Boyonabike!

Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

Archive for the category “bike-friendly infrastructure”

Advice for a new bike commuter

One of my friends, a former student, asked me for some advice on social media for getting started bike commuting to the Gold Line commuter rail here in L.A.:

“What’s the best way to get started taking public transportation? The gold line is great, but I currently live 8 mi away from the closest station and another 1.5 miles from my work. I have so much gear that I bring to work (purse, lunch, gear for softball, etc.) so that’s a huge concern of mine with biking to and from stations. Any thoughts on how to get started? What equipment do you suggest?”

It’s great question, of course, and one that a lot of people have probably considered at one time or another. I wanted to use this opportunity to provide some thoughts on getting started and on equipment that would be useful to anyone thinking about bike commuting with transit.

The main concern my friend has is transporting gear on her bike, in this case “purse, lunch, gear for softball, etc.”). I’m assuming that softball gear includes a uniform, glove, and pair of cleats. She also might have undergarments, towel, water bottle, and batting gloves, in addition to a purse and a small lunch bag. These items will pack into a couple of utility panniers (one for each side of your rack). My personal favorite is the Banjo Brothers market pannier, which holds quite a bit and comes with handles and a shoulder strap, so you can carry your gear from your bike to the softball diamond. There are other similar products out there, and they really are versatile. A water bottle cage mounted to your bike frame will hold your water bottle.

Banjo Brothers market pannier (photo: Banjo Brothers).

 

My Trek XM700 e-bike with my swim gear in a Banjo Brothers market pannier.

Now, if you also need to carry a batting helmet and bat, that does create a little more of a logistical challenge. Your softball duffel bag can probably be bungee-corded to your rear rack, but you’ve got to make sure it’s secure, so several bungee-cords or a bungee net may be necessary.  I’ve rigged a carrier made from PVC pipe for my trekking poles for hiking in the local mountains (see photo), which could also work for a bat.

I rigged a holster for my trekking poles that can be attached to the rack via zip ties and/or bungees. Pannier holds my hiking gear. Something similar might also work for softball bat.

Another possibility for gear and a softball bat is a trailer. Most bike cargo trailers are too big for the Metro, but one product that would work is the Burley Travoy trailer, which would hold all your softball gear, and detatches quickly and would be no bigger than a luggage carrier when on the train. I’ve not used the Travoy, but reviews are overwhelmingly positive. Baskets are also good for carrying bulky items. Some of them fit on the back and others on the front.

What kind of bike? Well, that’s a loaded question. You see, bikes aren’t a one-size-fits-all type of thing. Different tire sizes, different frame styles and materials, different frame geometry, different drivetrains, different brakes. The list goes on. Generally speaking, commuter bikes tend to be a bit sturdier (and just a little heavier) than a lightweight racer. Some people modify mountain bikes, but this is only a good idea if the bike has eyelets on the frame to mount a rack and fenders.

For commuting, the essentials are (in no particular order): lights, white light up front and red light in the rear. I recommend a rack, usually mounted on the rear of the bike, but some bikes can be outfitted with front racks and baskets, too.

Gears: if you’re going to be riding in a hilly area or carrying stuff (especially uphill), you’ll want a bike with a wide range of gears. On the other hand, some people like the simplicity of lightweight single speed bikes.

Fenders are definitely a good idea if you’re going to ride in wet weather, since they keep you dry when the pavement’s wet. Take an extra bungee cord to help secure your bike on the Metro, especially if you’re going to be on the train for a while. Otherwise, you can just stand with your bike.

Helmet? By law only riders under 18 are required to wear one. I almost always wear one, but I don’t scold people who don’t.  Exceptions: if I’m going for a slow, short ride in my immediate neighborhood, or the bike path at the beach or an open streets event like CicLAvia. Otherwise, I wear one.

Try different bikes. If you go to a local bike shop and they have a bike you like, sit on it, try it out for size and comfort. They should let you take it for a test ride. Try changing the gears while you ride and get the feel for the bike.

