Boyonabike!

Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

Archive for the tag “bike lanes”

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

 

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.

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!

Self-Driving Cars

Google-self-driving-cars

Often when I discuss my alternative transportation with people, I get a similar response: “what about self-driving cars?”  At one level, I know people are often just making conversation, but it strikes me as funny that the first thing they think of as an “answer” for problems caused by the automobile is simply substituting a different kind of automobile, as if that makes a difference.  Part of this is an overriding faith in technology to solve problems created by, well, technology.  Part, however, is an inability (or unwillingness) to think in terms beyond the status quo.

At a dinner a couple of years ago, one husband of a colleague of mine, an architect in a prominent L.A. firm, proceeded to instruct me how driverless cars would mean “you people” (meaning bicyclists) “won’t need bike lanes anymore.”  He predicted self-driving cars would be universal within five years and the safety of people on bikes and people on foot wouldn’t be threatened by dangerous or distracted drivers.  The techno-utopia was right around the corner.  Leaving aside for a moment the absurdity of the claim that fully autonomous vehicles will become universal any time in the near future (hybrids, which are a much smaller technological leap, have been widely available for over 15 years, but currently make up less than 5% market share in the U.S.), the subtext of his comment struck me as a way of saying that “you people” (bicyclists) should stop complaining about bike lanes, already.  You’re not going to need them and, besides, roads are made for cars.

More recently, a colleague who professes to be an environmentalist asked me what I thought of self-driving cars.  I told him about the possibilities as well as the drawbacks and when I gently suggested that he might occasionally consider taking transit, he balked.  “I don’t like transit,” he flatly told me.

Even some bicycling advocates have been bitten by the driverless car bug.  A recent exchange on Twitter is instructive:

My bike advocate friends need not worry that they’ll have to “push for self-driving cars.”  What historian Peter Norton calls Motordom (the complex of automobile interests), now combined with the tech industry, is already strongly pushing for it.  Bike advocacy organizations, already stretched thin, should not waste precious resources doing the work of the car companies for them.  Many of my fellow citizens are slavishly ready to follow the pied piper that will allow them to continue their car-dependent lifestyle.  Finally, the promised land where we can all sit in our individual metal boxes and text to our hearts’ content.  Lord knows, they don’t need a “push” from bike advocates.

Such comments, and they’re part of the media discourse on alternative transportation, too, are a dead giveaway that the design of cities around the automobile has made us not only geographically but psychologically dependent on them.  The mere thought of living without a car sends many people into a panic.  I’m reminded of the character in one of James Howard Kunstler’s post-apocalyptic, post-oil, post-car novels who is so despondent about not being able to drive that he sits in his car in the driveway every day and pretends to drive.  One day, unable to cope with the thought of life without his beloved car, he blows his brains out in the driver’s seat.  As a commentary on many Americans’ abject psychological dependence on the car culture, Kunstler is spot on.

Last weekend, transportation planner Gabe Klein spoke at UCLA and was later interviewed about self-driving cars by the L.A. Times.  Like many people, Klein thinks that self-driving cars are coming—maybe not in 5 years, but eventually.  However, unlike most people, Klein does not view them as a panacea for our transportation woes.  So while the Times headline writer breathlessly touted driverless vehicles as “the future of LA transportation,” Klein was far more circumspect in his interview.

When asked to assess LA’s transportation system, Klein first and foremost bemoaned the way we’ve replaced LA’s transit system with the car culture, calling it a “complete planning failure”:

Look at the original rail network in Los Angeles. It was robust. But during the past 70 years, there has been a complete disinvestment in public transit until recently. When automobiles came in, streetcars became less desirable. On the back end, we are paying the price today. There’s been a complete planning failure. Sprawl does not work. There is also induced demand. That means you can’t build your way out of traffic congestion. New highway lanes just fill up.

Asked if there was nothing we can do to “defeat this gridlock,” Klein responded that any future transportation system—including one that involved driverless cars—must invest in transit and reduce car usage:

The single-occupancy car is not good. Do we want to keep buying the cow, when what we really want is the milk? We need to develop a car-light lifestyle. Uber, Lyft, driverless vehicles, robo taxis are steps in that direction. Even Bill Ford Jr. will tell you that the single-occupancy car is not the future.

When asked what the role of driverless cars should be, Klein emphasized “widespread car-sharing” driverless car rentals, taxis, and such.  What he did not say is that everyone should own one and assume we’ll continue our same commuting habits.  “There could be a dystopian future,” he pointedly noted, “if we sell everyone an autonomous vehicle and not reduce the number of cars on the road.”

How to reduce the number of cars on the road?  “Increase the cost and inconvenience of owning and operating a car,” mainly by making drivers pay for all the externalized costs their cars create.  Instead make cities more compact, more walkable and bikeable.  Invest in “expanded transit systems and more compact development that brings homes, workplaces, shopping areas and recreational opportunities closer together.”

