Boyonabike!

Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

Archive for the tag “protected bike lanes”

Book Review: Can Cycling Save the World?

The eye-catching title of Peter Walker’s new book, How Cycling Can Save the World (2017), would probably have been enough to pique my curiosity, but my familiarity with the author’s excellent bike blog for The Guardian compelled me to snag a copy of the book.  I was not disappointed.

Is the title hyperbolic? Perhaps a little. But it is certainly true (and Walker has the data to back it up) that whether we’re talking about public health, road safety, social equity, air pollution, climate change, stress reduction and general happiness, or just overall livability, more people switching from cars to bikes would be a major improvement.

Walker lays out the health, economic, and environmental benefits of cycling in a compelling manner, drawing on a growing body of studies that support his thesis. The more cities turn to cycling, the more data we have to show the benefits of a shift away from car-centric cities. While his grasp of the academic literature is impressive (far too much to summarize here), it is often the personal stories that resonate the most.  For example, how riding to work makes him feel “not just physically invigorated but more cheery, with a greater sense of mental balance and well-being,” or how he can feel his body “untensing” when he moves from a street without bike lanes to one with them.  These and many other personal reflections make the book not only enjoyable, but personally relevant to many people who ride. These personal insights will also help those who don’t ride understand what the fuss is about.

He addresses the resistance of the political culture as well as anti-bike attitudes embedded in popular culture and media representations. One of my favorites was his chapter entitled “If bike helmets are the answer, you’re asking the wrong question,” which skewers the pervasive blame-the-victim mentality that accompanies many “safety” campaigns. If your answer to vehicular violence is to make vulnerable road users dress for combat, you’re designing your streets wrong. Time and again Walker returns to his central theme: the beneficial and transformative importance of building separated, continuous, and intuitive bike infrastructure in cities as the foundation of any effort to shift toward healthier, happier, safer, and more sustainable communities.

If all of this seems like the ultimate no-brainer (and it does to me), then why aren’t we moving more quickly to build what has been shown to work everywhere it has been tried?  Walker suggests it can be boiled down to vested interests, inertia, and lack of political vision (or as I like to say, the lack of leaders who “get it”).  Bogged down by the these all-too-real barriers to change, we are left with an excruciatingly slow process of ever-so-timid incrementalism that leaves us with partial, piecemeal scraps of half-assed bike infrastructure and huge gaps where bike infrastructure is nonexistent. And if that weren’t bad enough, we have to fight like hell for the scraps while multi-billion-dollar freeway projects and car-centric developments seem to move forward on autopilot.

Part of the problem of incrementalism, as Alex Steffen has written, is that it maintains the ills of the old system while not yet providing the goods of the new system.  In other words, you don’t get a truly bikeable community until you actually have a network of bike infrastructure that works for cyclists from ages 8-80 (protected, continuous, and intuitive) and is integrated into a good public transit system.  These have to be knitted together in communities (not just streets) that are oriented around walking, biking and transit.  In this respect, ambitious steps are preferable to incrementalism.  In the absence of a bold—dare I say revolutionary—vision, inertia and even reactionary reversal may become appealing political modes. We don’t have decades to dawdle.

Since WWII, we have given our minds, bodies, and public space to the automobile monoculture.  I would argue that acting boldly to reverse this is imperative given the looming intemperance of climate change. The good news, as Walker shows, is that people in cities all over the world are pushing for change, slowly remaking their cities around bikeability, and it works.

Yes, it would seem that in a variety of interconnected ways it’s not a stretch to say cycling just might be able to save the world, or at least make it a much better place.  Peter Walker “gets it.”  Read his book and you will too.

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Pasadena Mayoral Runoff

Pasadena voters will decide on April 21 whether Vice-Mayor and Councilmember Jacque Robinson or Councilmember Terry Tornek will be the new Mayor.  With an ambitious new mobility plan expected to come before the Council in the Mayor’s next term, I wanted to get a sense of which candidate would provide stronger leadership for the plan and which would be more likely to support sustainable transportation and walkable, bikeable, neighborhoods.

While there are a number of important issues in the campaign, a lot is at stake for those who walk, bike, and/or use transit in Pasadena—and for those who’d like to, but are intimidated by the idea of riding a bike in traffic.  My family and I regularly bike, walk, and use transit in Pasadena, so installation of better bike infrastructure is very important to me.  As the “Crown City” goes, so goes much of the San Gabriel Valley, thus the election of a bike-friendly mayor has regional implications, too.

