceived “summer of cycling” series a couple of years ago seemed designed to highlight the editors’ assumptions that bikes weren’t a viable mode of transportation more than anything else.  Ironically, this very same weekend, the California Bicycle Coalition is holding its annual statewide bike summit, where the theme is “equity” in the bike movement.  The connection between bicycling and social and environmental justice are now coming to the forefront for many of us who advocate for bikes as transportation.

A question for Tribune editors: why wasn’t this categorized as local news or transportation?  Categorizing a story about a community bike co-op as a “sports” story reflects the middle-class bias of the paper’s editors and misses one of the main reasons for the bike co-op.  Look at the location of the event, in El Monte, less than a mile from the El Monte bus station, where the overwhelming majority of people on bikes on a daily basis are not lycra-clad racers.  There were a few folks in lycra at the grand opening, but overwhelmingly these were just regular folks who want to ride their bikes for a variety of reasons.  Categorizing the story as “sports” ignores the fact that speakers at the event referenced the need for more bike lanes in the area, and more riparian bike paths for, as Bike SGV’s Wes Reutimann put it, “getting around the San Gabriel Valley by bike.”  Indeed, one of the main sponsors of the BEC is Dahon Bikes, a company that specializes in folding bicycles, particularly useful in conjunction with transit (a point explicitly made by the Dahon representative at the event).  It ignores the fact that the vast majority of old bikes donated to the BEC are utilitarian bikes, not racing bikes.

I hate it when the media’s myopic view of cycling pushes us all into the “recreation/sports” stereotype.  The Tribune should know better.  Cities all over the SGV are gradually waking up to the importance of connecting people to the Gold Line by bike.  Pasadena itself will soon be getting new bike infrastructure as part of its updated MOBILITY plan (not, “sports” plan).

Yours truly with a trailer full of donated bike parts. As you can see, I'm all lycra'd out, riding purely for "sport."

Yours truly donating a trailer full of bike parts. As you can see, I’m all lycra’d out, riding purely for “sport.” (photo: W. Reutimann)

Wake up, Tribune.  The bicycle is much more than just a recreational toy.  Quit treating it like it’s no different than a surfboard or a pair of skis.  It is a means of transportation, one that, especially in conjunction with transit, can replace a lot of car trips, reduce congestion, air pollution, society’s carbon footprint, and make our cities more livable and people healthier.  It’s cheap, equitable, healthy, sustainable, liberating, and empowering.

That’s the real beauty of bikes—and of El Monte’s new Bike Education Center.

 

Grading Pasadena’s Transit Stations

Researchers at UC Berkeley have released a study of rail transit stations in California’s metropolitan areas and the results, while unsurprising, are nonetheless revealing.  Researchers graded transit stations based on criteria such as the walkability of the surrounding area and the percentage of people who live or work nearby who use transit.  Additional criteria such as the density of jobs and housing nearby, the land use policies in the surrounding area, and public safety were also included.  The study highlights the importance of encouraging more mixed use development close to transit (called transit-oriented development, or TOD), as well as prioritizing safe pedestrian and bike access to stations in order to encourage transit use and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Stations were given a numeric score and then assigned a letter grade based on the score and its comparison to similar stations (that is, residential-area stations were compared with other residential-area stations, and so on).  I looked up the scores of Pasadena-area Gold Line stations (6 stations in Pasadena and 1 in South Pasadena).  I’ve written extensively on previous posts about the relative lack of good bike access to the Gold Line stations in Pasadena in general and in East Pasadena in particular.  The study gave me a chance to compare my own perceptions with the study’s more comprehensive approach.

The new Gold Line stations on the extension are not included in the study, insofar as they are not yet in operation.  The highest ranking station in the LA Metro area is the Westlake/MacArthur Park Red Line station, with a raw score of 88.20 and a letter grade of ‘A.’  The worst score was the Wardlow Blue Line Station in Long Beach, with a raw score of 31.63 and a grade of F.  I’ll list the Pasadena-area stations and their grades below, from highest to lowest, then offer some thoughts on the grades.

  1. Fillmore                         B-    (56.83)
  2. Lake                              B-    (56.03) 
  3. Memorial Park             C     (54.13) 
  4. Del Mar                         C      (50.53) 
  5. Mission (S. Pas)           C-    (51.30) 
  6. Sierra Madre Villa        C-    (45.73) 
  7. Allen                              D     (41.73)  
Not much room for bikes on this "bike route" at the Del Mar Gold Line station.

