Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

Archive for the category “bike racks”

Remembering a Tree


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.

New Transit Developments

The future of car free or car light living in the San Gabriel Valley depends on expanded transit and its integration with networks of pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods and a good network of bike lanes.  In the last month Metro has unveiled several new transit oriented amenities in the San Gabriel Valley that are steps in the right direction for sustainable transportation in these communities.  I offer here a brief overview that, while laudatory, includes some critiques and suggestions for making them even better.

First is the completion of the Gold Line extension in the San Gabriel Valley from its current terminus in East Pasadena to its new terminus in Azusa.  The Gold Line extension will have stations in (from west to east) Arcadia, Monrovia, Duarte, Irwindale, and Azusa.  This will connect these foothill communities to Metro’s growing transit network and, if past experience is any indicator, draw significant ridership from surrounding communities.  Trains will not begin running until some time in Spring 2016, but the track is laid and the stations are completed.  I attended the dedication ceremonies for the Arcadia and Monrovia stations and checked out the facilities.

Arcadia Station

Arcadia Station

The Arcadia station at the corner of Santa Clara and First Street, is well situated to encourage transit-oriented and pedestrian-oriented development, if the city of Arcadia is willing to steer development in this direction (not a sure thing, given the city’s traditional suburban car-oriented mentality).  Nevertheless, it has the potential of becoming a destination area for the city, and is a pleasing design, with a clock and pedestrian plaza in front.

Bike parking at Arcadia station.

Bike parking at Arcadia station.

Bike access is slowly improving, with new bike lanes on First Street for several blocks north and south of Santa Clara.  The city needs to extend the network of bike lanes east and west, as well as further north and south of the station if it wants to have meaningful bike connectivity to the station.  Bike parking is conveniently located and plentiful.

Monrovia Gold Line station dedication

Monrovia Gold Line station dedication

My reaction to the Monrovia station is a bit mixed.  The city of Monrovia has plans for a “Station Square” transit-oriented development, which should lend itself to pedestrian access to the station, but at the moment the most notable thing about the Monrovia station is its gigantic parking structure.  I suspect more money went into building this storage structure for empty cars than went into the actual station itself.

Parking structure dominates Monrovia Gold Line station.

Parking structure dominates Monrovia Gold Line station.

I was also a bit disappointed in the bike parking.  While there are numerous bike lockers available for rent from Metro inside the parking structure, one must rent these from Metro by the month, meaning it will only be useful for a small proportion of regular commuters.  I’ve often thought that Metro should allow daily/hourly rentals for at least a portion of its bike lockers.  After all, I usually take my bike with me on the Metro, but there may be occasions when I’d like to ride to the station and keep my bike secure in a locker for an evening in LA, for example, and retrieve it when I return.  Paying a monthly rental fee for such occasional usage doesn’t make much sense.

Artsy-fartsy bike racks.

Artsy-fartsy bike racks.

The station has a small number of artsy new bike racks that consist of curved metal poles with round holes that may or may not be very practical.

A practical option for locking bikes?

A practical option for locking bikes?

Most bicyclists locked their bikes to the railings in the parking structure instead, an indication that Metro’s artsy racks might be more artistic than practical.

At this time Monrovia is preparing a new bike plan with input from the local bike advocacy organization, Move Monrovia, but as yet there is no wayfinding signage for bikes and no bike lanes near the station.

El Monte Bike Hub grand opening.

El Monte Bike Hub grand opening.

Metro also opened its new Bike Hub at the El Monte Bus Station.  The Bike Hub is a membership-based amenity that provides a space for basic bike maintenance, repair and secure indoor bike storage conveniently located at El Monte station.  It is the first of several Bike Hubs that will be located at transit stations around Southern California.

Secure bike storage at El Monte Bike Hub.

Secure bike storage at El Monte Bike Hub.

These new transit and bike facilities are small but significant steps forward for the San Gabriel Valley.

Why bike lanes matter

The city of Carlsbad narrowed vehicle travel lanes on the coast highway to create buffered bike lanes that increase safety.  Traffic speed limits were also lowered.

Carlsbad narrowed vehicle lanes, creating buffered bike lanes and lowered speed limits on the coast highway.

I spent last week in Carlsbad and the surrounding North San Diego County area with my family for a summer beach break.  We come down here every year, and it is always interesting to watch the area slowly become more bike-friendly.

One of the new bike corrals in downtown carlsbad.

One of the new bike corrals in downtown carlsbad.

Perhaps the biggest change I noticed this year was the addition of more bike lanes and lots of additional bike parking in Carlsbad’s downtown business district.   The city got an active transportation grant from the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) and installed over 180 bike racks throughout town.  There are literally scores of new bike racks up and down Carlsbad Village Drive, the town’s main north-south artery, and even a new “bike corral” near the intersection of Carlsbad Village and State Street (see photo).  There are ample bike racks throughout town, especially at restaurants, beach access points, and other popular destinations in town.  It may seem like a small thing, but knowing there will be bike racks when you get to your destination is a major improvement, and the city has installed good “inverted U” racks (not the crappy “wheel bender” racks that some cities install as an afterthought).