Pasadena is in dire need of a bold new bike plan—and that plan must be implemented sooner, not later.  Anyone who rides here knows that Pasadena’s bike infrastructure is at least 20 years out-of-date, and Pasadena’s deadly streets have been the cause of several deaths in recent years, such as that of Phillip O’Neill in 2013.  And while the city benefits from good transit, with numerous Gold Line stations, Metro, Foothill Transit and ARTS bus lines, transit users who wish to use a bike for “first mile/last mile” transportation will find very little in the way of bike infrastructure.  The city lacks virtually any street that incorporates the latest designs in protected or buffered bike lanes that other cities have been installing.  It’s a shame, too, because Pasadena has such potential to be a bike-friendly city.  Pasadena’s draft bike plan, while far from perfect, is a good first step toward remedying this, but there will undoubtedly be pushback from car-oriented residents and it is imperative that the next Mayor possesses the vision and political courage to withstand the pushback.

A good place to start an assessment of the two candidates is with their responses to the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition survey on issues such as bicycle and pedestrian safety, which both Tornek and Robinson answered.

Most urgent transportation needs:  On the question of the city’s most urgent transportation needs, Tornek cites “traffic calming” and “protected bike lanes” as the main elements of improving roadway safety and he specifically mentions Colorado Blvd as a potential “great street” project.  These are excellent ideas.  Unfortunately Tornek’s brief answer left me wanting to know more.  What elements of the complete streets policy should be prioritized?  How would he deal with the notorious timidity and foot-dragging of Pasadena DOT?  What about other streets and road treatments short of protected bike lanes (i.e., bicycle boulevards, greenways, etc.)?  How about bike share and connectivity to transit?

In her answer, Robinson mentions that she supports the mobility plan, but she specifies an approach focused on “traffic mitigation” to be achieved by “synchronizing lights on thorough fares to encourage movement of traffic.”  Unfortunately, this car-prioritized approach would neither encourage a modal shift from cars nor improve safety for bikes or pedestrians.  Robinson also notes that in her efforts to revitalize the Lincoln Ave. corridor she has “pushed for a traffic diet [road diet?] to narrow the street in certain sections and slow traffic to encourage walkability and make the area safe for bikers and pedestrians.”

While Colorado Blvd. includes protected bike lanes as part of the proposed bike plan, Lincoln Ave. does not.  A road diet that would significantly slow automobile traffic on Lincoln would be welcome, but without any plan for bike infrastructure on Lincoln it is difficult to see how it becomes “safe for bikers,” let alone how it would encourage others (i.e., schoolchildren, families, commuters) to ride Lincoln Ave.  And, note to candidates: if you don’t want to appear out-of-touch or downright hostile to the cycling community it’s best to avoid the term “bikers.”  Bikers wear leather jackets and ride Harley-Davidsons.

Advantage: Tornek.

Reducing Pasadena’s carbon footprint:  Robinson prefaces her answer with the claim that Pasadenans are “very dependent” on their cars and says residents would drive less only after transit alternatives “become more frequent and efficient.”  I’m certainly supportive of more frequent transit service, but without a concrete proposal for more frequent transit and a plan to fund it, this answer looks like an excuse to maintain a status quo of continued car dependency.  Tornek says he supports “mixed use development and high density housing in appropriate locations,” which have been shown to reduce a city’s carbon footprint by promoting more walking, bicycling and transit use, especially when located near transit.

Advantage: Tornek.

Safe Routes to School:  Asked what they would do to promote active safe walking and bicycling to schools, both candidates say they would promote neighborhood schools . . . (cue crickets chirping).

This partial answer by both candidates ignores the fact that neighborhood schools in PUSD already suffer from very low levels of walking and bicycling to school.  Simply encouraging families to attend neighborhood schools without following through with infrastructure improvements, safety programs and walk/bike to school programs will fail to change this.  The problem is not primarily distance, it is lack of bike infrastructure leading to/from schools.

Here was an opportunity for both candidates to knock one out of the park, to promote local schools AND Safe Routes to School programs AND safer sidewalks AND better bike infrastructure near schools.  Encouraging active transportation for our youth is a no-brainer, instead we’ll continue to suffer from the same unsafe car-choked streets around schools twice daily, continuation of the obesity epidemic (along with much hand-wringing about how our kids don’t get enough exercise), air pollution, stressed-out parents, and another generation that thinks it’s “normal” to be chauffeured in an SUV a mile and a half to school every day.

Advantage: Neither.

Reducing collisions between cars/bicycles (“vision zero”):   Robinson emphasizes “a bike safety initiative to help drivers and cyclist [sic] better understand how to co-exist on the roads together.” Good answer.  However, Robinson’s answer says nothing about the problem of infrastructure.  While I’m not opposed to bike safety programs, anyone who’s ridden a bike on the streets of Pasadena knows the main problem is a lack of safe infrastructure for people on bikes (a result of streets primarily designed for rapid “movement of traffic”).  For his part, Tornek answered that the city should “provide protected bike lanes wherever possible.”  I love the idea of protected bike lanes, but where are the specifics?  And, since even in my wildest dreams we’re not realistically going to have protected bike lanes on every street any time in the near future, shouldn’t bike (and driver) safety also be mentioned?  What about road treatments short of protected bike lanes?  What about a citywide safety program for youth and adults?  Stepped-up enforcement of traffic violations?  We need a network of infrastructure improvements, safety education programs, and enforcement.  Unfortunately, neither candidate really gets this one.

