Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

Archive for the tag “bike routes”

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?

Greening Monrovia

Some time in 2015, foothill communities in the west San Gabriel Valley will get a light rail transit connection when phase 1 of the Gold Line extension opens from Pasadena to Azusa.  Stations have been designed and are being built, track is being laid, and in some cases, mixed-use condominium and apartment developments are being built nearby.  These developments, commonly referred to as “transit oriented development” (TOD), are designed to enable residents to commute by transit rather than automobile, reducing traffic, pollution, and GHG emissions.  In order for the Gold Line to effectively reduce traffic, pollution, and parking hassles, it must be designed in a way that enables people to access it by means other than the automobile.  To this end, cities along the Gold Line extension must begin to provide a network of safe pedestrian and bike access to the stations.

Chris shows me around the future Gold Line station in Monrovia where there are plans for bike lanes.

Chris shows me around the future Monrovia Gold Line station where the city could add bike lanes.

Recently I met with Chris, a local bicycle advocate from Monrovia, who took me around town to discuss the city’s bike plan and ride other streets where the city  could add bike lanes.

We rode from Colorado Blvd to Magnolia, then Magnolia south of the 210 freeway to Pomona Ave. where one of the new TODs is being built.  From there we rode to the site of the new Gold Line station, where Chris tells me there are plans for a new bike path running parallel to the Gold Line route east to the San Gabriel River bike path.  If this is true, it would provide a wonderful recreation and commuting route in this part of the San Gabriel Valley.

Monrovia Bike Plan

Monrovia’s bike plan (see map, above) shows bike lanes planned for installation on Colorado Blvd. (blue dotted line), while a class III “bike route” is planned around the Gold Line station for Mountain, Duarte, and Shamrock (solid purple line).  No bike path is shown anywhere in the plan.  As I’ve discussed in previous posts, the problem with class III bike routes is they usually do nothing to reconfigure traffic flow and provide no protected space for cyclists on the roadway.  This usually means a street gets signage indicating it is a “bike route” but little else.  On such streets, less experienced or less confident riders are unlikely to feel comfortable enough to make the switch to bike commuting.  Thus, they do little to increase bicycles as a mode share for transportation.

Chris and I next rode to Myrtle Avenue, the major north-south artery leading from the future Gold Line station to Old Town Monrovia, the city’s main shopping and entertainment district.  Chris thinks there are discussions in city hall about bike lanes on Myrtle, and, if so, this would provide the most direct route between the Gold Line and Old Town.  Chris wasn’t sure how far north the bike lanes would extend, and there are bottlenecks at several points on Myrtle, so the logistics might be tricky.  Moreover, this isn’t shown on the city’s bike plan, and it would be easy for the city to backslide and not provide bike lanes.

Even with bike lanes on Myrtle, riders would also have to negotiate the area around the on- and off-ramps to the 210 freeway and the heavy traffic around those freeway ramps.  Chris thinks a better alternative might be for the city to forego the Myrtle bike lanes, and instead reconfigure traffic on two adjacent north-south streets, turning them into one-way streets with wide bike lanes on both.  Magnolia, (just to the west of Myrtle) he argues, could be reconfigured as a southbound one-way and California (just to the east of Myrtle) a northbound one-way.  there would be enough room for buffered bike lanes on both, perhaps even double-wide bike lanes running both ways on each street.  This essentially would convert Magnolia and California into “bike boulevards” that would enable commuters to easily and safely ride their bikes to the Gold Line, reducing automobile trips and spreading the benefit of the Gold Line beyond the nearby TOD.  It would also enable residents of the TOD to bike to Old Town for entertainment, dining, and shopping.  Thus bike friendly infrastructure will also benefit Monrovia’s local businesses without adding to Old Town’s parking and traffic.

Plenty of room for bike lanes in front of Monrovia High School.

Plenty of room for bike lanes in front of Monrovia High School.

Another important link in a bike-friendly transportation network is connectivity to schools.  Currently there are no bike lanes on Colorado Blvd near the high school in Monrovia, despite the fact that there is plenty of room for them.  Narrowing traffic lanes and adding bike lanes would slow traffic speeds and increase safety in the neighborhood).  Well-marked class II bike lanes leading to Monrovia High School would encourage more young people to ride to school, and active transportation like bicycling and walking is much needed in our communities to combat the high levels of childhood obesity that is partly the result of a sedentary lifestyle.

Both of us agreed that Monrovia has great potential to be a more bike-friendly, and greener, city, but bold leadership will be needed.  Those who want safer and greener streets in Monrovia will need to organize to press the city to do the right thing.  If members of the the local community can come together and make their voices heard for bike-friendly streets, we could see some positive changes with the coming of the Gold Line to the San Gabriel Valley.  Monrovia, how much do you want safer streets?  How much do you want a greener, healthier city?

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.

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