Here’s the key thing about self-driving cars: they must be seen as a bridge to a car light or car free life, not a continuation of business as usual.  Some of the most prominent advocates of driverless cars, such as Sebastian Thrun, one of the developers of the Google Car, has said that he envisions self-driving cars “doubling or tripling” the number of cars on the road, because, presumably, they’ll be able to drive closer to one another.  Others have envisioned a looming “congestion disaster,” as one might predict using driverless (and passenger less) cars to, say, run errands while their owners are at work.  How walkable or bikeable would such streets be?  How livable would such cities be? Where would we find space to park all of them?  Would they exacerbate the tendency of cities to sprawl outward, since owners would be free to spend their longer commute time reading, texting, or surfing the web?

The problems of cars involve a whole range of land use and space issues, not only what comes out of the tailpipe, or the danger they pose on the roads, or the enormous waste of resources they represent, it is that they are space hogs whose inevitable result is unsustainable sprawl and the evisceration of social life in the city.  Having everyone move about sitting inside his/her own climate-controlled metal box is a fundamentally antisocial means of mobility.  It’s one of the key reasons drivers become selfish, dangerous, and often rude “owners” of erstwhile public road space.  The whole discussion of driverless cars ignores the question of transportation equity.  That is to say, is mobility a right, or is it a privilege reserved for those who can pay for the private box in which to move about?

One cannot design streets and cities for cars and for people at the same time.  Prioritize one or the other and design accordingly.  Switching to self-driving cars will not resolve this fundamental conflict.  Indeed, it may exacerbate it.  The answer to sprawl and eviscerated cities is not driverless cars, it is transit and walkable, bikeable communities.  Unfortunately, for many, the message is slow to catch on.

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.

 

Same Old, Same Old

Resurfaced Sierra Madre Villa, looking south.

Resurfaced Sierra Madre Villa, looking south.

When I see a street resurfaced, especially a street that desperately needs a bike lane, a glimmer of hope stirs within me that maybe, just maybe, the street will be restriped to accommodate bikes.  This foolish glimmer of hope is usually dashed, as the local DOT simply returns the street to the same old, unsafe car-centric design it had before.

Silly me.

Case in point: the recent resurfacing of Sierra Madre Villa Blvd in East Pasadena between Rosemead Blvd and Sierra Madre Blvd.

"Share the Road"

“Share the Road”

The street is marked as a “bike route” with a couple of “share the road” signs, but hardly anybody rides it because automobile speeds average about 40 mph, and it’s designed for automobile speed, not bike or pedestrian safety.  The street would require some minor re-design to accommodate bike lanes, as I’ll demonstrate below, but there is room for them and the street is a good candidate for bike lanes because it would close a gap between nearby streets that have bike lanes and it is the main route connecting the the neighborhood to the nearby Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line transit station.

This station is the major bus and light rail hub in the area, and is slated to be a bike share station when Metro eventually expands its bike share program to Pasadena.  You would think Pasadena DOT would use the resurfacing as an ideal opportunity to redesign the street for multimodal commuting and safety at minimal cost.  But you would be wrong.

On-street parking forces cyclists to "take the lane" in 40mph traffic.

On-street parking forces cyclists to “take the lane” in 40mph traffic.

Sierra Madre Villa Blvd is a north-south arterial that heads up the hill from the Gold Line station to New York Drive in Altadena (which has buffered bike lanes).  As it heads north, it intersects with N. Rosemead Blvd (which has bike lanes) and Sierra Madre Blvd. (which also has bike lanes). Currently, the street has 2 travel lanes in each direction (one 10-foot and 1 12-foot), a 10-foot center turn lane, and 2 10-foot parking lanes on each side.  The southbound side is residential with a library at Rosemead Bl.  The northbound side has an LDS church and an apartment complex, both of which have ample off-street parking.  The northbound side is the most critical for some kind of bike lane, because of the large speed differential between 40mph cars and bicycles heading up the hill.

Below I lay out the current configuration, then offer two alternatives: one that removes on-street parking from the northbound side and provides buffered bike lanes in both directions (option 1), and another that keeps on-street parking but narrows the parking lane and one of the 12-foot travel lanes to provide sharrows on the downhill side and a bike lane on the northbound side (option 2).  Neither one of these options would have been cost prohibitive.

SMV Current

SMV option1

SMV option 2

Why didn’t DOT consider more bike friendly alternatives for Sierra Madre Villa, especially considering their stated desire for Pasadena to rival Long Beach for bike friendliness?  I have several theories, but one is that DOT staff tends to pay more attention to bike infrastructure in the gentrifying downtown area than in East Pasadena, a less glamorous part of town.