Advantage: Neither.

Riding a bike:  This may seem like a small thing, but it’s not.  There’s no way around it:  riding the streets of your city gives you a significantly different perspective on traffic and road safety than one behind the wheel of a car.  Having a mayor who understands what it’s like to ride a bike makes a huge difference.  Neither candidate, to my knowledge, rides a bike regularly, but even riding occasionally broadens one’s perception about streets.  Last year, PasCSC did outreach to all members of the city council, inviting them to schedule an organized ride in their individual districts.  Such events offer a concrete opportunity to see and feel how the streets work (or fail to work) for pedestrians and cyclists.  It’s something that cannot be fully understood from behind the wheel of an automobile.  Tornek went on a district ride with PCSC.  Robinson expressed interest, but was unable to fit it into her schedule or send a staffer.  I’d feel better about Robinson if she’d made the effort to actually get on a bike with PCSC volunteers and see what the streets in her district are like from a bicyclist’s perspective, as Tornek did.  It makes a difference.  Former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was not thought of as a pro-complete streets Mayor until he was knocked off his bike by a cab driver while on a ride and saw the serious need for better bike infrastructure.  In other words, actually riding a bike in the city can wake a person up to the serious need for specific infrastructure changes like protected bike lanes.

Advantage: Tornek.

Websites:  What do the websites of the two candidates tell complete streets voters?  Robinson’s website has no section dedicated to complete streets, but on a statement about development promises to “increase pedestrian and public transportation options with areas south of the [210] freeway.”

Tornek’s website includes a more specific statement about complete streets as part of his issues page regarding “reducing traffic and increasing walkability” in Pasadena:

Pasadena needs wider sidewalks and more welcoming public spaces. As Mayor, I will prioritize reducing neighborhood traffic while increasing the walkability of out [sic] streets and making them more bicycle friendly. I believe streets are for people to walk, bike and ride transit…not just drive cars.

Advantage: Tornek.

Debate 1:  What have the candidates said about complete streets and/or active transportation in the two debates they’ve had?  During the first debate, moderated by Star-News editors Larry Wilson and Frank Girardot, the only transportation-related question was regarding the proposed 710 freeway tunnel.

Robinson and Tornek both told the debate audiences they opposed the 710 extension.  Robinson specifically mentioned “alternative modes” of transportation for the route and Tornek said the tunnel would be expensive and the route would soon be every bit as congested as it currently is (see the 405, for example).  Of course, they are both correct.  The well-documented phenomenon of “induced demand” or “latent demand” will mean that the 710 route will soon fill up with cars, solving nothing, and the only real long-term solution is transit—either light rail, or real BRT.

Unfortunately, during the debate neither candidate took the opportunity to tout the benefits of complete streets as part of a well-rounded social and environmental policy.  On questions about the city’s economic situation, for example, they might have brought up the ways walkable, bikeable streets have been shown to benefit local businesses, but neither did.  When asked about local schools, they could have mentioned how encouraging walking and bicycling to school through programs like Safe Routes to School (SRTS) benefits students’ health, improves safety, reduces traffic congestion around schools, and has even been shown to improve test scores, but they didn’t.  They might have mentioned the benefits of active transportation to overall public health and lower healthcare costs, but they didn’t.  When addressing the needs of the city’s low income residents, they ought to have discussed how redesigning our streets for alternative modes of mobility can foster social equity, but they didn’t.

Advantage: Neither.

Debate 2:  During the second debate, hosted by KPCC’s Larry Mantle, candidates were asked what they would do to promote complete streets and improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians.  Robinson explicitly said she supports the bike master plan and the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition’s efforts to “educate the public” that roads should be multimodal.  However, when Mantle pressed her on whether she still supported a road diet for Colorado Blvd., even if it meant, in Mantle’s words, “losing a lane of traffic,” she hedged.  “Yes,” she answered, “provided that we have the complete information.”  She said the Council would need to be “mindful that it [a road diet] may not always have a positive impact.”

Unfortunately, I thought both the question and the answer reflected a singular windshield perspective.  Yes, there’s an adjustment at first, but (a) road diets don’t cause roads to “lose” a lane, they repurpose a travel lane in a way that will encourage a transportation mode shift and provide protection for vulnerable road users who already use the streets; and (b) there are a wide variety of long-term positive impacts that far outweigh any temporary inconvenience to motorists.

When Mantle pressed her about her “qualms” on the road diet, a centerpiece of the draft bike master plan, Robinson backpedalled further.  The road diet, she said, “is something we should consider.”  She then explained:

When you remove a lane … the number of cars is not going to go anywhere so there’s either going to be more cars traveling on the street in a single lane, which will create more traffic, or they’re going to move to other streets, so we have to be mindful of that as we move to these new ideas.

The answer raises a troubling question in my mind about whether she’d actually vote for the road diet (rather than just “consider” it) let alone whether she’d have the determination to defend it when opposition arises.  Moreover, road diets don’t “create more traffic.”  They may shift it, they may slow it (not necessarily a bad thing from a safety perspective), and they may actually reduce it if alternative modes of travel are convenient and safe.  Blaming bike lanes or road diets for “creating” traffic reflects a narrow windshield perspective.

Tornek noted that everyone says they support multimodal transportation, “until you actually have to remove a lane.”  He reiterated his support for the road diet and parklets on Colorado Bl., despite the “great resistance” he anticipates this will initially generate.  The complete streets concept, he said, is now state law, and it forces cities to come to grips with the reality that streets are not just for cars.  “All of us,” he continued, “will learn to view the way our streets operate in a different way.”  As for the Colorado Blvd. road diet and its effect on traffic, he cited the DOT’s data that showed only a 2% reduction in travel speed for cars, and noted that there is capacity on adjacent streets and “if it’s not going to work there [on Colorado Blvd.] it won’t work anywhere.”

Advantage: Tornek.

Conclusion:

Both candidates appear to support the city’s draft bike plan, but voting for the plan when it comes before council and implementing road diets and bike lanes are two different things.  I get the impression from the second debate that Tornek would be more likely to follow through on the latter, even in the face of opposition.  When pressed on the more ambitious specifics of the bike plan in the second debate, Robinson’s support wavered.  Contrast it with her unequivocal (and admirable) support for raising the minimum wage, which she said she’d support even if some local merchants were opposed.  She offers no specifics about bike lanes and sometimes betrays an uncritical windshield perspective on traffic and safety issues.

There is much I like about Robinson, such as her support for public schools, her work on the Lincoln corridor, and her advocacy of a higher minimum wage.  It would be inspirational and historic for Pasadenans to elect a woman, a person of color, and a product of Pasadena’s public schools to the highest office of this staid old city.  That said, her positions on complete streets issues tend to reflect a cars-first mentality.  Even when she says she supports an element of the bike plan, she almost always hedges her answer.  This is especially disappointing since she represents a district where a relatively higher proportion of low-income residents rely on walking, bicycling, and transit for transportation.  One wishes she had been able to find time to go on a ride or walk in her district to see what her constituents on bicycles or on foot experience every day.  Her answers on the Complete Streets survey were not as strong as Tornek’s and her apparent waffling on the Colorado road diet during the second debate was also extremely disappointing.

On the other hand, on his website and in the second debate, Tornek offers explicit support for specific infrastructure improvements such as protected bike lanes that we need on our streets.  His answers in the second debate suggest he’s willing to support the proposed road diet on Colorado Blvd. even when opposition arises.  His answers demonstrate a bit more insight into the way mobility choices can be reconfigured when infrastructure and development patterns are steered in that direction.  On the City Council, Tornek, along with Councilmember McAustin, was instrumental in getting Pasadena DOT to revise and strengthen its draft bike plan last year and he made the time to go on an exploratory ride in his district.

Shifting away from car dependency is not going to be easy, but, aside from health and safety concerns, the issue is critically important as we face an unprecedented crisis of climate change.  We need to think anew about transportation planning, especially in urban areas.  We must view our streets differently to meet different transportation needs for the 21st century and shift our priorities accordingly.  Fortunately, shifting to transportation alternatives brings with it a variety of added benefits for the economy, public safety, and public health.

Pasadena, like the rest of our society, cannot afford to waste more time.  Bold leadership is required, as is the willingness to stand up to the inevitable resistance to change.  Pasadena needs a mayor who thinks of streets in terms of moving people, not just moving cars.  Though I’m somewhat disappointed in the brevity of some of Tornek’s answers on the PCSC survey and I have some minor reservations, for the most part he seems to get it.  His answers on the issues and his strong performance in the second debate suggest he is more likely to help the Council approve the new bike plan and its timely implementation.  For these reasons, I would recommend a vote for Tornek.

So, I encourage Pasadenans to read the Complete Streets survey, read the candidates’ websites and view the debates, and make up your own minds.  But by all means please “bike the vote” on April 21.  I also recognize that the work is just beginning.  Those who want complete streets in Pasadena must continue to organize, speak out, and vigorously press the city’s leaders and staff to follow through with a bold vision for sustainable, equitable, safe, and people-friendly streets … regardless of who wins on election day.

CicLAvia and Bike Lanes

Much has been happening in the bike-sphere, but I’ve been buried under a hectic schedule at my university, and it is only a brief spring break that allows me to break my silence.  We’re still fighting bad ideas like Sen. Carol Liu’s ill-considered mandatory helmet law and the multi-billion-dollar 710 freeway tunnels, but there are some hopeful signs here and there.  Here in the San Gabriel Valley, the Gold Line extension is nearing completion, and there is potential for this light rail to be a game-changer for commuters in the foothills of the SGV, especially if local cities make an effort to connect bike lanes to the stations.

One of the other bright spots is the growing willingness of cities to consider protected bike lanes (sometimes called “cycle tracks”) that have some form of physical separation, such as planters, curbs, medians, bollards, or other decorative barriers between cars and bikes.  For decades, the traffic engineering profession in the US has resisted protected bike lanes, but they have been extremely popular where they’ve been installed, and now they are starting to appear in cities all over the United States.  Long Beach was the first Southern California city to install one, and Temple City recently installed another on Rosemead Blvd.  There is a proposal by LADOT for the first one in Los Angeles, and I hope that there will be at least one in Pasadena’s pending mobility plan.  Once these protected bike lanes begin to proliferate, I believe they will significantly change perception of cycling for transportation in US cities.

Another bright spot is the growth of the “Open Streets” movement throughout Southern California and the US.  LA’s own “CicLAvia” is a prime example of an open streets concept that has spread and gained popularity wherever it has been tried.  Last weekend, CicLAvia held an open streets festival in the San Fernando Valley, and it was extremely popular (a bad cold kept me from attending).  The Valley was in many ways the epicenter of Southern California’s traditional car culture, so the success of a car-free event in the Valley is an indication of how far we’ve moved from the stereotype of American Graffiti.  The Valley’s CicLAvia also featured a “pop-up cycle track” on Chandler Ave. that gave people a taste of what it feels like to ride in a protected bike lane.  These events are important insofar as they provide people with a vision of street space radically flipped from cars to people and bikes.  The popularity of these events underscores the reality that people are hungry for public space that is safe to walk and bicycle in.  And where there is popularity, politicians will follow, perhaps even changing their own perceptions.

People who participate in these events often realize they haven’t really seen their city until they’ve seen it on a bike.  Businesses realize there is money to be made from clientele on bikes.  Open streets events also introduce people to the idea that distance is not really as much a barrier to bicycling as people assume.  When you realize that (with car free space) you can easily bike from one end of LA to the other, or one end of the Valley to the other, it erodes the automobile imperative just a little bit more.  These events bring people of different backgrounds together in an atmosphere of healthy, active, fun.  Every time CicLAvia occurs, I hear someone say I wish it was like this every day.  Gliding down the street, free from the fear of cars, free from the noise and the pollution, people begin to imagine car-free space every day.

I’m excitedly awaiting the next iteration of CicLAvia, which will come to Pasadena at the end of May.  As it becomes regularized, expected, and anticipated, I think it will continue to grow in popularity and, with it, the subversive idea that streets are not just for cars.  To paraphrase Che, we need “one, two, many CicLAvias,” to overthrow the tyranny of the automobile.

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?

Small Steps?

BikewayStudyMTG

Could the city of Pasadena finally be close to adopting an ambitious mobility plan?  This week, my friends at the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition (PasCSC) attended meetings with city officials to provide feedback on elements of a new mobility plan that, if implemented, will make getting around Pasadena on foot and by bike much easier and safer.  The first of those meetings was a preview of potential new bikeways in Pasadena.

A year ago, in the wake of the tragic death of cyclist Phillip O’Neill in the city, a group of local advocates met and formed PasCSC to lobby for safer streets for all road users (“complete streets”).  As part of that effort, the group was critical of the Pasadena DOT’s draft mobility plan as not going far enough to make Pasadena bike and pedestrian friendly.  Several members of the City Council, including Mayor Bill Bogaard and Councilmember Terry Tornek, called on DOT to revise its bike plan and “be bold.”

On June 24, community members got a sneak peek at a “Bikeway Analysis and Feasibility Study” that assessed the feasibility of major street redesign on up to seven east-west corridors and four north-south corridors in Pasadena.  The study was conducted by KOA Corporation, a transportation planning and engineering firm that has designed, among other things, the highly regarded 3rd Street and Broadway Cycle Track in Long Beach and the new Rosemead Cycle Track in Temple City, the first of its kind in the San Gabriel Valley.

Temple City's cycletrack on Rosemead Blvd. (photo: StreetsblogLA)

Temple City’s cycletrack on Rosemead Blvd. (photo: StreetsblogLA)

 

Cycle tracks are essentially bike lanes protected by a physical buffer, such as a curb, landscape planters, or parked cars.  They are common in Europe and have just begun to be used here in the US.  They are, if you’ll excuse the automobile metaphor, the Cadillac of bike lanes.  Rich Dilluvio, senior transportation planner for Pasadena’s DOT (see photo, top), asked the advocates for feedback and to prioritize the proposed routes that would be most valuable to cyclists as the initial backbones of a bike-friendly Pasadena.  Planners wanted to know, in other words, in case they’re not all funded at once, which ones did bicyclists want to be completed first?  I confess, I want them all—now, but I know that it will take time to work its way through the political process, the community outreach process, the funding process, and finally, the construction process.  I also realize they may not all be funded immediately.  The sooner we get them, though, the better for active mobility and traffic safety in Pasadena.

Readers will know that I’ve been critical of Pasadena’s previous bike plan, but my initial response to these new proposed bikeways is cautious optimism.  The east-west routes are especially ambitious, including plans for separated, bi-directional bike lanes on Green and Union, as well as proposed cycle tracks or buffered bike lanes on other routes. The north-south routes are a bit more difficult because they need to be routes that cross the 210 freeway (the huge concrete traffic sewer that cuts through the heart of Pasadena like a jagged gouge carved out of the city’s midsection) and don’t have high traffic volumes.  These constraints limit north-south routes, and they tend to be narrower streets.  For these north-south corridors, KOA Corporation engineers have proposed four “bike boulevards” that will be designed to minimize automobile volume and speed, and prioritize bicycle travel.  Similar treatments have been done on streets in Portland and Minneapolis, two of the most bike-friendly cities in the US.  A pilot for such treatment has also been implemented on Pasadena’s North Marengo Ave. between Orange Grove and Washington.  In addition, DOT director Dilluvio indicated that several existing streets with bike lanes are slated to be repainted with buffered bike lanes when they’re up for resurfacing.  Buffered bike lanes increase a cyclist’s comfort and safety by providing a painted “buffer zone” between the bike lanes and other traffic lanes.

This proposed network of bikeways is not perfect.  Several advocates noted that the planners seem to have paid little attention to modifying intersections.  Most collisions take place at intersections, and less experienced bike riders who feel comfortable in a protected bike lane mid-block will find themselves unprotected when they get to busy intersections.  This may reduce potential ridership, and hence the purpose of the protected bike lane.  Also, there was apparently little effort to choose key corridors that would directly connect with any of the city’s six Metro Gold Line stations, meaning commuters, shoppers, or visitors who take the Gold Line won’t be right next to the best bike routes to and from Gold Line stations.  There are still gaps: Northwest Pasadena and East Pasadena get little attention, though these bikeways are only part of the larger bike plan.  Finally there has, as yet, been little thought given to a system of wayfinding signage to help bicyclists navigate the proposed bike-friendly network of routes through town.  I am hopeful that there will be opportunity to address these issues when the entire bike plan comes up for public comment.

I have to say that these proposed bikeways, if they are funded and constructed, have the potential to be a significant step in the right direction for Pasadena, making the city a leader in active transportation in the San Gabriel Valley.  Soon it will be time for Pasadena’s elected officials to resist the inevitable boo-birds and anti-bike lane NIMBYs who will oppose any change in the current car-centric design of Pasadena’s streets and approve these proposed bikeways.  PasCSC will have to mobilize its supporters to provide support for the plan.  A healthier, safer, greener, even happier city awaits this pending test of community mobilization and city leadership.

Something Happening Here

Pasadena Complete Streets Forum discusses Pasadena's Bike Plan.  Photo courtesy DPNA

Pasadena Complete Streets Forum discusses Pasadena’s Bike Plan. Photo courtesy DPNA

When Phillip O’Neill was struck by a motorist and killed while riding his bicycle on Del Mar two weeks ago, a cry of grief went up from Pasadena’s cycling community.  But unlike last year when two cyclists were killed by automobiles in Pasadena, there is a chance that this tragedy has galvanized the community in a way that may bring about change.  In response to the tragedy, a “Complete Streets Forum” attended by upwards of 50 people was held last night at Pasadena Presbyterian Church on Colorado Blvd, and that meeting may be the genesis of a new organization that will push Pasadena officials to move faster to create safe streets for all road users (I say may be, for reasons I’ll explain below).  Participants included many from the DPNA, as well as Caltech and PCC students, quite a few bicycle commuters and recreational riders from the area.

The Forum emerged from an email conversation initiated by Margaret Ho of the Caltech Bike Lab and Wes Reutimann of the Pasadena Downtown Neighborhood Association.  Margaret was the first to call for a meeting to discuss the need for more bike-friendly streets, and Wes worked with the DPNA to host the event at Pasadena Presbyterian Church.  The DPNA, active in livability issues in Downtown Pasadena, brought Rich Dilluvio, chief administrator for the Pasadena DOT, to give an overview of Pasadena’s proposed Bike Plan, which will be voted on by the City Council on July 15.