Carlsbad Village Drive, the main artery through the village business district, now has new bike lanes along the shoulder of the road.  In years past, my family and I had not felt safe bicycling Carlsbad Village Drive and always avoided it, taking the long way around if we rode our bikes to the stores and restaurants on that road, but this year we were able to ride to shops and restaurants in the safety of a bike lane.  The ease with which one can now access the Village’s shops and restaurants by bike is remarkably improved.  These small changes made a huge difference for us, and I noticed more people bicycling around town than ever before.

The most impressive infrastructure improvement is the road diet on Carlsbad Blvd., the portion of the coast highway that runs through town (top photo).  Carlsbad Blvd already had bike lanes, but 40-45 mph traffic on the road made it an intimidating experience for all but the most fearless cyclists.  The city’s transportation department has now reduced the two auto traffic lane widths in each direction from 12 feet to 10 feet, creating 4 feet of space with which to provide wider bike lanes and buffer zones between automobiles and the bike lanes.  Meanwhile traffic speed limits have been lowered on the highway to 35 mph, and 30 mph in the central town area and pedestrian crossings have been improved.  The effect is to make the road much safer for everyone and make the town more accessible on foot and by bike.

By comparison, travel further south on the Coast Highway (Hwy 101) through Leucadia and Encinitas, and the value of separate bicycle infrastructure becomes abundantly clear.  There, with traffic speed limits averaging 40 mph, the bike lanes end and are replaced by sharrows in the right-hand lane and signs indicating bikes may use full lane.  I traveled that stretch daily for much of the week I was in Carlsbad, and noted the behavior of cyclists along the stretch of road that had sharrows.  Invariably, cyclists of all ability levels stayed as far to the right as possible, often riding on the shoulder instead of the middle of the sharrow lane.  Meanwhile, cars continued to zoom by heedless of the sharrow lanes.  In several instances, I saw slower cyclists leave the street entirely when the bike lane ended and continue on the sidewalk instead of the sharrow lane.  I can’t say I blame them, as automobile traffic on Hwy 101 can approach 45-50 mph on that stretch.

The situation may be different on the weekends, when packs of experienced cyclists could take and hold the sharrow lane on their fast-paced rides up and down the coast.  However, for a lone cyclist, whether an experienced commuter or an inexperienced kid on a beach cruiser, the sharrows on 101 seem so much wasted paint.  Some combination of lane removal, road diet, and/or removal of curbside parking on Hwy 101 should be undertaken to create space for bike lanes.  After viewing this dramatic demonstration of the difference between bike lanes and sharrows, Vehicular Cycling advocates who promote sharrows instead of cycle tracks or bike lanes cannot convince me that sharrows are superior.

The southbound side of the coast highway in Carlsbad now has a buffer protecting cyclists from the "door zone" as they pass parked cars.

The southbound side of the coast highway in Carlsbad now has a buffer protecting cyclists from the “door zone” of parked cars.

Carlsbad, like many beach towns in Southern California, struggles with traffic and parking congestion in the peak summer months (and, yes, tourists like me add to the problem).  As such, encouraging people to ride bikes for short trips around town makes good sense from a variety of perspectives.  It decreases traffic and parking congestion; decreases pollution, noise, and carbon emissions; increases the accessibility and vibrancy of the downtown business district; and improves public health.  Best yet, with its accessibility from the Coaster commuter rail, it’s now feasible to visit Carlsbad car-free and it should become a premier destination for bicycle tourism.  We’ve always loved Carlsbad for its beautiful beaches and lagoons.  Now it’s also becoming a great place to walk and bicycle and we have more reasons to love it.  It’s time for the neighboring towns of Oceanside, Leucadia, and Encinitas to catch up to Carlsbad.

Christmas by Bike


It’s been perfect weather for bicycling here in Southern California lately, and I’ve done almost all of my Christmas shopping by bike this year (with the exception of a few things I’ve ordered online or by catalogue).  For the most part, it is an enjoyable experience.  The shopping center shown in the picture of my Salsa Fargo and Croozer cargo trailer (above) has a number of well-placed bike racks, which allows bike riders to lock up directly in front of most stores and makes it safer and more convenient for people on bikes.  I wish more merchants and municipalities understood the value of good quality bike racks and bike access to add to their bottom line.  In the absence of a bike rack, the shopper is forced to look for a sign pole or railing on which to lock up her bike, and these aren’t always located in the most convenient or safe places.  The presence of a good bike rack says to the bicycling customer, “you are welcome here and your business matters.”  Moreover, designing or retrofitting businesses with bike access costs far less than providing access and parking for cars.


As for locks, I recommend a good quality U-lock or chain lock (shown above).  You should use the lock to secure the frame of your bicycle to a rack or other immovable object.  If possible, place the U-lock around your wheel and your frame for extra security, as shown in the photo.  Don’t lock your bike to a post unless it is high enough and there is a sign on top of it which would prevent someone from lifting your bike over it.  Avoid cable locks (except perhaps to wrap around wheels and secure to a U-lock).  Most cable locks are relatively easy to cut with bolt cutters, and I wouldn’t use a cable lock if I was going to leave my bike unattended for more than a minute. Good locks aren’t cheap, but unlike many overpriced bike accessories, they’re definitely worth the expense.  Locking your bike properly will avoid giving a bike thief a Christmas present.

Wishing all my readers a joyous holiday, goodwill, and a safe journey on your bike!

Pasadena’s Bike Plan (part 2)

The area around Pasadena’s Huntington Memorial Hospital (HMH) has a great deal of potential for bike-friendly infrastructure and transit-oriented development.

In previous posts, we’ve provided an overview of Pasadena’s proposed bike plan and offered suggestions for bike lanes to the north and south of the Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line station.  Today we shift to the area around the Del Mar and Fillmore Gold Line stations near HMH.  The Metro stations themselves provide ample bike parking, and there are numerous interesting destinations within a short bicycling distance from the stations, but the city must provide more bike lanes on key routes leading to the Del Mar and Fillmore stations if it is to meet its goals of increased bicycle mode share and decreased carbon emissions in this part of Pasadena.

Pasadena Avenue will eventually have a much-needed bike lane.

The good news is that Pasadena currently has bike lanes on Marengo Avenue south of Del Mar and on Glenarm east of Marengo, and plans to add a bike lane on Pasadena Avenue (above), a crucial north-south route west of the Gold Line that will provide bicyclists with safe access to HMH and the west end of Old Town.  The city is to be commended for these efforts at creating bike-friendly infrastructure on these streets, including a generous sprinkling of bike racks on sidewalks in the area, so there are plenty of places to lock up your bike when you ride these streets.

The bad news is that the city continues to rely too heavily on its “bike routes” and “enhanced bike routes” for much of its planned bike infrastructure expansion in the area.  As we’ve seen, these routes usually allow automobile parking on the road’s shoulder or curb, creating a danger zone for cyclists as they are pinched between the parked cars and moving vehicles in the traffic lanes.  Years ago I had a bad experience while riding on such a route, squeezed between a truck and a parked car, so perhaps I’m particularly sensitive to this problem, but it highlights the serious safety compromise that is made when parked cars are given priority over bike lanes.  It also highlights a key problem for non-car mobility, namely, that the existing and proposed bike lanes in this part of Pasadena do not form a contiguous network and do not connect directly to and from the Metro stations.

Not much room for bikes on this “bike route” at the Del Mar Gold Line station.

Riding my bike in the area around HMH last week, despite my years of cycling experience, I had to be an aggressive urban street warrior when I was riding in the heavy weekday traffic on streets like Raymond Avenue or Del Mar (a “bike route,” above).  Forget about Fair Oaks Ave. (see picture below) or California Blvd. (another “bike route” east of Marengo), where I opted for the relative safety of the sidewalks and had to crawl at low speed around pedestrians.  These “bike routes” may be quite comfortable for cyclists on early Sunday mornings when there’s little traffic, but if people are to be expected to use them for commuting, they have got to feel safe to ride during normal weekday traffic, and, to me, they don’t.

Despite nearby parking lots, free curb parking for cars on Fair Oaks takes precedence over bicycle safety near the Fillmore station.

Because “bike routes” and “enhanced bike routes” provide signage, but not protected space for cyclists, they will do little to entice less aggressive or experienced riders.  The bottom line is, if cities don’t make riding safe and comfortable for a broad swath of people (not just experienced cyclists), and don’t make it safe, easy, and comfortable for this wider range of people to access transit stations by bicycle, they will not see significant increases in the number of people using bicycles for daily transportation in this part of the city.  This is a shame, because the medical center surrounding HMH is filled with many young health-conscious doctors, nurses, and medical employees (see picture below) who could take advantage of a network of safe bike lanes connecting their workplaces with nearby transit stops.

Huntington Memorial Hospital (HMH) provides bike lockers for its employees. This weekday, all but one were empty. Not surprising considering the dearth of bike lanes nearby.

Small Victory

Glad to see these new inverted U racks at Victory Park farmer’s market site.

Every once in a while, despite the frustrations of commuting by means other than the car, a small victory occurs and keeps you going.  About six months ago, I requested bike racks at the Victory Park parking lot where Pasadena’s farmer’s market is held on Saturdays.  The lack of bike racks meant that you had to find a fence post or other stationary object on which to lock your bike.  Given the space premium on Saturdays, this often entailed a walk around the farmer’s market before you could find parking.  Meanwhile those who drove their 2,500 lb gas hogs to buy 20 lbs worth of fruit and vegetables got priority.  Well, as I was walking back to my bike at yesterday’s market, what should I come across, but two brand, spanking new inverted U racks!  Thank heaven for small victories.  And thank you to the City of Pasadena’s DPW for listening to citizens.

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