It’s a shame, because this was a real missed opportunity.  DOT needs to know that people on bikes in East Pasadena deserve safer streets, too.

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.

An End to LOS in Pasadena

Members of Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition pose for a celebratory picture after the City Council voted unanimously to end the city's old car-centric LOS transportation metric. (Photo courtesy PasCSC)

Members of Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition pose for a celebratory picture after the City Council voted unanimously to end the city’s old car-centric LOS transportation metric. (Photo courtesy PasCSC)

On November 3, Pasadena’s City Council voted unanimously to ditch the car-centric measure of mobility called “level of service,” or LOS.  The policy change was developed and proposed by the staff at Pasadena DOT and is a critical element of Pasadena’s efforts to become a more environmentally-friendly city by encouraging multi-modal transportation, and denser, mixed-use development downtown.  Pasadena’s local complete streets advocacy group, Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition (PasCSC), lobbied for this change as a necessary step in making the city’s streets safer and more user-friendly for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users.  The state of California is currently reassessing LOS and working on its own statewide multimodal metric, but to my knowledge Pasadena is the first city in Southern California (though certainly not the last) to break from the old LOS standard.

For the policy wonks, LOS was developed by traffic engineers decades ago as a means of measuring the increased automobile traffic that often comes with the growth of cities.  It made sense in an era when cities were being redesigned around the automobile and it was assumed that everyone would—and should—drive.  It makes far less sense when cities are trying to reduce their carbon footprint, automobile pollution, and encourage alternative modes of personal mobility.  Providing for the convenience of automobile mobility as the only measure of transportation quality had the unintended consequence of creating what is known as “induced demand” as wider roads encouraged more driving, more driving begat more auto-centric development, which, under LOS, mandated wider roads, ad infinitum.

One of the downsides of LOS has been that it measured the transportation impact of property development and road use solely by its impact on automobile wait times at intersections.  Put another way, pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users didn’t count, so their needs usually went unmet under the LOS rubric.  A short wait time for cars at an intersection would, for example, receive an ‘A’ grade, while a longer wait time for cars would receive lower grades.  Pedestrians who had a long wait at a traffic light and then a dash across the street to beat the short crossing signal were not counted under LOS.  A bus with 25 passengers counts as much as a single occupancy automobile under LOS.  A bike lane that might slightly reduce road capacity for automobiles would be D.O.A. under LOS, on the assumption that it might make drivers wait a few seconds longer at a stoplight, triggering a failing LOS grade.  Never mind that more people would be willing to leave their cars at home if they had safe, convenient alternatives, LOS meant drivers, and only drivers, counted.  Moreover, the widening of roads to achieve a good LOS score often resulted in unused road capacity during off-peak hours and has also been shown to induce higher automobile speeds and deadlier collisions.  The ‘S’ in LOS thus stood for service to motorists only, and reflected the domination of streets by cars in the late 20th century.  The new standard reflects the idea that cities should measure the movement of people, not just cars, when judging the impact of development.

The new standard uses a mix of Vehicle Trips (VT) generated, Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) per capita, access to alternative modes (walking, biking, transit) of transportation, as well as LOS.  The new measure also provides that mitigation of the traffic impact of development can include funding for alternative modes of transportation, whereas previously a developer would be required to provide more parking or road-widening.  Pasadena DOT staff believe that the new measure provides a fuller picture of the multimodal reality of modern city mobility and give the city the flexibility to encourage multi modality, safety, and sustainability.

Pasadena still has a long way to go to achieve its complete streets vision, but it is gratifying to see the city take one more step toward that vision.

The Close Pass

California’s new “3 Feet for Safety” Act, which requires motorists to give bicyclists 3 feet when passing, went into effect last month.  While most motorists seem to be abiding by the new law, I’ve had a couple of close calls the last few weeks that suggest motorists could use a bit more education on how to safely pass cyclists.  The fact that both incidents occurred on the same stretch of roadway in Pasadena also seems to strongly suggest that this road needs additional infrastructure treatment (i.e., a “road diet” that narrows the traffic lanes and buffered or protected bike lanes) to slow the speed of traffic and provide safe space for bicyclists.

Drivers encroach on the bike lane on Rosemead Blvd at 40 mph. At least half of the cars in the right lane crossed into the bike lane on the morning I took this picture. A buffer and green paint in the lane would increase safety, as would a reduction in the 40 mph posted speed limit.

Drivers encroach on the bike lane on Rosemead Blvd at 40 mph. At least half of the cars in the right lane crossed into the bike lane on the morning I took this picture. A buffer and green paint in the lane would increase safety, as would a reduction in the 40 mph posted speed limit.

