Pasadena is starting the process of revising its Bicycle Master Plan, so that it can continue to be eligible for funding from the Caltrans Bicycle Transportation Account. I went to the first public workshop last night to find out what the revision process was going to be like, and what kinds of things the City is considering. Overall, it was a very positive experience. About 75 people showed up, many more than I (or, I think, the organizers) expected, including a bunch of folks from Caltech and JPL. The consultant who’s actually writing the plan, Ryan Snyder, has worked on a lot of other bike and pedestrian plans, and was familiar with the kinds of infrastructure you see in northern Europe, and the bike boulevard projects in Berkeley, Portland, and Vancouver. To his credit Rich Dilluvio, the Pasadena Dept. of Transportation guy in charge of bike and pedestrian projects, chose to put together an advisory committee composed of people who actually bike, to represent the interested citizenry, see below for names.
This initial meeting was mostly just to introduce the people who are going to be involved, and outline the schedule and process. There will be at least four other workshops, and most of the participants can be contacted electronically if you prefer. A signup for the Bicycle Master Plan e-mail list was passed around. If you want to be notified of developments and future workshops, e-mail Rich (see below) and he can add you. If you can’t make it to the workshops, or would just prefer to do something else with your evenings, please still feel free to contact Ryan Snyder, Rich, or the members of the Advisory Committee with your concerns, needs, questions, or any other kind of input. In particular, Ryan specifically requested that people who ride in Pasadena, give him a list of the roads that are actually good for biking on – regardless of whether they are currently designated bike routes.
Cast of Characters:
- Rich Dilluvio, City Staff, Pasadena Dept. of Transportation <email@example.com> (626) 744-7254. Rich is the contact person within the city for most things bike and pedestrian related, and he’s orchestrating the process.
- Ryan Snyder, New Urbanist Transportation Planner, <firstname.lastname@example.org> (323) 571-2910. Ryan bid on and won the contract that the City put out last year, for consultants to write up the new Bicycle Master Plan. (update 2009-02-26: my emails to this address have been bouncing, others have not had problems, but another address for Ryan Snyder is: ryansnyder [at] ca (dot) rr (dot) com.)
- Bicycle Advisory Committee:
- Liz Elliot, from the non-profit bike advocacy group CICLE, which focuses on bikes as transportation. Invited to serve by Rich Dilluvio.
- Shay Sanchez, also from CICLE, also invited by Rich.
- Cathy Chavez, who has formerly served on some kind of City rivers and mountains parks/recreation/conservation committee. Invited by mayor Bill Bogaard.
- Tom Purnell, owner and manager of Pasadena Cyclery. Invited by Rich.
- Julila Algrua (might be misspelled), from East Pasadena. Invited by Mark Hermofsten (spelling?)
- Diane Trout, who represents Pasadena district 4 on the Transportation Advisory Commission.
- Felicia Williams, also a member of the Transportation Advisory Commission (and appointed to that post by the Mayor).
- Brian Sims, the Pasadena City GIS (geographic information systems) coordinator, and also a bike commuter and recreational rider. Invited by Rich Dilluvio.
- There were a few other members of the committee who were unable to make it to the workshop as well Hopefully their names will be posted somehwere soon.
Rough Process Schedule:
- Public input, including ~4 workshops/meetings, will last through the spring.
- An essentially complete draft of the plan must be done by the end of June, 2009.
- Limited revisions, environmental impact report (EIR), and conversion of draft into legal document will take 2nd half of 2009.
- Significant opportunity for public comment on the EIR itself will also exist, before council approves the plan.
- Final approval by City Council must take place before end of 2009.
Workshop Minutes and Commentary:
Rich Dilluvio opened up the meeting at about 6:45 pm, and introduced everyone listed above, as well as the Director of the Pasadena Department of Transportation, Fredrick Dock. He laid out the schedule for the revision process, and suggested that, instead of being a revision per se, that the City really wanted to write the plan over from scratch. The Director of Transportation also talked a little bit about the schedule. The BMP revision is being done ahead of the update to the Pasadena General Plan Mobility Element (download PDF 1.9 MB), which will be ongoing over the next 18 months (and which encompasses all transportation related planning). Dock tried vaguely to pitch this as an indication that Pasadena is taking the bicycle master plan seriously, and that the BMP will act as some kind of pre-existing condition to the overall mobility element, but I suspect the ordering is really more about making sure Pasadena qualifies for Caltrans bike funding next year, before the 5 year deadline to update our BMP runs out. He mentioned that Pasadena is also in the process of making a short range (5 year) transit plan, looking at the Pasadena ARTS buses, among other things, and that the BMP would also feed into that. Both Fred and Rich made comments which indicated that Pasadena does not intend to spend any of its own money on bicycle infrastructure, and will be relying entirely on external (state and federal) grant programs to fund these projects. (I think it’s worth noting here that Caltrans expects to have a total of $7.2 million available for the 2009-2010 BTA grant season. That’s about $0.18 per year, per person in California spent on bicycle projects… *sigh*).
Rich then turned the meeting over to Ryan Snyder, who did the Santa Monica Bicycle Master Plan in the early 1990s. He thinks that Santa Monica and Pasadena are the most on top of bicycle planning out of all the SoCal cities, that having 75 people turn out to one of these workshops is very unusual (he’s had some with only 2-3 people…), and in general had lots of very positive things to say about Pasadena and their bike infrastructure, plan, etc. I can’t help but find this all a bit sad, since neither Santa Monica nor Pasadena are very nice places to bike (despite being in many ways better than a lot of SoCal). I think it says more about how dismal non-automotive transportation is in the area. He points out that since most of the streets that can be striped for bike lanes (without removing free on-street parking) already have been, to continue improving our infrastructure, we’re going to have to get a little more creative (or dedicated). Then he introduced someone from RBF Consulting, a planning/construction consultancy, that will be doing the EIR, and turning the BMP into a “legally defensible document”. Her presentation was super boring, and not particularly informational, but given San Francisco’s recent difficulty with its BMP, I’m sure it’s a good thing to have a legally defensible plan. RBF will also apparently be in charge of the public outreach. Not exactly sure what that will consist of. Hopefully it’ll be more dynamic and engaging.
I think that in doing outreach, and considering revisions to the plan, it’s going to be important to realize that a lot of the people who are participating in the process – the people who, for instance, biked at night in the rain to the public workshop, are in large part not the target audience. The people we should be writing this plan for are the ones who could be induced to bike if it were safer and more pleasant. They’re not going to participate much, and even if they did, it’s not clear that they would know what they wanted. But we should try to keep them in mind if we can.
The Advisory Committee and Ryan Snyder plan to do an “inventory” of Pasadena bikeways, riding them all, and taking measurements. Certainly a good idea! Hopefully there are some less skilled/agressive cyclists on those rides, who can offer their impressions of riding on Del Mar or Los Robles, for example. He threw up some slides of the kinds of things that we might consider doing, sharrows (with the dubious example of the symbols on Lake Ave, which are in the Door Zone, were not painted with real, durable, street symbol paint, are smaller than CA regulations require, and which were put in at the behest of Lake Ave. retailers, who were fed up with bikes on the sidewalks…), San Francisco’s version of our “Share the Road” signs, which instead read “Bikes allowed use of full lane. Change lanes to pass.“, which I think would be a dramatic improvement. He also put up some pictures of bike boulevards, from Portland, Berkeley, and Vancouver, and bike route signage, with mileage to various destinations, and a variety of different traffic calming measures, many of which have been covered by Streetfilms. He also mentioned “road diets“, reducing the number of lanes on overly wide/fast/intimidating streets. He also talked a bit about bike parking: issues with its needing to be visible to be secure, and requirements for bike parking in new development, differences between racks and lockers. Rich suggested that if anyone has locations they’d like to request inverted-U bike racks get put in, to e-mail him (but that they can only go on publicly owned sidewalks, not in greenspace, and not on private land). Mentioned the possibility of cyclist (and motorist) educational campaigns and classes, and talked about the need to integrate bikes with public transit. Unfortunately there was a bit of “That’s MTA’s problem” from Rich, which while technically true, isn’t really helpful. I know Pasadena and Metro have a rocky relationship (which sucks) but to the general public, there is no real differentiation.
It was also pointed out that while everyone in the room, who already bikes (including Ryan) is going to want bold plans and visionary leadership, ultimately the plan has to get passed by the City Council, and it has to actually be implementable politically. He tacitly did not point out that the previous BMP failed on this count. Actually, I think that we need a much clearer understanding of exactly what happened with the previous plan, to know what we’re doing here. My impression is that Dennis Crowley and friends put together a plan that they really liked, and got it passed by Council in 2000, but that Council didn’t really read it through or comprehend it. Then when Transportation actually got down to trying to implement it, they kind of freaked out and Council said “Yikes, we voted for what?”, and functionally revoked their approval of it, despite the fact that all the grand plans are still nominally on the record as being in the document. This allows everyone (City and bike advocates alike) today to somewhat disingenously point at the document and talk about how great it and we are, without facing up to the fact that in some parts of Pasadena, the residents won’t even let the City paint a stripe on the street, never mind putting in chicanes or roundabouts, or closing the road to through automobile traffic, as they’ve been doing to implement Berkeley’s Bike Boulevards:
Ryan also pointed out that the plan needs to be fundable, and that “fundable” means packaged up appropriately for submission to state and federal granting agencies, because this is all going to be funded with external sources of money (i.e. Pasadena will not commit any of its own money to funding bike infrastructure). This wouldn’t be so bad if those funding sources were significant, but with only $7.2 million available for the whole state of California from Caltrans for bike projects next year (assuming that California doesn’t actually allow itself to go completely bankrupt), I’m a little concerned that no matter how good of a plan we come up with, we won’t have enough money to do anything but put up signs and paint stripes and sharrows, regardless of how supportive the public is. But that’s no reason not to come up with the best possible plan, especially given the upcoming transportation bill. It might very well be that appropriate funding sources will appear, and in that case it would certainly be to our advantage to have a well thought out and prioritized plan ready to take advantage of them. The overall timeframe for implementation of the BMP is to be 5-10 years (and it’ll have to be revised again in less than 5 years to continue our eligibility for Caltrans money). The Marin County Bicycle Coalition has posted a good though somewhat outdated primer on funding bicycle projects, at least in the Bay Area.
A Short Rant on Funding:
Just for monetary scale, the total Pasadena Department of Transportation annual budget is about $25,000,000. I think it might also be useful to look at the pilot bike boulevard that Pasadena has decided to try and implement on Marengo, between Washington and Orange Grove. Pasadena got a $500,000 grant from BTA for that project, and Marengo is already a somewhat closed off street, with one-way segments heading outward at either end of the proposed boulevard, so the magnitude of the changes that need to be made to convert it ought to be somewhat smaller than for a normal street. The route is about 0.8 miles long. That’s $625,000 per mile. To get a sparse network of bike boulevards covering all of Pasadena, as is Berkeley’s goal, we might need on the order of 50 miles of boulevards. That’s around $30,000,000 total (again, maybe a low estimate because Marengo will require less modification than say, San Pasqual). That’s equivalent to more than 4 years of the BTA’s budget as it is now, and that budget will get spread over the entire state of California. Obviously, even on the timescale of decades, we will never be able to build that kind of infrastructure unless we’re willing, as a city, to spend our own money on it like they do in Portland, Davis, and Boulder, or unless the state/feds really start putting money into non-automotive transportation. Again, just for scale, the Caltrans study investigating the feasibility of building the 710 freeway tunnel just got more money than the entire state spends on all actual construction of bike infrastructure in a year through the Bicycle Transportation Account program (building the tunnel, God forbid, would cost a few billion dollars).
This all makes me feel like there’s a failure of vision on somebody’s part here to see bikes as transportation. We’re looking at bicycle infrastructure not as infrastructure, but as discretionary spending. As a city we’re seeing it as a luxury, not a functional tool. I recently got a campaign mailing from Terry Tornek, who is running to replace Sid Tyler as Pasadena District 7 councilmember, in which he decried the increasing density in the downtown areas, because of the increased traffic congestion that it would result, inevitably in his mind. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Density does not axiomatically have to mean traffic. In fact, density can help mitigate traffic, because it helps make getting around without a car possible – when your city is dense, things aren’t as far apart from each other. This is in some sense the whole point of having a city: the geographic concentration of ammenities. Moreover, Pasadena can’t grow without increasing density – we’re fully built out as a city – and people do seem to still want the city to grow – economically at least. Really what we should be comparing the cost of bike infrastructure to, is the cost of automobile infrastructure that it can substitute for. For instance, every single parking space in the Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line station park-and-ride cost about $30,000 to build. That’s equivalent to a rent of more than $100/month, but we give it all away for free to drivers. How much would secure bike lockers have cost to put in? Why do we seem to think it’s reasonable to charge a cyclist to rent a locker, but we give parking spaces away for free? What about using bike racks instead of lockers, and hiring an armed guard to watch them? Were these cost comparisons even done? As a city, we really need to try and see putting in ammenities for bikes as a substitute for widening roads, building parking structures, and dealing with traffic congestion, not as a recreational frill. In that context, bike infrastructure is dirt cheap. People say it’s “against our culture” in SoCal, and maybe it is at the moment, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. Certainly the only way we can subvert the car culture is to make other ways of getting around safe and convenient.
Exposing the true costs of driving wouldn’t hurt either. I had a memorable conversation with Councilwoman Margaret McAustin at the Pasadena Green Leadership Summit this summer about the City’s parking requirements, for instance. She said that they’d tried reducing the requirements in some of the transit oriented developments, like the apartments straddling the Del Mar Gold Line station, and that people just didn’t want to reduce the number of cars they owned. She honestly seemed surprised that people were perfectly willing to pay the $63/year fee for an on-street parking permit. $5/month for a parking space? That’s basically free. The paperwork required to get the permit is much more daunting than the pricetag, and certainly the economically reasonable thing to do, if you can thereby avoid the $100/month cost of having a parking space build for you underneath your condo.
After Ryan’s presentation was finished, we passed the microphone around, and everyone had a chance to make comments or ask questions. Here’s a summary of what came up:
- Why isn’t there bike parking there? There is, it turns out, but it’s at the aquatic center on the other side of the arroyo, because the RBOC thinks it would be too “dangerous” to have cyclists riding to and from the gates, along with all those pedestrians. Looking at possibly doing valet bike parking of some kind. (personally I never trust the valets… would rather have my bike locked up)
- Why don’t they enforce the circulation direction for pedestrians? Police have decided it’s unenforceable. Looking at making the loop one way for cars, other way for bikes/peds/skaters. Will cost millions of dollars to implement though – are we willing to spend it?
- Why are so many busy, high speed streets (Los Robles, Del Mar) designated as bike routes? Why is the road surface on so many bike routes poorly maintained? This came up repeatedly, with many people saying that they’d basically given up on the Pasadena bike map, and sought out their own routes. Ryan responded eventually with a plea for people to send him the routes that they’d decided to use instead, so they could be investigated. A few people instead complained that better ammenities were needed on the busy streets, but on balance, most people seemed to want other (less busy) streets to be the bike routes. I agree.
- Better east-west route is needed north of the 210 freeway. Woodbury sucks, and lots of people use it to get to JPL. Unfortunately, it turns out Woodbury is on the border bewteen Pasadena and Altadena, and is maintained by LA County.
- Metro parking is totally insecure. Yes it is, and that’s Metro’s problem. Ryan suggests that it seems SoCal has just been infiltrated by professional bike thieves, who know how to bust locks, and strip bikes. Guess that means we’ve got bike culture!
- All Metro stations are on intimidating arterial roads. Yes they are, and that’s not going to change at this point unfortunately.
- Hard/smooth/angular reflectors in the roads are dangerous to bikes.
- Better street cleaning needed for bike routes, especially palm fronds and other tree debris.
- Insufficient bike parking in many commercial districts. Racks often too close to curb – only good for one bike, or person/bike in danger of being hit by vehicles/doors. Tell Rich where you want bike racks, so long as it’s public rights of way, and not greenspace. There must be some guidelines too, about how to place the racks, and how far they need to be from other things?
- Fair Oaks is a bike route, and very busy. Also lots of day laborers (a cycling constituency). Why not bilingual signs?
- Need to take into account connectivity to neighboring cities’ bike routes. Yes, definitely, and this is actually required by the BTA guidelines for funding eligibility.
- Are mountain bike trails included in the plan? Only things within the city limits – so nothing in the San Gabriels. Plausibly in Hahamonga, Eaton Canyon, Arroyo though.
- Allowing parking adjacent to bike lanes renders bike lanes useless – you have to ride at the far edge of the lane to stay out of the door zone.
- Don’t cut off Pasadena bike map right at our borders – make it useful by including Altadena, La Canada, South Pas, Sierra Madre, etc.
- Complaints about routes that don’t actually go anywhere, dead-end in middle of nowhere. How about signage as to distance and actual destination of routes? Wow, you mean like as if they were roads?
- Repeated complaints about traffic signals that won’t recognize bikes. They’re all supposed to. Please notify Rich if you find any that don’t. Also, city transitioning to video detectors from induction loops over time, to be able to detect anything (pedestrians, bikes, cars, etc), and to purely timed lights at all busy intersections.
- Also signals that don’t last long enough for bikes to cross intersection. Again, send all complaints of this kind to Rich.
- Why can’t Pasadena be a university bike town like Davis? Because PCC is a commuter school – people drive in from far away. And also because the proportion of the town that’s associated with the school is much smaller than in Davis.
- The City should work with large employers to incentivize non-automotive transportation. Yes they should. Rich mentioned that the City has programs, but, as I discovered when researching the cost of parking at Caltech, the City’s requirement that all large employers provide massive amounts of heavily subsidized parking for their employees/students, more than nullifies any concievable effects of the city programs promoting non-automotive commuting.
- How much did the old BMP cost to implement? What did we get? What’s the budget this time around? About $1 million, spread out over 5 years (or $200,000/year which is approximately 0.8% of Pasadena’s transportation budget…). Mostly we got stripes and signs, and some bike racks. Budget this time around will depend on external funding sources, just like last time.
- Drivers need to know that bikes belong on the road. SF “Allowed full use of lane” signs are much better. Looking into switching. Sharrows also an option.
- Police need to aggressively enforce cell phone laws! Word!
- People are driving too fast on Pasadena streets. However, speed limits can’t be enforced by radar unless we raise the speed limits to the 85th percentile of people’s driving speeds. Go figure. Police have decided not to enforce. Residents won’t allow council to raise speed limits. Only way to deal with this is traffic calming measures, which cost money, and which many residents oppose.
- Tinted windows make knowing what drivers are going to do very difficult. Illegal already. Needs to be enforced.
- Pasadena cops need to be educated as to rights of cyclists!
- Safety the main issue: lots of people just afraid to ride. Parents afraid to tell their kids to ride bikes.
- Can we have a children’s bike education program? They’re going to grow up not even knowing you can bike in a city as it is now. Liability an issue, because it is percieved as dangerous.
- Multiple people who had visited/lived in other places: Portland, Santa Cruz, Netherlands, Quebec, who all knew what was possible, and thought Pasadena had no excuse for being lousy, given how great the weather is.
- We shouldn’t just look at bike infrastructure as a cost, it can be good for the city economically too. pedestrians and cyclists are better shoppers (and require less infrastructure) than drivers, in general… once you’ve ensured that most of your pedestrians and cyclists aren’t homeless people anyway, by making walking and biking pleasant and convenient, even for the rich!
- Need better bike infrastructure on transit. Again, mostly Metro’s problem, doesn’t make quite so much sense on the PARTS busses, since the distances involved are so small – you can just bike there if you’re biking (and if biking is safe!)
- Better, and more, outdoor gathering places needed throughout city, for lounging and lunching – places to *go* on your bike.
- Concern about throwing out the old plan altogether, as there’s a lot of good stuff, vision there. Yes, but some of that vision is not fully separable from the reason it hasn’t been implemented: costs, resistance to removing car infrastructure for bikes.