I have my own critiques of Pasadena’s bike plan, which I’ve written about here, here and here, so I won’t rehash them on this post, but it was clear from the questions to the DOT plan that many in the audience were unsatisfied with the slow pace and unambitious scope of the city’s plan and want improvement to the city’s bike infrastructure beyond the current proposal.  After the Q and A, Dr. Mark Smutny, pastor of PPC and a board member of DPNA, facilitated a strategy session in which attendees broke into small groups and shared ideas.  There were three “rounds” of small group discussion, followed by a sharing of ideas as a whole group.  The small groups allowed everyone a chance to share their views and the whole group discussion distilled the major themes that emerged, providing the group with a vision for where we go from here.

As each group shared its findings, several larger themes became apparent.  First, people are afraid to ride on many of Pasadena’s streets.  They want to ride to school, work, socialize, exercise or run errands, but they’re afraid because of a lack of separated bicycle infrastructure on city streets.  While the city’s proposal relies heavily on “bike routes” and “sharrows,” most people in the group said they wanted cycle tracks, buffered bike lanes, or at the very least clearly marked bike lanes, not class III bike routes.  Second, they are frustrated that the city currently has no dedicated funding for bike infrastructure.  Related to this is the fact that the city currently has no implementation goals aside from a vague goal in the current plan of 10 years or longer if funding is not available.  So the group consensus was that the city has to put its money where its mouth is and fund infrastructure change sooner rather than later, with shorter-term goals and timetables that can be measured.

Finally, there was a consensus that the group needs to organize to make its voice heard by those in power.  Several suggested the formation of a bike/pedestrian safety task force to work with the city’s Police Department on enforcement of traffic safety.  But it is clear to many in the room there is a desperate need to push the city to improve its infrastructure, and that change will not come by itself.  There seemed to be a feeling (that I strongly share)  that we need to organize some sort of group to this end.  It was suggested that the group call itself the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition, but one participant thought that sounded “too political,” so it was decided that the name of the group would be decided later.

Nevertheless, the tide seems to have turned in Pasadena.  With or without an official title, there is a new organization in Pasadena with energy and with a sense of purpose advocating complete streets as part of a livable, sustainable city.  The group’s next mission is to develop a series of talking points and make our voices heard at the July 15 City Council meeting.  But if real change is going to happen, the group will need to mobilize a wide range of grass roots constituencies in and around the city, develop an effective communication strategy, and organize to put sustained pressure on elected officials.  If the group does these things, Pasadena could be poised to be the next great walkable, bikeable city in Southern California.

To put your name on the email list for the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition, please go to the DPNA website here.

Bike Safe

LACBC panel2

Last week I attended a bike safety workshop at the L.A. County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) headquarters downtown.  I like attending these meetings because they’re always informative and I enjoy the fellowship of other bicyclists from different parts of the city.  I also enjoy taking my bike on the Metro Gold Line and riding the buffered bike lanes downtown, especially the brightly painted green bike lane on Spring Street, which makes me feel super safe riding on a busy street.  The transit and bike-friendly amenities remind me that it is possible to shift from a car-centered transportation system, even in the land of the automobile. Growing up in Southern California, if you wanted to go from Pasadena to Downtown L.A., you had to drive.  Now you don’t.  That’s a huge step forward.

This month’s LACBC workshop coincided with the unveiling of the organization’s “Bike Safe: California Rules of the Road” pocket guide, also available online.  It was also a chance to ask questions about bike safety from a panel of five distinguished bike safety experts, including Sgt. Jon Aufdenberg, the LAPD’s bike liaison; Lt. Marjorie Jacobs of the LASD; Attorney James Pocrass; Ted Rogers, LACBC board member and author of the blog “BikinginLA;” and Cynthia Rose, co-founder of Santa Monica Spoke, and director of Santa Monica’s “safe routes to school” program.  The panel was moderated by LACBC’s Colin Bogart.

One of the important issues raised during the panel discussion was that we should use the word “collision” to describe what we have hitherto called “accidents.”  As Ted Rogers put it, “accident” implies that the incident could not have been prevented because no one was at fault.  In the vast majority of cases, however, someone wasn’t following the rules of the road, causing the “collision” to occur.  Understood this way, we all have within us the power, as motorists, bicyclists, and/or pedestrians, to follow the rules of the road and drastically cut down on collisions.  Rogers also noted that following the guidelines on the LACBC “Bike Safe” list reduces your chance of being involved in a collision by 50 percent.

The pocket guide to bike safety is a handy reference that includes common sense suggestions such as wearing a helmet and riding a bike with brakes, as well as the legal rights and responsibilities of cyclists on the road. Each rule is written in easy to understand language and includes reference to the relevant section(s) of the California Vehicle Code.  There are 20 rules included in the guide, and I won’t go through them all (you can do that yourself by downloading the reference here), but I wanted to highlight a few.  For example, basics such as your legal right to ride on the street:

Ride on the Street You have the right to ride on the street.  You are NOT required to ride on the sidewalk. CVC 21200  Exception: Freeways and some bridges may have signs posted forbidding bicyclists.

