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Only as good as its weakest link: thoughts on Pasadena's Roseways

Posted by John on Friday, July 12, 2019

The City-branded sign used to mark a Roseway

Editor’s Note: Pasadena has designated a network of traffic-calmed streets, branded as “Roseways”, as official Class III bicycle routes. This program has been slowly emerging from its shell since ~2014, when it was born in response to our first campaign for a better bicycle network.

If you’re not aware of the Roseways program, don’t feel bad - we’ve been waiting for this critter to come out for a long time. CSC member John Lloyd shares his recent experiences riding the Wilson Ave. Roseway and on the bike lanes on Glenarm St., below.

This morning I had an opportunity to bike with my daughter to PCC from a home in southwest Pasadena where she is house-sitting. The ride gave me an opportunity to explore a part of Pasadena I don’t often ride, and I have some thoughts.

I always do a bit of research on Google Maps before riding an area I haven’t biked before to see what the safest routes are (something car drivers don’t need to worry about). I took the Gold Line to the Fillmore Station, rode my bike south on Raymond to Glenarm, and then took Glenarm east to Oakland, since Glenarm shows up as having bike lanes on Google Maps.

…Well, it does, but only for about 2 blocks and, during morning rush hour the rest of it is terrible. There’s no way anyone who’s not super confident is going to ride that street. The sharrows the city has painted on Glenarm do nothing to protect cyclists, and impatient drivers often pass too close. It was super stressful, and the thought that this was billed as a bike route had me thinking, seriously, Pasadena?

The Google Maps satellite view of Glenarm shows that while buffered bike lanes are present on Glenarm for five blocks east of Marengo, there are no bike facilities on the block between Marengo and Arroyo Parkway, and only sharrows between Arroyo and Fair Oaks. The portion of Glenarm between Fair Oaks to Marengo is adjacent to the 110 freeway terminus, and is usually busy as people rush to get on or off the freeway.

A photo of E. Glenarm St. just west of Marengo

A ground view of E. Glenarm St. between S. Marengo Ave. and Arroyo Parkway. Here, bicyclists are required to take the lane, which can be scary and stressful for most riders.

Once I turned south down Oakland, however, it was chill the rest of the way to my destination.

After I picked up my daughter, we avoided Glenarm and stayed on Oakland north to Fillmore. Much better. We then rode Fillmore east to Arden, and, while it was not bad, I was surprised at how fast much of the morning automobile traffic was on those narrow curves on Arden. The pavement on Arden is terrible, and it needs repaving. Speed humps, anyone?

We then turned north on Wilson because it is one of Pasadena’s much ballyhooed “Roseways”, which would have been a delight to bike on a quiet Sunday morning. On a weekday morning, however, parked cars force you into the travel lane, and my daughter felt uncomfortable as a couple of drivers, including one in an oversized pickup truck, roared past us too close for comfort.

If only we could use the space along the curb for a real bike lane. Hey, I get it, free street space for cars that sit empty all day trumps green mobility in Pasadena.

A bit stressed from the Wilson “Roseway”, we decided to ride through the Caltech campus rather than continuing north on Wilson to Cordova. From there, we took San Pasqual east to Sierra Bonita. This last part was very comfortable and low stress because of light traffic. We made it to PCC in a respectable 15 minutes. It is not too hilly and is easily doable for a confident cyclist. It could–and should–be doable for so many more, however.

The best parts of the ride were the low-traffic areas of Oakland, Fillmore, San Pasqual, and Sierra Bonita. These streets are wide, or have very low traffic volumes. However, the full route illustrates gaping holes in Pasadena’s bike plan. The unprotected door zone bike lanes on Glenarm and Wilson last for a couple of blocks, and the rest of the way leave people on bikes utterly at the mercy of the goodwill of drivers. Which means, zilch. Just because you call something a “Roseway” and paint a sharrow does not mean you’ve done anything to protect people on bikes.

A bike network is only as good as its weakest link. If 80% is "bike-friendly" but 20% is stressful, it doesn't matter.

Bottom line? This part of town is super close to the Metro and is easily connected to PCC, Art Center, and Caltech, as well as many other businesses and destinations. But a bike network is only as good as its weakest link, and this route has 2 or 3 weak links that will dissuade all but the most confident and experienced of cyclists. If 80 percent is “bike-friendly” but 20 percent is stressful, it doesn’t matter. People who don’t normally bike won’t do it, even if they’d like to.

My daughter is perfectly capable of riding by herself – if she feels comfortable. 80 percent of the way is not enough to make her comfortable enough to ride it alone during weekday rush hour. It’s a shame, too, because so much of Pasadena is potentially bike-friendly, but still falls short.

My daughter does not currently own a car. She’d like to ride to school. If she and other students like her need to get to school, should they essentially be forced to buy a car and drive? Is this how we should “keep Pasadena moving” in the 21st century?

Until people like my daughter feel comfortable riding to school, we still have much work to do.

Have you ridden the city's bike network and found it lacking? We've been talking to the city about the need for improvements, and part of that conversation is getting them to understand what problems people face while biking. You can share your feedback by weighing in here.

Tags: criticism, infrastructure, Pasadena, Roseways

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