The important thing to remember is this: you should feel comfortable on the bike. The advantage to  buying your bike from a bike shop (as opposed to a general sporting goods store or online) is that they are trained to find the right fit for you.

The other thing to remember is that bikes are to a surprising degree adjustable and customizable. The saddle, handlebars, and pedals are very important, as these are your “touch points” on the bike. You want these to be comfortable and practical for the type of riding you’re going to do. Handlebars uncomfortable? they can usually be raised, lowered, or swapped for a different kind of handlebar. I find that relatively upright, swept back bars are most comfortable for me. They give me an upright riding position, which reduces neck strain and gives me a good view of the road. Saddle uncomfortable? They can be raised, lowered, moved forward and back, tilted up or down.  You can also find a wide variety of after market saddles that suit a variety of riding positions and body types. Don’t be afraid to ask your bike shop to try different kinds. Pedals? There are a wide variety. I use platform-style pedals that don’t require special shoes. Cycling is a part of my regular daily routine transportation, so I don’t want to have to buy special shoes to ride my bike.

Bike security. Let’s face it, bike theft is a problem. If you need to leave your bike at the Metro station or outside while you’re at work, you’ll need a good lock. When I take my bike on the bus, I lock one of my wheels, so the bike won’t roll if somebody tries to steal it off the front rack on the bus (it’s a very rare occurrence, but it sometimes happens). Never use a cable lock as your main bike lock–they’re too easy for thieves to cut. You can use a cable to secure your seat or a wheel, but your frame should be locked to something stationary (here’s a good article on proper locking technique). I recommend a good quality U-lock or chain lock.  They’re a bit heavy, and not cheap, but worth it if you value your bike. If you leave your bike outside and out of sight for any length of time, use a mini cable lock to secure your seat to the frame. This will make it harder for thieves to steal your seat.

Tips for riding your first time.  Unfortunately, the relative scarcity of good bike infrastructure (i.e., bike lanes) means you need to do some research first. The route you take in your car may not be the best route for cycling. Pick a day when you’re not in a hurry to test a route to the Gold Line station. Google maps has a “bicycling” route finder that works pretty well most, but not all the time. For example, to get from my house to the Gold Line, Google tells me to go down Santa Anita Ave, because it has bike lanes part way. However, The bike lanes end and dump you into heavy traffic and a freeway onramp. No thanks. Instead I use an alternate route with less traffic about 2 blocks east that takes me right to the station. It may take some experimentation to find lesser known routes that are pleasant and less stressful to ride. But that’s part of the fun! And, better yet, you’ll learn about your neighborhood and community much better than in your car. Start riding one day a week until you get the hang of your new commute routine. Then, as you get more comfortable, go for two days a week, then three, then…? Actually, once you’re doing two days a week, it’s very likely you’ll notice the way the endorphins from your ride put you in a good mood during the day and you’ll be hooked on the fun and freedom of riding your bike and you’ll look for more opportunities to ride.

Riding safe. Here’s a great quick safety guide for safe bicycling. In addition, I highly recommend taking a bike safety course at some point. They are usually free and offered by local bike advocacy groups. The LA County Bicycle Coalition and Bike San Gabriel Valley are both great resources for such classes. Taking one of these classes will improve your confidence on the road and your knowledge of the laws, both of which are important.

It’s very important to remember that bicycles are considered “vehicles” under the California Vehicle Code (CVC), and people on bikes have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers of motor vehicles. In other words, you’re not legally considered a second-class road user (even if some motorists assume you are) and you’re expected to follow the same traffic laws. The rules for positioning on the road are, unfortunately, not as clear as they could be and bike advocates like the California Bicycle Coalition are working to change that.  The key section of the CVC dealing with riding on the road is CVC 21202. It says that you must ride as far to the right as “practicable,” which is not the same as “possible,” and there are exceptions, when you may “take the lane” for your own safety. In short, you are not required to ride in the gutter. I usually ride at least 3 feet from the curb for visibility and to avoid debris and about 3.5 feet from any parked cars (i.e., the “door zone”). When there’s room, I always try to ride out of the way of moving vehicles, along the right side of the road, but not in the gutter. Ride predictably, and don’t weave in and out of parked cars. If you need to merge or turn look first and signal with hand signals. When the lane width is “substandard” (i.e., not wide enough for a car to pass safely), you are allowed an exception, and may ride in the lane to prevent an unsafe pass.

In California, drivers are required by law to give cyclists a minimum 3 feet of space when passing (CVC 21760). Some motorists seem to be confused by this rule. It’s really quite simple: slow down, then pass with at least 3 feet of room when it’s safe. See? It’s not hard! If you have a bike lane to ride in, great! If there are road hazards in the bike lane, however, it is legal to exit the bike lane when it’s safe and ride in the roadway. Obey traffic signals at intersections and I always watch motorists’ eyes if possible to make sure they see me.

What about riding on the sidewalk? Some people assume it’s illegal, but that is not always true. The law varies by city, so in some places it’s legal, others not. It’s also not necessarily safer than riding in the road, as drivers coming in and out of driveways and shopping centers aren’t looking for cyclists on the sidewalk. However, even with my experience, I sometimes will ride a short distance on a sidewalk if I don’t feel that a particular street is safe for me. If you feel you must ride on the sidewalk for part of your ride, go slow, yield to pedestrians, and be especially careful around intersections and driveways. Most of the time, using safe cycling techniques on the road is the best way to go, but use your good judgment. To me, sidewalk riding is always a sign that the road doesn’t feel safe for cyclists. Instead of criticizing sidewalk riding, I wish cities would use it as a sign they need to install bike lanes (preferably protected if the traffic is over 40 mph).

I’d also recommend joining a local bike advocacy group, going on local group rides, and speaking in favor of more bike-friendly streets in your community.  Things are getting better for cycling in Southern California, but we still have a long way to go and it won’t happen without advocates.

Finally, smile! You’ve made a choice to be part of the solution. You’re doing something super healthy, economicalgood for the planet, oh, and the best part, it’s fun, too!

Ride on!

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Sierra Madre Villa Bike Lanes

When local governments do little to make their cities bike and pedestrian friendly, I have often been quick to criticize. Sometimes I do a lot of criticizing, because so much still needs to change to enable the transition to a healthier, safer, more sustainable, more equitable transportation system.  But when cities do the right thing, as Pasadena did last week, I want to give credit where it’s due and offer fulsome praise in the hopes that it encourages additional positive steps. Sometimes both happen at the same time, and thus my praise will be tempered with some constructive criticism.

The good:

Pasadena recently painted new buffered bike lanes on Sierra Madre Villa in east Pasadena between Foothill and Orange Grove north of the Gold Line Station. This road diet improves safety along a notorious stretch of road, and provides buffered space for cyclists to ride to and from the retail and residential zones to the north of the station.  Some may recall that this blog has called for a road diet on this street, so it is nice to see the city make this street safer for all.

This safety improvement is especially important with the Metro Bike bikeshare program set to expand into Pasadena.  The retail area is still way too car-centric and these lanes abruptly end at Foothill and Orange Grove, limiting their usefulness for those who might not feel confident riding on those busy surrounding streets, but it is most definitely a step in the right direction, and Pasadena DOT and Councilmember Gene Masuda are to be complimented for their support for this project.

Southbound Sierra Madre Villa south of Orange Grove.

Northbound Sierra Madre Villa, north of Foothill Bl.

 

If bike lanes are extended north to Sierra Madre Blvd and South to Colorado Bl. extended east and west on Orange Grove and Rosemead Bl., a network of bike-friendly streets would exist for the first time in east Pasadena. Once this happens, the area would become bikeable not only for self-identified “cyclists,” but for everyone.  There is much latent demand for bike friendly streets in east Pasadena. There are parks, schools, offices, and a major shopping/dining area nearby. With the eventual addition of more transit-oriented development (TOD) around the Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line Station, the demand for walkable, bikeable streets in this part of Pasadena will likely grow.

