Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

Archive for the tag “sierra madre villa”

Sierra Madre Villa Bike Lanes

When local governments do little to make their cities bike and pedestrian friendly, I have often been quick to criticize. Sometimes I do a lot of criticizing, because so much still needs to change to enable the transition to a healthier, safer, more sustainable, more equitable transportation system.  But when cities do the right thing, as Pasadena did last week, I want to give credit where it’s due and offer fulsome praise in the hopes that it encourages additional positive steps. Sometimes both happen at the same time, and thus my praise will be tempered with some constructive criticism.

The good:

Pasadena recently painted new buffered bike lanes on Sierra Madre Villa in east Pasadena between Foothill and Orange Grove north of the Gold Line Station. This road diet improves safety along a notorious stretch of road, and provides buffered space for cyclists to ride to and from the retail and residential zones to the north of the station.  Some may recall that this blog has called for a road diet on this street, so it is nice to see the city make this street safer for all.

This safety improvement is especially important with the Metro Bike bikeshare program set to expand into Pasadena.  The retail area is still way too car-centric and these lanes abruptly end at Foothill and Orange Grove, limiting their usefulness for those who might not feel confident riding on those busy surrounding streets, but it is most definitely a step in the right direction, and Pasadena DOT and Councilmember Gene Masuda are to be complimented for their support for this project.

Southbound Sierra Madre Villa south of Orange Grove.

Northbound Sierra Madre Villa, north of Foothill Bl.


If bike lanes are extended north to Sierra Madre Blvd and South to Colorado Bl. extended east and west on Orange Grove and Rosemead Bl., a network of bike-friendly streets would exist for the first time in east Pasadena. Once this happens, the area would become bikeable not only for self-identified “cyclists,” but for everyone.  There is much latent demand for bike friendly streets in east Pasadena. There are parks, schools, offices, and a major shopping/dining area nearby. With the eventual addition of more transit-oriented development (TOD) around the Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line Station, the demand for walkable, bikeable streets in this part of Pasadena will likely grow.

The Bad:

Despite improvements such as Sierra Madre Villa, Pasadena still lacks a connected network of bike-friendly streets. Riding on N. Hill in central Pasadena recently (see photo), within the space of two blocks I was aggressively passed by two motorists, one of whom impatiently honked at me for good measure. I was legally riding on the right half of the right-hand lane, but there is no bike infrastructure on north-south streets in this part of town, and the low-level aggression from motorists makes the experience unpleasant for anyone on a bike.

N. Hill, Pasadena. Parked cars on the shoulder forced me to ride the right-hand lane.


I brushed the incidents off as a “normal” part of riding in the city (I even gave the honking motorist a friendly wave), but the city cannot expect most people to feel comfortable on streets where they may be subject at any moment to vehicular harassment—or worse. The only way to accomplish this is to create a contiguous network of complete streets, well marked and intuitive to follow. This network must allow people to get to desirable destinations safely on foot or by bike.

Yes, education, encouragement, and enforcement are elements of a bike-friendly city, and I don’t suggest ignoring those, but the contrast between the streets with and without bike lanes shows there is no substitute for bike and pedestrian friendly infrastructure. In short, good things are happening in Pasadena, but we still have a way to go before city officials can claim city streets are “bike friendly.”


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?

Same Old, Same Old

Resurfaced Sierra Madre Villa, looking south.

Resurfaced Sierra Madre Villa, looking south.

When I see a street resurfaced, especially a street that desperately needs a bike lane, a glimmer of hope stirs within me that maybe, just maybe, the street will be restriped to accommodate bikes.  This foolish glimmer of hope is usually dashed, as the local DOT simply returns the street to the same old, unsafe car-centric design it had before.

Silly me.

Case in point: the recent resurfacing of Sierra Madre Villa Blvd in East Pasadena between Rosemead Blvd and Sierra Madre Blvd.

"Share the Road"

“Share the Road”

The street is marked as a “bike route” with a couple of “share the road” signs, but hardly anybody rides it because automobile speeds average about 40 mph, and it’s designed for automobile speed, not bike or pedestrian safety.  The street would require some minor re-design to accommodate bike lanes, as I’ll demonstrate below, but there is room for them and the street is a good candidate for bike lanes because it would close a gap between nearby streets that have bike lanes and it is the main route connecting the the neighborhood to the nearby Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line transit station.

This station is the major bus and light rail hub in the area, and is slated to be a bike share station when Metro eventually expands its bike share program to Pasadena.  You would think Pasadena DOT would use the resurfacing as an ideal opportunity to redesign the street for multimodal commuting and safety at minimal cost.  But you would be wrong.

On-street parking forces cyclists to "take the lane" in 40mph traffic.

On-street parking forces cyclists to “take the lane” in 40mph traffic.

Sierra Madre Villa Blvd is a north-south arterial that heads up the hill from the Gold Line station to New York Drive in Altadena (which has buffered bike lanes).  As it heads north, it intersects with N. Rosemead Blvd (which has bike lanes) and Sierra Madre Blvd. (which also has bike lanes). Currently, the street has 2 travel lanes in each direction (one 10-foot and 1 12-foot), a 10-foot center turn lane, and 2 10-foot parking lanes on each side.  The southbound side is residential with a library at Rosemead Bl.  The northbound side has an LDS church and an apartment complex, both of which have ample off-street parking.  The northbound side is the most critical for some kind of bike lane, because of the large speed differential between 40mph cars and bicycles heading up the hill.