Or where to ride on the street when there’s no bike lane:

Ride to the Right, But Within Limits  When riding slower than the normal speed of traffic, you are required to ride as far right as “practicable” (meaning safe).  You are not required to ride as far right as possible, which may not be safe.  You are allowed, but not required, to ride on the shoulder.  CVC 21202, CVC 21650, CVC 21650.1

Or where to ride if there’s no room on the right side of the road (i.e., if the lane’s too narrow to share side-by-side with a car):

Take the Lane  If a travel lane is to narrow to safely share side by side with a motor vehicle, you can prevent unsafe passing by riding near the center of the lane.  On two lane roads where it’s illegal or unsafe to pass, you must turn off the roadway at a designated or safe location to allow a line of 5 or more vehicles behind you to pass.  CVC 21202(a)(3), CVC 21656

The advice to “take the lane” is legal and safe (when motorists are driving safely), and most useful in this safe cycling guide.  Where I live and ride, parked cars on some narrower streets are the main reason I am sometimes forced to take the lane.  While it is statistically the safest thing to do, I will admit it can be stressful to have annoyed motorists backed up behind you.

If even I feel uncomfortable “taking the lane,” despite my years of experience, how are we to expect less aggressive riders to feel?  What about children?  Even I feel uneasy telling my children to get in the lane and pretend you’re a car.  Mind you, I’m not criticizing the safety guidelines, but I feel compelled to point out what I see as a major limitation of the vehicular cycling philosophy.  Rule of thumb:  if an experienced cyclist like myself feels uncomfortable telling my teenage kids to do this on the way to school or the park, it’s probably not a sufficient strategy for getting the average American to use their bikes instead of their cars.  While these rules make it safer to ride a bike, it’s important to remember that they won’t increase bicycle mode share.

One related area of discussion that the audience members asked the panelists about was riding on the sidewalk.  As someone who has sometimes felt forced to retreat to the sidewalk on some streets, because of heavy traffic and a lack of safe space to ride, I am aware that there may be times when riding on the sidewalk is necessary.  The LACBC pocket guide says of sidewalk riding:

Avoid Riding on the Sidewalks  Each city in California has its own rules about riding a bicycle on the sidewalk.  Some cities allow sidewalk riding, some don’t.  Check with your city’s municipal code. CVC 21206

The LACBC’s Rogers noted that riding on the sidewalk can actually be more dangerous than riding in the street, since you are often placed in a potential danger zone with cars at driveways and intersections.  Bicyclists going too fast on sidewalks can be a hazard to pedestrians, too.  Sgt. Aufdenberg of the LAPD agreed that it was not safe, but added that sidewalk riding is presently legal in the city of LA, as long as the bicyclist exercises “due regard” for the safety of other sidewalk users.  As with the rest of the guide, the LACBC’s advice on this issue is sound.

Regardless of how problematic sidewalk riding is, there is a larger issue that I want to address.  While I understand that sidewalk riding irks many people, it reflects the fact that we currently have too little safe bicycling infrastructure on our roadways.  Sidewalk riding is essentially the bicyclist’s vote of no confidence in the safety of the roadway.  During the discussion, one audience member expressed vehement dislike for bicyclists who ride on the sidewalk, going so far as to say he wanted extra copies of the guide to “fling” at sidewalk-riding bicyclists.  I bit my tongue at the time, not wanting to get into an argument about something not central to the presentation, but I feel compelled to respond here.  We need to install more miles of protected, or buffered bike lanes on our roads where automobile speeds exceed 35 mph, like those painted on Spring Street in L.A. that make it safer for people to ride in the street.  Until we do so, I would urge less finger-wagging by experienced cyclists at sidewalk riders (as long as it’s not harming anyone), and more attention to building the kind of bike infrastructure that will make sidewalk riding unnecessary.  Let’s be more understanding, use common sense persuasion and not “fling” the guidelines at anybody, shall we?

In my view a larger problem is NIMBY opposition when cities try to reallocate road space to provide bike lanes.  I believe bike lanes (especially those that are protected or buffered) are a vital precondition for a shift to sustainable multimodal transportation, and we are seeing more of them installed in cities across the country.  We are in a transition period, and there’s going to be opposition from people who only understand the world from a perspective behind the windshield.  Nevertheless, opposition from motorists must not deter us from pushing ahead with improvements in bike infrastructure.  In the meantime, we’ve got to keep riding and the LACBC’s Rules of the Road guide is an indispensable resource for building confidence in one’s rights and responsibilities on the road.

The LACBC deserves a big pat on the back for putting together the panel discussion and pocket guide.  Every cyclist (and motorist) should follow these rules, and by making them available in an easily digestible form, the LACBC has provided an important public service.  Read them and “bike safe.”

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