The Bad:

Despite improvements such as Sierra Madre Villa, Pasadena still lacks a connected network of bike-friendly streets. Riding on N. Hill in central Pasadena recently (see photo), within the space of two blocks I was aggressively passed by two motorists, one of whom impatiently honked at me for good measure. I was legally riding on the right half of the right-hand lane, but there is no bike infrastructure on north-south streets in this part of town, and the low-level aggression from motorists makes the experience unpleasant for anyone on a bike.

N. Hill, Pasadena. Parked cars on the shoulder forced me to ride the right-hand lane.

 

I brushed the incidents off as a “normal” part of riding in the city (I even gave the honking motorist a friendly wave), but the city cannot expect most people to feel comfortable on streets where they may be subject at any moment to vehicular harassment—or worse. The only way to accomplish this is to create a contiguous network of complete streets, well marked and intuitive to follow. This network must allow people to get to desirable destinations safely on foot or by bike.

Yes, education, encouragement, and enforcement are elements of a bike-friendly city, and I don’t suggest ignoring those, but the contrast between the streets with and without bike lanes shows there is no substitute for bike and pedestrian friendly infrastructure. In short, good things are happening in Pasadena, but we still have a way to go before city officials can claim city streets are “bike friendly.”

 

Bike Week at Cal Poly

Our Bike Week events last week at Cal Poly Pomona were modest, but they underscored a sense that this longtime car-centric campus may be turning the corner when it comes to transportation.

For one thing, providing parking on campus is getting more expensive, and student parking fees will top $400 a year next year.  No wonder, since the university’s new $40 million parking structure is one of the most expensive buildings on campus, and must be paid for–plus interest–with parking fees.  For many students from low and middle income families, the parking fees are a big burden, especially with tuition and housing costs rising as well.  And then there’s the traffic congestion that makes everyone’s life miserable and a little thing called climate change (emissions from motor vehicles are by far the largest portion of the university’s carbon footprint).  Then there’s safety.  Cyclists and pedestrians have been killed and injured by drivers in and around campus.  Meanwhile an increase in students living on campus has meant more of them getting around on bikes.  The time is ripe for new thinking about transit and bikes, and new campus leadership seems to be taking the issue seriously.

The university’s new President, Dr. Soraya Coley, has been supportive of efforts to encourage alternative transportation (the previous campus president once threatened to ban bikes from campus). The campus installed new bus shelters last summer and this year we’ll be getting new bike racks and bike repair stands at several locations on campus.  Even bigger changes may be just around the corner, however.

This year the president created a new campus Transportation Advisory Committee that will take a more holistic approach to mobility, and next year’s update of the Campus Master Plan could provide a blueprint for a more bike- and transit-friendly campus.  Better transit connectivity to campus and discount student transit passes will be a priority, but it is in bike infrastructure that we may see some of the most sweeping changes.  I still can’t believe I’m writing these words, but the President recently approved installation of protected bike lanes on a stretch of Kellogg Drive that is being realigned to accommodate new student housing. Yes, you read that right.  By September 2017 there should be protected bike lanes and improved intersections on a roadway where a cyclist was killed by a distracted driver a few years ago.

Friday May 19, our Bike Week was capped by what we hope will be an annual “Town & Gown” ride from the university to downtown Pomona, some 5 miles to the east. The ride, sponsored by the Pomona Valley Bicycle Coalition, included students and faculty from Cal Poly Pomona as well as community members and special guests like Pomona Mayor Tim Sandoval and Javier Hernandez, transportation coordinator for County Supervisor Hilda Solis.  We were also joined by John Burton from the LA County Department of Public Works.

Town & Gown ride in downtown Pomona

Along the way we saw some new bike lanes and sharrows on some of the area streets, and were told by Mayor Sandoval that busy Holt Ave. is slated to get bike lanes when it is resurfaced in the next year or so.

Room for bike lanes on Holt Ave in Pomona.