The first close call came a couple of weeks ago when I was traveling south on Rosemead Blvd in the bike lane between Sierra Madre Villa and Halstead.  The road curves to the right and as I rounded the curve, a driver in a Honda Civic passed me so close I could feel the wind from her passenger-side mirror brush my left arm, which startled the hell out of me.  Her right tires were actually on the bike lane line.  She was probably doing about 40 mph, and as she passed I involuntarily yelled out of fear.  I tried to catch her, but she was going too fast and I got stopped at the red light on Rosemead and Halstead.  As she sped away, she seemed to slowly drift in her lane from left to right and back.  Was she drunk (this was a Monday morning about 10:00 am)? On meds? Texting?

The second incident occurred last Friday afternoon about 1:30 pm, traveling southbound on Rosemead again, this time between Halstead and Hastings Ranch Road.  On this stretch of Rosemead there’s no bike lane, as it ends at Halstead.  There is a shopping center with a new L.A. Fitness center that opened recently, and now that it is open, there are many more cars parked on the street here.  This forced me to ride in the traffic lane, as the curbside shoulder is now occupied by the cars of people working out at the fitness center.  How ironic that people park their cars on the street here, despite the fact that there is plenty of parking in a lot behind the fitness center, but drivers would have to walk maybe 100 feet farther to the entrance to the gym if they parked in the lot (better to save your walking for the treadmill you’ve paid for inside the gym, huh?).  Meanwhile, the presence of their empty cars in the street creates a hazard for those using alternate modes of transportation.  There would be plenty of room for bike lanes here if Pasadena DOT prohibited on-street parking here, but clearly the safety of cyclists is not a priority.

 

Parked cars (mostly for the fitness center on the right) force bicycles into the fast-moving traffic lane. Pasadena DOT could make this a no parking zone and have plenty of room for buffered or protected bike lanes here.

Parked cars (mostly for the fitness center on the right) force bicycles into the fast-moving traffic lane. Pasadena DOT could make this a no parking zone and have plenty of room for buffered or protected bike lanes here.

As I rode in the right-hand traffic lane and tried to avoid the “door zone” (about three feet away from the parked cars), a driver in a compact sedan sped by me at high speed and far too close for comfort.  This time, I caught up to the driver as she sat at the next red light.  Her passenger side window was closed, but I leaned over and said loudly (my adrenaline was up from the close call), “you need to give cyclists three feet when you pass.”  She rolled down her window and apologized (which surprised me). She explained that another car had been passing her in the lane on her left when she passed me, so she couldn’t move farther to the left as she passed.  I thanked her for her honesty, she apologized again, then the light turned green and she took off.

At least the exchange was cordial, but as I rode on, I thought to myself, “if it wasn’t safe for her to move to the left to give me space, shouldn’t she have just slowed down for (at most) a few seconds until it was safe to pass?”  The answer is obvious, of course she should have.  This is an aspect of driving that most motorists don’t think about when passing a person on a bike.  People are often in a hurry, so they figure they’ll just squeeze by.  Squeezing by another motorist when you’re both wrapped in 2,000-lbs of steel is not perceived as a problem.  Worst that might happen is scratched paint.  Squeezing by a bicyclist is a life-threatening move for the bicyclist.

According to the California Vehicle Code, bicyclists are allowed to “take the lane” if it is not safe for a bike and a car to pass side-by-side, and I probably should have been smack dab in the center of the travel lane rather than riding on the right half of the lane.  It would have forced motorists in my lane to slow down behind me.  Yet, few things irritate drivers more than cyclists “hogging” the lane.  Hey, it’s not a picnic for me.  I don’t like to slow others down and I don’t like the feeling of a car running up behind me, either.  A recent study by the League of American Bicyclists found that the largest portion of car-on-bike fatalities were cars hitting bikes from behind.  Nor do I relish being honked at or yelled at by impatient motorists who don’t give a shit about my right to the lane.  But, it’s probably safer than having a driver try to pass me too close when there isn’t enough room.

This raises a larger point I made earlier about the lack of bike lanes (including protective buffers between cars and bikes) on high-speed arterials like Rosemead Blvd.  There’s plenty of space.  For one thing, there’s no need for on-street parking when the adjacent shopping center has an ample off-street parking lot.  Buffered bike lanes or cycle tracks (bike lanes with physical separation from automobile traffic) could be installed on the shoulder of the road where empty cars now sit and it would not impact traffic flow.  Further south on Rosemead, the city of Temple City has already installed cycle tracks.  It’s time for Pasadena to do likewise.  At the very least, the Pasadena DOT should ban on-street parking on that stretch of Rosemead so bicyclists can safely use the shoulder out of the way of speeding cars.  The fact that I’ve had two close calls on the same stretch of roadway indicates the street is not safe.  There’s too little space for bikes and cars are driving too fast.

I’m glad the 3-foot passing law is now in effect in California, but we still need better education on how to pass a bicyclist safely and, most importantly, protected bike lanes on more of our streets.  What do you say, Pasadena?

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: