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