Most significantly however, the passage of Measure M last year and the County’s new greenways initiative, spearheaded by Supervisor Solis, means that nearby San Jose Creek flood control channel may get a bike path along the levee access road that would connect the campus directly to the city to the east (and all the way to the San Gabriel River to the west).  As part of Friday’s ride, Hernandez and Burton temporarily unlocked the gates to the creek and the Town & Gown riders got a sneak peek at the proposed greenway.  It is just a fenced dirt access road now, but with some asphalt and a couple of intersection upgrades, in a few short years it could be a bicycle superhighway that would enable hundreds–perhaps even thousands–of students to ride between downtown Pomona and the campus quickly and safely.

Javier Hernandez (L) and John Burton open San Jose Creek to bikes!

Cal Poly Urban and Regional Planning Professor Gwen Urey, who has championed this bike path for years and who helped organize the ride, noted that her longtime dream may finally be coming true. “Visions of doing the ride on a San Jose Creek route,” she wrote on Facebook after the ride, “have shifted from the stuff of pipes to the stuff of real planning.”  Who knows? Pipe dreams may just come true.

After riding along San Jose Creek

 

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?

2016 Highlights

As 2016 comes to a close, it’s time for taking stock of the year’s developments in car-free transportation in the San Gabriel Valley.

Arcadia Gold Line station.

Arcadia Gold Line station.

At the top of my list is the opening of the Gold Line extension from Pasadena to Azusa.  This brought the Gold Line closer to my house, and allows me to take the train for part of my commute to work at Cal Poly Pomona.  The rest of the trip is on Foothill Transit‘s extensive bus service in the east San Gabriel Valley.  The Foothill Transit 280 and 486 buses run every 15 minutes during peak times, and their new buses are quite comfortable.  The new commute cuts about 15 minutes off my old route through El Monte Bus Station and allows me to bypass the infrequent service of the Metro 487 bus line.  The bike portion of my new commute is also shorter, which makes it more manageable on a regular basis. The easy bike ride to/from the Gold Line now allows me to get around car-free much more easily.  I’ve been heartened by the ridership I’ve seen–including many more people doing multimodal bike-transit commuting east of Pasadena.

Cal Poly bus stop before and after.

Cal Poly bus stop before (top) and after (bottom).

busstop2

New bus shelters at Cal Poly Pomona.  For too long, Cal Poly’s bus stops on Temple Ave. provided no shelter and little more than a splintered old bench for bus riders (see pictures).  As a result of student activism and new campus leadership, there are two new bus shelters at the main campus bus stops on Temple Ave.  This is certainly a step in the right direction and I’m modestly hopeful for additional progress on transit and bike access to campus.

Thanks to the work of many local advocates, progress toward new bike plans have been made in Pasadena, Monrovia, and La Verne.  With better infrastructure, I’m confident we’ll see an uptick in bike ridership, which in turn should lead to even more bike infrastructure in the future.  Despite these small victories, the pace of change in the SGV is so slow and incremental that it barely registers today. Too many streets are unsafe for cycling and too many destinations are hard to get to by bike and when you arrive, they often lack basic bike amenities like bike racks.  It’s easy to feel angry about the lack of good bike infrastructure that places people at risk and deters others from riding in the SGV, but there are good people working to change this, and they must be given due credit.  The advocates at BikeSGV, for example, have done some wonderful work organizing community rides, setting up the Bike Education Center in El Monte, advocating for complete streets, and bringing a multi-city open streets event to the SGV.  They honored me this past year with an award for my bike advocacy, an award for which I was hardly worthy, but profoundly honored, nonetheless.  I draw hope and inspiration from these fellow advocates.

More protected bike lanes, like this one in Santa Monica, are needed in the SGV.

More protected bike lanes, like this one in Santa Monica, are needed in the SGV.

Education and outreach.  In 2016 I was involved in an alternative transportation project at my daughter’s high school and an alternative transportation conference at Cal Poly Pomona. I also was privileged to speak on “cycling and social justice” to a group of inmates in a Prison Education Project at the invitation of one of my fantastic colleagues at Cal Poly, political science professor Dr. Renford Reese.  In general, I found many of the people I spoke to open to the message of bicycling, walking, and transit for healthier communities. Spreading the message of the many benefits of car-free alternatives was deeply gratifying.

Scott Schultz of BUSted Los Angeles speaks to students at Cal Poly's alternative transportation conference in November.

Scott Schultz of BUSted Los Angeles speaks to students at Cal Poly’s alternative transportation conference in November.

Measure M.  The half-cent sales tax for transportation passed in Los Angeles by a healthy margin (approx. 70 percent voted yes).  This will mean expansion of Metro rail, local bus service, and bike and pedestrian infrastructure.  Measure A, a countywide tax for parks, also passed, which means LA County will have funds for turning many of its now-barren flood control channels into “linear parks” with multi-use paths. Such victories give me hope.

Notable Books and Films of 2016:

  • Frackopoly: The Battle for the Future of Energy and the Environment by Winona Hauter. Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand why hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) of oil and natural gas is neither safe nor a “bridge fuel” to sustainable energy.
  • Routes of Power: Energy and Modern America by Christopher F. Jones.  Technically, came out last year, but it was new to me this year, so I’m including it here.  Jones, an historian at Arizona State University, weaves a fascinating story of how the infrastructure of fossil fuel was created in the United States, and offers a deeper understanding of how energy transitions take place–essential knowledge as we transition away from a carbon economy. His research also underscores the central importance of pipelines for the delivery of fossil fuel and the expansion of the carbon economy, and thus the importance of blocking the construction of new pipelines in the fight for a livable climate and clean water.
  • Street Fight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution by Janette Sadik-Khan.  The lively story of how Sadik-Khan, former transportation commissioner for NYC, overcame opposition and redesigned many of New York’s streets to be more bike and pedestrian friendly.  Essential reading for any alternative transportation advocate.
  • Before the Flood (documentary film) directed by Leonardo DiCaprio.  Surprisingly good climate change documentary that doesn’t let Westerners’ high-consumption lifestyle off the hook.
  • Bikes vs. Cars (documentary film) directed by Fredrik Gertten.  Technically released Dec. 2015, but wasn’t available until this year.  If you want a good primer on why bikes are and must be a key component of sustainable urban transportation as told through the eyes of several bike advocates in cities around the world, this film is for you.

Thought for 2017: Every bike used for transportation is an instrument of peaceful revolution, every car-free trip a step towards a more equitable, sustainable future.

Remembering a Tree

ralphs_parking

This week I rode down to my local grocery store and noticed the little island where an oak tree once stood had been paved over.  No more oak tree. Asphalt for more cars. It seemed like a metaphor to me.

A tree is a little thing, really.  Seems silly to mourn its loss when its destruction frees up more space for parked cars.  Is this what they mean by “creative destruction”? Besides, as one of my suburban neighbors once told me, “you can’t go to the grocery store on a bicycle.”  The store seems to agree, since they don’t provide a decent bike rack if you brave the streets lacking bike lanes and ride your bike to the store.  Hardly anybody I know rides their bike to the store (even though some of them think climate change is real). Too hard, I guess.

Nevertheless I used to lock my bike to a signpost in the shade under that tree.  It was nice.

But the oak tree wasn’t making the grocery company any money.  It just sat there, doing what trees do.  This way, a few more people will be able to park their cars close to the store. I’m sure they’ll think it was worth it. Maybe some of them drive Priuses.  That will make it alright, won’t it?

But I’ll remember that tree.

Monrovia’s Bike Plan

Monrovia Bike Plan

Monrovia Bike Plan

Tuesday night, toward the end of a loooooong Monrovia City Council meeting, agenda item AR-4: “Monrovia Bicycle Master Plan” finally came before the Council.  After a brief summary of the proposed bike master plan by the city’s public works manager, Sean Sullivan, the floor was opened for comments.  I had hoped there wouldn’t be too much NIMBY opposition to the plan’s proposed bike lanes and in fact all the public comments were positive.  A number of members of “Move Monrovia,” the local bike advocacy group, attended and spoke in support of the plan.  Monrovia cyclist Robert Lewis, for example, eloquently discussed the need for better bike infrastructure in town.  “The fact is, people like me will ride regardless,” he told the Mayor and Councilmembers.  “What we need to do is lower the barriers for the rest of the community to ride to the grocery store once a week or to leave their car at home and ride with their children to Monroe Elementary once a week.”  After several other speakers praised the plan, the council members voted unanimously to adopt the new bike plan.  After such a long struggle to get this plan going, there is a tremendous sense of achievement.

The new plan, drafted by Alta Planning, is a huge step for this community.  It addresses a number of critical transportation issues in Monrovia.  It extends Class II bike lanes to Monrovia High School and along Chestnut in the western half of the city, as well as Central Ave between Mayflower and Myrtle and Duarte Ave between Montain and California.  Existing bike lanes on Olive Ave. by Monroe Elementary will be upgraded to buffered bike lanes, offering added protection for students and their families.  The plan also proposes more bike racks and end of trip facilities (such as repair and hydration stations) and promotes bike safety education programs and community rides as a way of encouraging a shift away from the automobile monoculture.  In all, there is much to like about this plan.

I do have some concerns, however.  First, the plan relies heavily on Class III “bicycle routes” which may or may not mean anything more than sharrows and increased signage.  This is especially the case on the area around the new Gold Line station on Mayflower, California, and Pomona streets.  If the city makes these “bike routes” real neighborhood greenways, with infrastructure designed to lower speeds and divert cars to other streets, then it will be an major improvement and encourage the “interested but concerned” majority to venture out on their bikes.  Otherwise, the improvement will be negligible.

On a number of important streets the plan recommends only “study” of either Class II bike lanes or Class IV separated bike lanes, but no timetable for study, let alone implementation.  On a number of these streets, the only way to fit bike lanes would be to remove on-street parking or a “road diet.”  Indeed, a number of city officials have remarked about the city’s “narrow” streets being a barrier to bike infrastructure.  I fear that, instead of seeing the streets of this old streetcar suburb as perfect for a rethinking of the primacy of the automobile, the needs of people on foot and on bikes will be sacrificed to the continued domination of the most inefficient transportation mode–cars.  In other words, the plan puts off the hard choices for a later date (which may be why there was no opposition at the Council meeting).  As we learned in Temple City recently, once you start asking motorists to park a little further away, or take 30 seconds longer to get through town, they will scream bloody murder.  Inconvenience them just a little, call into question their God-given right to drive everywhere and park wherever they want and they’re ready to string up those awful bikers.

In sum, Monrovia has taken an important step toward the creation of a city grid that works for all road users.  The task of organizing and lobbying remains, however, and the hard work of growing and mobilizing a constituency for more ambitious transformation must also commence in earnest.  Fortunately, the advocates are in place, and have a victory under their belt.

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

Turn the Page

The new year provides an opportunity to look back on 2015 and ahead to 2016.  As always, it’s a blend of  disappointment that much-needed changes have been so slow in coming, gratification for the accomplishments, and hope for a continued shift in our transportation priorities in the future.  What is offered here is a highly personal, mostly local, list of the best of 2015 and some of my aspirations for bikes and alternative transportation in 2016.

The best of 2015:

  1. A shift in the conversation about climate change.  2015 may well be seen as the year the global community got serious about recognizing the necessity of radical action on climate change.  The Pope’s Encyclical on Climate Change, “Laudato Si,” provided a powerful moral argument for reducing carbon emissions while addressing the combined social and environmental injustices of the current economic model.  Then, in December, leaders of over 190 nation-states met at the Paris Climate Summit and agreed to commit their nations to voluntary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Pressure from citizen activists from around the world and from vulnerable nations elicited an “aspirational” goal of limiting climate change to 1.5 degrees celsius above pre-industrial averages.  While the agreement lacks any binding enforcement mechanism, it is an important starting point from which continued climate justice activism can and must proceed.  In order for these goals to have any chance of success, transportation sustainability (and equity) are going to play a role.  That means transit and bikes.
  2. Construction of Phase 1 Extension of the Gold Line from Pasadena to Azusa was completed.  The extension opens up possibilities for more transit choices in the San Gabriel Valley, and eliminates one more excuse for people who live nearby to go car free or car light.

    Bike parking at Arcadia station.

    Bike parking at Arcadia station.

  3. CicLAvia came to Pasadena!  The fun of cruising down a car-free Colorado Blvd. with thousands of other people still brings a smile to my face and reminds us why we must continue to push for more car-free space (temporarily or permanently) in our cities.  The car-free movement continued to spread in 2015, as iconic Paris opened its streets to people for a day in September. CicLAviaPas3
  4. New Bike Co-Op opened in El Monte.  BikeSGV’s new bike co-op, the Bike Education Center, provides a space for people from the local community to build or fix their own bikes.
  5. Metro’s Bike Hub at El Monte Bus Station. An important amenity for transit users who want a secure storage space for their bikes and a place for quick bike repairs right on the premises of the transit station.
  6. Pro-Bike Mayor elected in Pasadena.  The election of Terry Tornek as Mayor of Pasadena means that City Hall will continue to provide strong leadership for transit, walking, and bicycling in the city.
  7. Mobility 2035.  LA City Council passed an ambitious mobility plan that, if implemented, will provide more sustainable mobility choices for people in LA.
  8. Local bike infrastructure.  This is the weakest of 2015’s accomplishments.  But it is important to applaud any improvement.  For me, the bike lanes on First St. in Arcadia, near the new Gold Line station, even though they only stretch for about half a mile, are a sign that the city is trying to accommodate bicycle commuters.  Here’s hoping they are extended in 2016.

What I’m anticipating/hoping/wishing/working for in 2016:

  1. Gold Line extension opening, March 5, 2016.  This is a red-letter day for sure.  Looking forward to that first ride out to Azusa.
  2. Monrovia’s new bike plan.  Monrovia, at the behest of it’s local active transportation advocacy group Move Monrovia, has contracted with Alta Planning to produce a bike plan for the city.  I’m anxious to see the new plan and work with local advocates to make sure it gets approved and funded.
  3. Golden Streets 626: The San Gabriel Valley’s big open streets event, June 26, 2016 (i.e., 6.26)
  4. More bike lanes … everywhere.  Bike lanes are good.  Buffered bike lanes are better, and protected bike lanes (a.k.a. “Cycle Tracks”) are best.  I’m especially hoping to see some progress in Pasadena, Temple City, Arcadia, Monrovia. Et tu, El Monte?

    First Av. bike lane to Gold Line in Arcadia.

    First Av. bike lane to Gold Line in Arcadia.

  5. More bike racks (not the crappy, wheel-bender kind) … everywhere.
  6. Commitment from university administrators for a transit center on Cal Poly Pomona’s campus.  Cal Poly Pomona, where I teach, currently has no transit stop on campus.  Bus riders are forced to walk a long distance to sit on a splintered bench on Temple Ave.  Yet the University is building a multimillion-dollar parking garage and raising student parking fees.  Time for this otherwise “green” campus to make its transportation system green, too.

    What passes for a "transit center" at Cal Poly Pomona.

    What passes for a “transit center” at Cal Poly Pomona.

  7. Buffered bike lanes on Sierra Madre Blvd.  This has long been on my wish list.  There’s no reason it can’t be done.  The street is wide enough, the traffic speeds warrant it.  Hasn’t happened yet.  Still, I’ll keep asking ….

Happy car-light 2016 to all, and remember, there’s no such thing as a “green” car.  Whenever possible, leave your tin polluter box at home.  Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.  Walk, bike, take the bus or train.  It makes a difference!

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