Researchers at UC Berkeley have released a study of rail transit stations in California’s metropolitan areas and the results, while unsurprising, are nonetheless revealing. Researchers graded transit stations based on criteria such as the walkability of the surrounding area and the percentage of people who live or work nearby who use transit. Additional criteria such as the density of jobs and housing nearby, the land use policies in the surrounding area, and public safety were also included. The study highlights the importance of encouraging more mixed use development close to transit (called transit-oriented development, or TOD), as well as prioritizing safe pedestrian and bike access to stations in order to encourage transit use and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Stations were given a numeric score and then assigned a letter grade based on the score and its comparison to similar stations (that is, residential-area stations were compared with other residential-area stations, and so on). I looked up the scores of Pasadena-area Gold Line stations (6 stations in Pasadena and 1 in South Pasadena). I’ve written extensively on previous posts about the relative lack of good bike access to the Gold Line stations in Pasadena in general and in East Pasadena in particular. The study gave me a chance to compare my own perceptions with the study’s more comprehensive approach.
The new Gold Line stations on the extension are not included in the study, insofar as they are not yet in operation. The highest ranking station in the LA Metro area is the Westlake/MacArthur Park Red Line station, with a raw score of 88.20 and a letter grade of ‘A.’ The worst score was the Wardlow Blue Line Station in Long Beach, with a raw score of 31.63 and a grade of F. I’ll list the Pasadena-area stations and their grades below, from highest to lowest, then offer some thoughts on the grades.
- Fillmore B- (56.83)
- Lake B- (56.03)
- Memorial Park C (54.13)
- Del Mar C (50.53)
- Mission (S. Pas) C- (51.30)
- Sierra Madre Villa C- (45.73)
- Allen D (41.73)
My initial reaction was one of slight surprise that Fillmore and Lake scored higher than Del Mar and Memorial Park stations. I would need to look more closely at the scoring criteria and the individual data, but I can only assume Fillmore and Lake scored higher because of their proximity to large employers, whereas Memorial Park, Del Mar, and Mission are closer to small businesses and residences. The study notes that the grades are curved, which is probably why Mission scored higher than Del Mar but has a lower grade, though I don’t fully understand the study’s curving criteria. Another factor may be that Pasadena is likely to encourage more TOD near Del Mar station, whereas South Pas is unlikely to encourage newer development in Mission’s charming historic district. Despite this, in my opinion, Mission has far superior pedestrian and especially bike access from surrounding streets than Del Mar.
I’m in complete agreement with the ranking of Sierra Madre Villa (SMV) and Allen stations at the bottom of the pack. Pedestrians and bicyclists from the surrounding community may be forced to cross busy freeway on/off ramps to access either of these stations and, as I’ve complained about before, there are no bike lanes on any of the approaching streets to SMV, and virtually none at Allen (near Allen station there are two completely unprotected gutter bike lanes on noisy, busy, high-speed, stressful access roads that run along the 210 freeway—not bike-friendly). For that matter, the same is true of Lake. Like much of Pasadena’s existing bike infrastructure, it looks passable on paper, until you actually try to ride it in weekday rush-hour traffic. Some of this should be improved as Pasadena’s new bike plan gets implemented, but that may take years and will not do much to help the intolerable bike situation in East Pasadena, the forgotten stepchild of Pasadena’s bike plan.
The report recommends that local governments encourage TOD and mixed-use development and remove “excessive parking requirements” in areas adjacent to rail stations. Pointedly, the report also calls on local governments to “improve walkability and bicycle access in rail station areas by shortening blocks and building safe pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.” Hear, hear!
To be fair, Pasadena is in the process of developing a new plan for more TOD near the Allen and SMV stations, which is most welcome. Unfortunately the city has met fierce resistance from a small number of car-dependent suburban residents of Hastings Ranch’s cul-de-sac neighborhoods who can’t imagine that anyone would occasionally walk, take transit, or bike, and who can’t be bothered to take their foot off the gas long enough to avoid hitting a pedestrian or cyclist on their way to the freeway. They see nothing wrong with driving everywhere all the time and think it’s their god-given right to do so. And they want plenty of “free” parking when they get there. They’re convinced the only solution to too many cars is wider roads and more parking lots ad infinitum.
The recommendations of the Berkeley report should be heeded by cities and provide yet another piece in a growing body of literature that documents the essential need to shift our transportation and development strategies from the sprawling car-centric model of the past to a healthier transit-oriented model of the future. Let us hope city officials have the courage to stand up to narrow-minded NIMBYs who can’t see past the end of their steering wheels.