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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.

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.

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?

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