Not much of a “bike route” at Del Mar Gold Line station.

My initial reaction was one of slight surprise that Fillmore and Lake scored higher than Del Mar and Memorial Park stations.  I would need to look more closely at the scoring criteria and the individual data, but I can only assume Fillmore and Lake scored higher because of their proximity to large employers, whereas Memorial Park, Del Mar, and Mission are closer to small businesses and residences.  The study notes that the grades are curved, which is probably why Mission scored higher than Del Mar but has a lower grade, though I don’t fully understand the study’s curving criteria.  Another factor may be that Pasadena is likely to encourage more TOD near Del Mar station, whereas South Pas is unlikely to encourage newer development in Mission’s charming historic district.  Despite this, in my opinion, Mission has far superior pedestrian and especially bike access from surrounding streets than Del Mar.

Looking north on Sierra Madre Villa at entrance to Pasadena Gold Line station.

Sierra Madre Villa entrance to Pasadena Gold Line station.

I’m in complete agreement with the ranking of Sierra Madre Villa (SMV) and Allen stations at the bottom of the pack.  Pedestrians and bicyclists from the surrounding community may be forced to cross busy freeway on/off ramps to access either of these stations and, as I’ve complained about before, there are no bike lanes on any of the approaching streets to SMV, and virtually none at Allen (near Allen station there are two completely unprotected gutter bike lanes on noisy, busy, high-speed, stressful access roads that run along the 210 freeway—not bike-friendly).  For that matter, the same is true of Lake.  Like much of Pasadena’s existing bike infrastructure, it looks passable on paper, until you actually try to ride it in weekday rush-hour traffic.  Some of this should be improved as Pasadena’s new bike plan gets implemented, but that may take years and will not do much to help the intolerable bike situation in East Pasadena, the forgotten stepchild of Pasadena’s bike plan.

The report recommends that local governments encourage TOD and mixed-use development and remove “excessive parking requirements” in areas adjacent to rail stations.  Pointedly, the report also calls on local governments to “improve walkability and bicycle access in rail station areas by shortening blocks and building safe pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.”  Hear, hear!

To be fair, Pasadena is in the process of developing a new plan for more TOD near the Allen and SMV stations, which is most welcome.  Unfortunately the city has met fierce resistance from a small number of car-dependent suburban residents of Hastings Ranch’s cul-de-sac neighborhoods who can’t imagine that anyone would occasionally walk, take transit, or bike, and who can’t be bothered to take their foot off the gas long enough to avoid hitting a pedestrian or cyclist on their way to the freeway.  They see nothing wrong with driving everywhere all the time and think it’s their god-given right to do so.  And they want plenty of “free” parking when they get there.  They’re convinced the only solution to too many cars is wider roads and more parking lots ad infinitum.

The recommendations of the Berkeley report should be heeded by cities and provide yet another piece in a growing body of literature that documents the essential need to shift our transportation and development strategies from the sprawling car-centric model of the past to a healthier transit-oriented model of the future.  Let us hope city officials have the courage to stand up to narrow-minded NIMBYs who can’t see past the end of their steering wheels.

Rohloff Speedhub Review

Rohloff2

I’ve been commuting to work via bus and bike for more than 3 years, and my primary commuter bike must be durable, low-maintenance, and work in all weather conditions.  Last year, I purchased a Rohloff Speedhub for my Surly Troll commuter, and after a year and about 1,000 miles on the Rohloff, I’m ready to offer a review.

Bikes in Europe that are used for daily transportation often have internally geared hubs (IGH) that seal the bike’s gears within the hub of the rear wheel.  IGHs such as the Rohloff need less frequent cleaning than standard derailleur gear systems and provide reliable performance even when the bike is exposed to rain, snow, dirt, and road grime.  Because part of my commute is on a dirt trail and part of it is exposed to harsh weather on a bus bike rack, an IGH seemed like a good investment for me.  Further, because I use my bike on a daily basis, the lower maintenance of an IGH seemed especially appealing.  Because of the design of the Rohloff’s shifter mechanism, shifter cables never need to be adjusted and shifting is always spot on.  Finally, I needed an IGH with a wide range of gears, because I live in an area with steep hills and my ride home takes me through short downhill sections, long uphill sections, and up some shorter, fairly steep grades.