Below I lay out the current configuration, then offer two alternatives: one that removes on-street parking from the northbound side and provides buffered bike lanes in both directions (option 1), and another that keeps on-street parking but narrows the parking lane and one of the 12-foot travel lanes to provide sharrows on the downhill side and a bike lane on the northbound side (option 2).  Neither one of these options would have been cost prohibitive.

SMV Current

SMV option1

SMV option 2

Why didn’t DOT consider more bike friendly alternatives for Sierra Madre Villa, especially considering their stated desire for Pasadena to rival Long Beach for bike friendliness?  I have several theories, but one is that DOT staff tends to pay more attention to bike infrastructure in the gentrifying downtown area than in East Pasadena, a less glamorous part of town.

It’s a shame, because this was a real missed opportunity.  DOT needs to know that people on bikes in East Pasadena deserve safer streets, too.

Bike Lanes Needed (part 2)

In light of the City of Pasadena’s proposed new bike plan, here is the next in my series of articles on areas of Pasadena that need more protection for bicyclists.

Last month I posted a story calling for bike lanes on the northern approach to the Metro Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line station in Pasadena.  The area south of the Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line station is, if anything, even more difficult for cyclists to navigate safely, with high speed traffic and very little room on the shoulder of the road.  Transportation planners often refer to the “last-mile” problem, that is, the problem of how to get people from a transit stop to that last mile to work or home.  Integrating bicycles with transit is an ideal solution, but if the routes around transit centers are not bicycle friendly, that integration cannot occur.  If bicycle infrastructure is properly integrated with mass transit, however, it enables many more people who live or work within a 2-mile radius of light rail stations to leave their cars at home.

As currently configured, the southern approaches to the Sierra Madre Villa Metro station cannot be considered bike-friendly, limiting its usefulness for bike commuters who live to the south of the station.  Moreover, the lack of bike lanes places many of the businesses and shops on nearby Colorado Blvd in east Pasadena out of reach for all but the most intrepid (or desperate) bicyclists.

Looking north on Sierra Madre Villa at entrance to Pasadena Gold Line station.

In the first photo, we see the Sierra Madre Villa entrance to the Metro station, looking north.  A cyclist approaching the entrance from the south (effectively the only direct approach, since the 210 freeway cuts off all other approaches from the south) must either ride in the street dangerously close to heavy traffic moving at 35-40 mph, or ride on the sidewalk.  A cyclist exiting the Metro station here and heading south on Sierra Madre Villa would also have to ride on the sidewalk to avoid crossing 4 lanes of traffic to get to the southbound side of Sierra Madre Villa.

Riding on the sidewalk is not illegal in Pasadena, but neither is it always safe.  First, drivers pulling in or out of driveways are not looking for cyclists on the sidewalk, creating a danger zone at every driveway.  Second, where the 210 freeway overpass crosses Sierra Madre Villa, there are freeway on- and off-ramps that cyclists must cross and, as with driveways, motorists are not looking for cyclists at these crossing points.  Third, intersections are particularly dangerous for cyclists riding the sidewalk, especially from cars making turns across the cyclist’s path.  In 2011, cyclist Alan Deane, was killed in Pasadena when he was riding in the crosswalk at an intersection on Colorado Blvd.  In such cases, cars making turns often do not look for cyclists riding from the sidewalk into the intersection, even though the cyclist may be riding legally.  Fourth, the sidewalks here are relatively narrow, especially under the freeway, and it forces pedestrians and cyclists to share a narrow strip of concrete, making it more dangerous for pedestrians.  Forcing bicyclists to use sidewalks is a poor substitute for bike-friendly infrastructure.

Bicyclists on Colorado Blvd near Pasadena’s Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line station are forced to ride in the danger zone between parked cars and heavy traffic or “take the lane.” All but the bravest retreat to the sidewalk.

In the second photo, we see the view of Colorado Blvd. looking east towards Sierra Madre Villa.  Here, cyclists who ride on the road, as is their legal right, would be pinched between fast-moving, heavy traffic and parked cars along the curb.  Cyclists who want to bike to work or shop along this stretch of Colorado Blvd. face a decision to brave the white-knuckle ride on the street or ride on the sidewalk.  Needless to say, most choose the sidewalk.

Under the city’s proposed bike plan, neither Sierra Madre Villa nor Colorado Blvd. are slated for any bikeway upgrades, without which bicycle access to the Gold Line station from the south will remain problematic.  As a result, bicycle ridership in that part of Pasadena most likely will not increase from its current anemic levels, and transit ridership will not grow as much as it otherwise could.  Colorado Blvd. is wide enough for bike lanes, but it would probably require the elimination of curbside automobile parking to open up space for bike lanes.  Doing so would be politically difficult, but would improve safety and provide much-needed bike access to a key commercial district and the key Metro station in east Pasadena.  When we decide that the safety of bicycle commuters is at least as important as a curbside spot for parked cars, then we will have made real progress.

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