You know you’re a bike geek when the appearance of new buffered bike lanes on a local street makes your day. In this case, Pasadena DOT has at long last upgraded the bike lanes on New York Drive between Altadena Drive and Sierra Madre Blvd to buffered bike lanes.
The addition of a painted 2-foot buffer zone between the bike lane and the traffic lane is especially important on this stretch of NY Drive insofar as cars travel at about 50 mph. That’s right, 50. On the downhill stretches of the road, motorists are sometimes going even faster.
The first time I rode the old bike lanes on NY Drive (about 4 years ago) was the last. There’s nothing like the terrifying feeling of a car or truck passing within a couple of feet of you doing 50 mph or more. It’s enough to make all but the most hard core cyclist say “fugettaboudit.” Today, on the other hand, I rode in the buffered lane and felt much more comfortable. The 2 additional feet of space between you and speeding automobile traffic may not seem like much, but, believe me, it makes a huge difference. Now I feel more comfortable taking this route to visit friends and family in the Eaton Canyon area of Altadena and it cuts a good 8-10 minutes off of the longer route I used to take to avoid what had been an awful stretch of road to ride on.
While the buffered lanes are a major improvement, the route is still not completely safe. Unfortunately, the bike lane abruptly ends and DOT left the shoulder of the roadway open to parked cars for the 4/10ths of a mile between N. Altadena Drive and Eaton Canyon Drive (in front of swanky Gerrish Swim Club). During the summer months and on weekends there are often long lines of parked cars along the entire stretch, forcing bicycles into a traffic lane where cars are moving at upwards of 50 mph. Moreover, on the westbound side, the road pitches uphill steeply, meaning bikes traveling this portion will be going slow, unless being ridden by a Tour de France-level athlete. So with the sudden loss of a bike lanes and parked cars, you go from tolerable comfort and safety level to super high-stress, unsafe roadway.
As such, I give the stretch with the buffered lanes a B+ (because of the high traffic speeds, some plastic bollards along the outer edge of the buffer would earn an A- and a curb-protected bike lane would earn an A), and I give the stretch between Eaton Cyn Drive and Altadena Drive as currently designed an F. Because of the prioritization of curbside parking for cars, I still wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending this stretch of the route for kids, newbies, or less confident riders, and thus it fails the “8-80” test (i.e., is it safe for cyclists from 8 to 80?). If we want to get more people out of their cars, a bike route is only as good as its weakest link, and I fear this design flaw will not make the route more popular with people who don’t already ride.
Overall, however, I have to say that the buffered lanes are huge improvement over the non-buffered lanes that existed before. On the eastbound side, as I rode the uphill stretch going much more slowly, the buffered lane made a big difference.
What a change 2 feet make. We still have a long way to go, but we’re making progress. Here’s hoping Pasadena DOT fixes the weak link on this road and continues to add more buffered bike lanes to more streets.