There are a number of IGH hubs available, and I did a good deal of research beforehand.  I wanted something that would approximate the choice of gears I had with the Troll’s stock 3 x 9 drivetrain.  Because of my need for a wide range of gears, the choice came down to the Rohloff, the Shimano Alfine 11, or the NuVinci 360 (which is actually not a geared hub, but a CVT).  The gear range of the Rohloff, with its 14 speeds, was the widest by far, but it was also more expensive than the others.  While most reviewers liked the Shimano and NuVinci and I am sure they are fine pieces of machinery, there were occasional reviewers who reported problems.  By contrast, I couldn’t find any reviewer who’d experienced mechanical problems with the Rohloff under normal use.  My trusted bike mechanics at Topanga Creek Bicycles, who have sold a number of Rohloffs to customers and know the Rohloff reps, also reported that they’d never seen or heard of one failing mechanically.  Zero.  The consensus seemed to be that the Rohloff was a marvel of German engineering.  I decided to save my pennies and get the Rohloff (see Sheldon Brown’s website for technical specs).

After a year, I can say that I have not been disappointed. In fact, if anything it has exceeded my expectations.  In general, the Speedhub has performed flawlessly.  It shifts crisply and quickly.  I love the way I can shift several gear levels at a time, and can shift at a standstill (a great advantage for commuting in stop-and-go conditions).  On numerous occasions I’ve used the entire range of gears, so I appreciate having the range.  Because of the 14 speeds, I’m always able to find the right gear for any terrain.  The sealed hub keeps the gears from getting dirty under adverse conditions.  I have a bomb-proof drivetrain on my daily commuter bike that provides me with trouble-free shifting and a wide range of gears.

Rohloff1

Shifting the Rohloff is a little different than shifting a derailleur-geared bike.  With a derailleur, the crank needs to be spinning in order to shift gears.  With an IGH one can shift while standing still, but not while applying pressure to the pedals.  Some people don’t like the feel of an IGH for that reason.  The first time I rode the bike, I got caught mid-shift, and had to back off and ease off my pedal stroke before trying to shift.  I quickly learned how to briefly ease up (usually at the top of my pedal stroke) when shifting, and I soon reached the point where I could rapidly shift on the fly without losing momentum or pedal cadence.

Maintenance is super easy.  When I remove my chain to clean it, I simply wipe off the front chainring and the rear cog, re-mount the clean chain and, voila, done!  Once a year, Rohloff recommends draining and replacing the gear oil in the hub, which I did this summer.  It took me about 20 minutes to complete the operation (most of the time involved letting the old oil settle to the bottom of the hub before extraction), but it was pretty easy, even with my limited mechanical skills.  Changing the  oil is done with the wheel on the bike, and the instructions provided with the Rohloff oil change kit are easy to follow.  The only tool necessary is a 3mm allen key for the hub’s drain plug.

Are there any downsides?  A few minor points.  The Rohloff is a bit heavier than most rear cassette/derailleur systems.  Not by much, but if you’re a weight weenie, it’s probably not for you.  The Rohloff can also be a little noisier than a properly adjusted derailleur system. In the lower 7 gears, the hub produces a soft buzz of gear noise when spinning.  This is normal and is a result of the extremely close tolerances required to engineer 14 speeds in a small hub, but does not seem to affect performance.  In my estimation, these minor downsides do not outweigh the reliability, performance, and low maintenance of the hub.

For most people who ride a bike occasionally, or primarily for recreation, or who don’t need the extreme gear range, it’s safe to say the price of the Rohloff probably wouldn’t be worth it.  For me, however, my bike is essentially my car and the money I’ve saved on gas and parking in the last year has already paid for a little over half the cost.  I can’t be sure that the Shimano or NuVinci wouldn’t have been serviceable but I couldn’t be happier with the Rohloff.  I wanted an IGH that I wouldn’t have to baby, had as wide a range of gears as possible, and would provide many miles of trouble-free service.  The Rohloff has not disappointed.

Bomb-proof drivetrain on my Surly Troll commuter.

Bomb-proof drivetrain on my Surly Troll commuter.

Pasadena Mayoral Runoff

Pasadena voters will decide on April 21 whether Vice-Mayor and Councilmember Jacque Robinson or Councilmember Terry Tornek will be the new Mayor.  With an ambitious new mobility plan expected to come before the Council in the Mayor’s next term, I wanted to get a sense of which candidate would provide stronger leadership for the plan and which would be more likely to support sustainable transportation and walkable, bikeable, neighborhoods.

While there are a number of important issues in the campaign, a lot is at stake for those who walk, bike, and/or use transit in Pasadena—and for those who’d like to, but are intimidated by the idea of riding a bike in traffic.  My family and I regularly bike, walk, and use transit in Pasadena, so installation of better bike infrastructure is very important to me.  As the “Crown City” goes, so goes much of the San Gabriel Valley, thus the election of a bike-friendly mayor has regional implications, too.

Pasadena is in dire need of a bold new bike plan—and that plan must be implemented sooner, not later.  Anyone who rides here knows that Pasadena’s bike infrastructure is at least 20 years out-of-date, and Pasadena’s deadly streets have been the cause of several deaths in recent years, such as that of Phillip O’Neill in 2013.  And while the city benefits from good transit, with numerous Gold Line stations, Metro, Foothill Transit and ARTS bus lines, transit users who wish to use a bike for “first mile/last mile” transportation will find very little in the way of bike infrastructure.  The city lacks virtually any street that incorporates the latest designs in protected or buffered bike lanes that other cities have been installing.  It’s a shame, too, because Pasadena has such potential to be a bike-friendly city.  Pasadena’s draft bike plan, while far from perfect, is a good first step toward remedying this, but there will undoubtedly be pushback from car-oriented residents and it is imperative that the next Mayor possesses the vision and political courage to withstand the pushback.

A good place to start an assessment of the two candidates is with their responses to the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition survey on issues such as bicycle and pedestrian safety, which both Tornek and Robinson answered.

Most urgent transportation needs:  On the question of the city’s most urgent transportation needs, Tornek cites “traffic calming” and “protected bike lanes” as the main elements of improving roadway safety and he specifically mentions Colorado Blvd as a potential “great street” project.  These are excellent ideas.  Unfortunately Tornek’s brief answer left me wanting to know more.  What elements of the complete streets policy should be prioritized?  How would he deal with the notorious timidity and foot-dragging of Pasadena DOT?  What about other streets and road treatments short of protected bike lanes (i.e., bicycle boulevards, greenways, etc.)?  How about bike share and connectivity to transit?

In her answer, Robinson mentions that she supports the mobility plan, but she specifies an approach focused on “traffic mitigation” to be achieved by “synchronizing lights on thorough fares to encourage movement of traffic.”  Unfortunately, this car-prioritized approach would neither encourage a modal shift from cars nor improve safety for bikes or pedestrians.  Robinson also notes that in her efforts to revitalize the Lincoln Ave. corridor she has “pushed for a traffic diet [road diet?] to narrow the street in certain sections and slow traffic to encourage walkability and make the area safe for bikers and pedestrians.”

While Colorado Blvd. includes protected bike lanes as part of the proposed bike plan, Lincoln Ave. does not.  A road diet that would significantly slow automobile traffic on Lincoln would be welcome, but without any plan for bike infrastructure on Lincoln it is difficult to see how it becomes “safe for bikers,” let alone how it would encourage others (i.e., schoolchildren, families, commuters) to ride Lincoln Ave.  And, note to candidates: if you don’t want to appear out-of-touch or downright hostile to the cycling community it’s best to avoid the term “bikers.”  Bikers wear leather jackets and ride Harley-Davidsons.

Advantage: Tornek.

Reducing Pasadena’s carbon footprint:  Robinson prefaces her answer with the claim that Pasadenans are “very dependent” on their cars and says residents would drive less only after transit alternatives “become more frequent and efficient.”  I’m certainly supportive of more frequent transit service, but without a concrete proposal for more frequent transit and a plan to fund it, this answer looks like an excuse to maintain a status quo of continued car dependency.  Tornek says he supports “mixed use development and high density housing in appropriate locations,” which have been shown to reduce a city’s carbon footprint by promoting more walking, bicycling and transit use, especially when located near transit.

Advantage: Tornek.

Safe Routes to School:  Asked what they would do to promote active safe walking and bicycling to schools, both candidates say they would promote neighborhood schools . . . (cue crickets chirping).

This partial answer by both candidates ignores the fact that neighborhood schools in PUSD already suffer from very low levels of walking and bicycling to school.  Simply encouraging families to attend neighborhood schools without following through with infrastructure improvements, safety programs and walk/bike to school programs will fail to change this.  The problem is not primarily distance, it is lack of bike infrastructure leading to/from schools.

Here was an opportunity for both candidates to knock one out of the park, to promote local schools AND Safe Routes to School programs AND safer sidewalks AND better bike infrastructure near schools.  Encouraging active transportation for our youth is a no-brainer, instead we’ll continue to suffer from the same unsafe car-choked streets around schools twice daily, continuation of the obesity epidemic (along with much hand-wringing about how our kids don’t get enough exercise), air pollution, stressed-out parents, and another generation that thinks it’s “normal” to be chauffeured in an SUV a mile and a half to school every day.

Advantage: Neither.

Reducing collisions between cars/bicycles (“vision zero”):   Robinson emphasizes “a bike safety initiative to help drivers and cyclist [sic] better understand how to co-exist on the roads together.” Good answer.  However, Robinson’s answer says nothing about the problem of infrastructure.  While I’m not opposed to bike safety programs, anyone who’s ridden a bike on the streets of Pasadena knows the main problem is a lack of safe infrastructure for people on bikes (a result of streets primarily designed for rapid “movement of traffic”).  For his part, Tornek answered that the city should “provide protected bike lanes wherever possible.”  I love the idea of protected bike lanes, but where are the specifics?  And, since even in my wildest dreams we’re not realistically going to have protected bike lanes on every street any time in the near future, shouldn’t bike (and driver) safety also be mentioned?  What about road treatments short of protected bike lanes?  What about a citywide safety program for youth and adults?  Stepped-up enforcement of traffic violations?  We need a network of infrastructure improvements, safety education programs, and enforcement.  Unfortunately, neither candidate really gets this one.

Advantage: Neither.

Riding a bike:  This may seem like a small thing, but it’s not.  There’s no way around it:  riding the streets of your city gives you a significantly different perspective on traffic and road safety than one behind the wheel of a car.  Having a mayor who understands what it’s like to ride a bike makes a huge difference.  Neither candidate, to my knowledge, rides a bike regularly, but even riding occasionally broadens one’s perception about streets.  Last year, PasCSC did outreach to all members of the city council, inviting them to schedule an organized ride in their individual districts.  Such events offer a concrete opportunity to see and feel how the streets work (or fail to work) for pedestrians and cyclists.  It’s something that cannot be fully understood from behind the wheel of an automobile.  Tornek went on a district ride with PCSC.  Robinson expressed interest, but was unable to fit it into her schedule or send a staffer.  I’d feel better about Robinson if she’d made the effort to actually get on a bike with PCSC volunteers and see what the streets in her district are like from a bicyclist’s perspective, as Tornek did.  It makes a difference.  Former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was not thought of as a pro-complete streets Mayor until he was knocked off his bike by a cab driver while on a ride and saw the serious need for better bike infrastructure.  In other words, actually riding a bike in the city can wake a person up to the serious need for specific infrastructure changes like protected bike lanes.

Advantage: Tornek.

Websites:  What do the websites of the two candidates tell complete streets voters?  Robinson’s website has no section dedicated to complete streets, but on a statement about development promises to “increase pedestrian and public transportation options with areas south of the [210] freeway.”

Tornek’s website includes a more specific statement about complete streets as part of his issues page regarding “reducing traffic and increasing walkability” in Pasadena:

Pasadena needs wider sidewalks and more welcoming public spaces. As Mayor, I will prioritize reducing neighborhood traffic while increasing the walkability of out [sic] streets and making them more bicycle friendly. I believe streets are for people to walk, bike and ride transit…not just drive cars.

Advantage: Tornek.

Debate 1:  What have the candidates said about complete streets and/or active transportation in the two debates they’ve had?  During the first debate, moderated by Star-News editors Larry Wilson and Frank Girardot, the only transportation-related question was regarding the proposed 710 freeway tunnel.

Robinson and Tornek both told the debate audiences they opposed the 710 extension.  Robinson specifically mentioned “alternative modes” of transportation for the route and Tornek said the tunnel would be expensive and the route would soon be every bit as congested as it currently is (see the 405, for example).  Of course, they are both correct.  The well-documented phenomenon of “induced demand” or “latent demand” will mean that the 710 route will soon fill up with cars, solving nothing, and the only real long-term solution is transit—either light rail, or real BRT.

Unfortunately, during the debate neither candidate took the opportunity to tout the benefits of complete streets as part of a well-rounded social and environmental policy.  On questions about the city’s economic situation, for example, they might have brought up the ways walkable, bikeable streets have been shown to benefit local businesses, but neither did.  When asked about local schools, they could have mentioned how encouraging walking and bicycling to school through programs like Safe Routes to School (SRTS) benefits students’ health, improves safety, reduces traffic congestion around schools, and has even been shown to improve test scores, but they didn’t.  They might have mentioned the benefits of active transportation to overall public health and lower healthcare costs, but they didn’t.  When addressing the needs of the city’s low income residents, they ought to have discussed how redesigning our streets for alternative modes of mobility can foster social equity, but they didn’t.

Advantage: Neither.

Debate 2:  During the second debate, hosted by KPCC’s Larry Mantle, candidates were asked what they would do to promote complete streets and improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians.  Robinson explicitly said she supports the bike master plan and the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition’s efforts to “educate the public” that roads should be multimodal.  However, when Mantle pressed her on whether she still supported a road diet for Colorado Blvd., even if it meant, in Mantle’s words, “losing a lane of traffic,” she hedged.  “Yes,” she answered, “provided that we have the complete information.”  She said the Council would need to be “mindful that it [a road diet] may not always have a positive impact.”

Unfortunately, I thought both the question and the answer reflected a singular windshield perspective.  Yes, there’s an adjustment at first, but (a) road diets don’t cause roads to “lose” a lane, they repurpose a travel lane in a way that will encourage a transportation mode shift and provide protection for vulnerable road users who already use the streets; and (b) there are a wide variety of long-term positive impacts that far outweigh any temporary inconvenience to motorists.

When Mantle pressed her about her “qualms” on the road diet, a centerpiece of the draft bike master plan, Robinson backpedalled further.  The road diet, she said, “is something we should consider.”  She then explained:

When you remove a lane … the number of cars is not going to go anywhere so there’s either going to be more cars traveling on the street in a single lane, which will create more traffic, or they’re going to move to other streets, so we have to be mindful of that as we move to these new ideas.

The answer raises a troubling question in my mind about whether she’d actually vote for the road diet (rather than just “consider” it) let alone whether she’d have the determination to defend it when opposition arises.  Moreover, road diets don’t “create more traffic.”  They may shift it, they may slow it (not necessarily a bad thing from a safety perspective), and they may actually reduce it if alternative modes of travel are convenient and safe.  Blaming bike lanes or road diets for “creating” traffic reflects a narrow windshield perspective.

Tornek noted that everyone says they support multimodal transportation, “until you actually have to remove a lane.”  He reiterated his support for the road diet and parklets on Colorado Bl., despite the “great resistance” he anticipates this will initially generate.  The complete streets concept, he said, is now state law, and it forces cities to come to grips with the reality that streets are not just for cars.  “All of us,” he continued, “will learn to view the way our streets operate in a different way.”  As for the Colorado Blvd. road diet and its effect on traffic, he cited the DOT’s data that showed only a 2% reduction in travel speed for cars, and noted that there is capacity on adjacent streets and “if it’s not going to work there [on Colorado Blvd.] it won’t work anywhere.”

Advantage: Tornek.

Conclusion:

Both candidates appear to support the city’s draft bike plan, but voting for the plan when it comes before council and implementing road diets and bike lanes are two different things.  I get the impression from the second debate that Tornek would be more likely to follow through on the latter, even in the face of opposition.  When pressed on the more ambitious specifics of the bike plan in the second debate, Robinson’s support wavered.  Contrast it with her unequivocal (and admirable) support for raising the minimum wage, which she said she’d support even if some local merchants were opposed.  She offers no specifics about bike lanes and sometimes betrays an uncritical windshield perspective on traffic and safety issues.

There is much I like about Robinson, such as her support for public schools, her work on the Lincoln corridor, and her advocacy of a higher minimum wage.  It would be inspirational and historic for Pasadenans to elect a woman, a person of color, and a product of Pasadena’s public schools to the highest office of this staid old city.  That said, her positions on complete streets issues tend to reflect a cars-first mentality.  Even when she says she supports an element of the bike plan, she almost always hedges her answer.  This is especially disappointing since she represents a district where a relatively higher proportion of low-income residents rely on walking, bicycling, and transit for transportation.  One wishes she had been able to find time to go on a ride or walk in her district to see what her constituents on bicycles or on foot experience every day.  Her answers on the Complete Streets survey were not as strong as Tornek’s and her apparent waffling on the Colorado road diet during the second debate was also extremely disappointing.

On the other hand, on his website and in the second debate, Tornek offers explicit support for specific infrastructure improvements such as protected bike lanes that we need on our streets.  His answers in the second debate suggest he’s willing to support the proposed road diet on Colorado Blvd. even when opposition arises.  His answers demonstrate a bit more insight into the way mobility choices can be reconfigured when infrastructure and development patterns are steered in that direction.  On the City Council, Tornek, along with Councilmember McAustin, was instrumental in getting Pasadena DOT to revise and strengthen its draft bike plan last year and he made the time to go on an exploratory ride in his district.

Shifting away from car dependency is not going to be easy, but, aside from health and safety concerns, the issue is critically important as we face an unprecedented crisis of climate change.  We need to think anew about transportation planning, especially in urban areas.  We must view our streets differently to meet different transportation needs for the 21st century and shift our priorities accordingly.  Fortunately, shifting to transportation alternatives brings with it a variety of added benefits for the economy, public safety, and public health.

Pasadena, like the rest of our society, cannot afford to waste more time.  Bold leadership is required, as is the willingness to stand up to the inevitable resistance to change.  Pasadena needs a mayor who thinks of streets in terms of moving people, not just moving cars.  Though I’m somewhat disappointed in the brevity of some of Tornek’s answers on the PCSC survey and I have some minor reservations, for the most part he seems to get it.  His answers on the issues and his strong performance in the second debate suggest he is more likely to help the Council approve the new bike plan and its timely implementation.  For these reasons, I would recommend a vote for Tornek.

So, I encourage Pasadenans to read the Complete Streets survey, read the candidates’ websites and view the debates, and make up your own minds.  But by all means please “bike the vote” on April 21.  I also recognize that the work is just beginning.  Those who want complete streets in Pasadena must continue to organize, speak out, and vigorously press the city’s leaders and staff to follow through with a bold vision for sustainable, equitable, safe, and people-friendly streets … regardless of who wins on election day.

SB 192

Last week, CA state senator Carol Liu proposed a mandatory helmet law for California.  First, let me say that I almost always wear a helmet when I ride my bike.  I say “almost” because there are a few times when I don’t.  Riding the quarter mile to the bus stop, for example, most of which is on an off-road path where I’m unlikely to encounter any cars.  I also generally wear a hi-viz vest when I ride at night and I have two sets of lights for the front and rear of my bike, as well as a helmet-mounted light set.  I want to see and be seen when I ride.  That said, I think most mandatory helmet laws are misguided at best and pernicious at worst.

Senator Liu’s proposed bill (SB 192) would mandate helmets for all bicyclists as well as hi-viz clothing for anyone riding at night.  Currently, bicycle helmets are required for anyone under the age of 18 riding a bike.  Liu’s bill would expand that requirement to adults and also require hi-viz clothing for anyone riding a bike after dark, or be slapped with a $25 fine.

Senator Liu’s office claims her bill was drafted in response to a recent Governor’s Highway Safety Association report which found that the number of bicycle fatalities increased nationwide between 2010 and 2012.  The report caused a predictable scary media reaction, such as that of the near-hysterical headline in the Los Angeles Times,”Bicycle Traffic Deaths Soar” complete with a sensationalistic photo showing a crash test dummy on a bicycle flying through the air.

As a number of analysts pointed out, however, there were serious problems with the GHSA report, including short-term cherry-picked years that distorted the rise in bicyclist deaths, ignored local variations and the long-term decrease in the rate of bicycle fatalities on America’s roads.  In other words, as more people ride bikes for transportation and recreation, the US saw a short-term uptick in the total number of bike fatalities, but a drop in the rate of fatalities.  For the individual on a bicycle, riding is getting safer, especially because of the increased number of cyclists on the road and the spread of good bike infrastructure.  The GHSA report focused on the total number rather than the decrease in fatality rates and erroneously concluded that helmets for bicyclists were the solution to this alleged “problem.”  This raised yet another inaccuracy in the use of the GHSA data: there was absolutely no evidence that helmets (or lack thereof) were the primary reason for the fatalities, or how many of the fatalities could have been prevented by a bike helmet.  It’s easy enough to make that inference only if you assume that bicyclist behavior is the main safety problem.  The GHSA report ignores the elephant in the room: motor vehicles. The main culprit gets off scott free.

Statistically, the number one thing we could do to decrease roadway deaths (of all kinds: drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists) is to reduce the speed of cars.  As motor vehicle speed increases, fatality rates increase, helmets or no.  Of course, infrastructure also matters.  In bike-friendly cities like Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and elsewhere, most people on bikes don’t need to wear helmets or hi-viz because the infrastructure is designed to accommodate them.  As a result, their road fatality rates are significantly lower than the U.S.

The other thing we can do to improve safety is to increase the number of people riding bikes, because research has shown that when drivers expect to see people on bikes they drive more carefully.  Unfortunately, where mandatory helmet laws have been enacted (such as New Zealand), they have been shown to reduce the number of people who ride.

The GHSA report came from a typical windshield perspective: blame the victim and don’t change the destructive behavior of the “kings of the road.”  As the old saying goes, figures don’t lie, but liars figure.  Both Senator Liu and the GHSA report offer what seems to be a nice quick fix: change bicyclists’ behavior rather than that of motorists (or heaven forbid, build some protected bike lanes and road diets to slow traffic speeds and increase road safety for all).  That way you can appear to be doing something for roadway safety.

If Senator Liu is really interested in increased safety for people on bikes, there are other ways: (1) secure more funding for California cities to build networks of bike lanes—especially protected bike lanes; (2) slow down motor vehicle speeds by redesigning roadways to increase safety; and (3) encourage more people to ride by working with bicycle advocacy organizations like LACBC and CalBike on safety campaigns.  Mandatory helmet/hi-viz laws are not themselves going to increase safety.

In fact, a good case in point is the case of Senator Liu’s own nephew.  According to the Sacramento Bee story on her proposed helmet/hi-viz law:

Liu’s nephew, Alan Liu, was killed in 2004 by a drunk driver while riding in Sonoma County. Liu was wearing a helmet.

With all due sympathy and respect to the Senator and her family for their irreversible loss, was Alan Liu’s tragic death the result of not wearing a helmet?

Another case in point was my own experience riding home on my evening commute from work last week on the very same day the Senator’s bill was announced.  As I approached a red light, the driver of a late-model minivan decided she had to beat me to the red light, gunned her engine, sped around me into the oncoming traffic lane, and swerved in front of me dangerously close before slamming on her brakes to stop at the red light.  Wouldn’t it have been safer for her to take her foot off the gas pedal for—literally—three seconds and arrive at the red light after me?  I was riding fast enough that it wouldn’t have inconvenienced her to slow down behind me.  Her life-threatening driving had risked my life and saved her exactly no time on her drive.  It’s not the first time I’ve had to deal with shit like that when I ride.  Here’s the kicker: I was wearing a helmet and a hi-viz vest, as I always do on my commute home.  I was riding legally, visibly, and predictably, as I was taught to do in the numerous bike safety courses I’ve taken and taught.  As I mentioned, I also have 2 sets of bright lights in the front and rear of my bike as well as a helmet-mounted front and rear light.

Question: what was the glaring “safety” issue here?  Lack of a helmet?  Lack of hi-viz clothing?  Lack of safety training for the bicyclist?  Or dangerous, irresponsible, impatient, and possibly distracted driving?

Look, nobody’s a bigger advocate for roadway safety than I, especially now that I ride a bike, and I’m generally a supporter of wearing a helmet and being visible on a bike.  California state law already requires lights and reflectors on bikes.  If a driver isn’t paying attention enough to see a cyclist with lights, how is further shifting the burden/blame onto the cyclist going to change things?  I think people on bikes should be encouraged to wear helmets and reflective material (especially at night), but a requirement that everyone do so will be a burden to many lower income riders and result primarily in lower rates of bicycling.  Perhaps this is really what Sen. Liu wants.  Discourage cycling and you reduce the “problem,” right?

The real safety problem on our roads has very little to do with what people on bikes are wearing, but dangerous, unsafe, and illegal behavior by people driving shiny motorized death-boxes.

It’s not the bikes, it’s not the helmets, it’s not the hi-viz.  It’s the cars, stupid.

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.

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