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Reflections on Pasadena’s Transportation Problem

Posted by Christy Moision on Wednesday, February 26, 2020

I attended the Climate Action Forum on Tuesday, February 4th to hear our candidates for Mayor and City Council answer questions about our city’s response to the climate crisis. The varied questions hit upon many possible solutions to our current situation. However, I came away feeling that Pasadena’s leadership has a blind spot when it comes to the extent of transportation’s effect on climate change.

A question is projected on a screen behind three people: “If elected, would you support declaring a climate emergency and considering the climate crisis in every decision you and council would make?”. All three people -- Terry Tornek, Jason Hardin, and Victor Gordo -- are holding up a sign that says “YES”

The mayoral candidates attending the climate forum answer a series of YES/NO questions. From right to left: Terry Tornek, Jason Hardin, and Victor Gordo

In California, transportation accounts for over 41% of our total greenhouse gas emissions, and almost 70% of those transportation emissions come from passenger cars. So, the biggest single factor in the largest contributor to the problem is all the driving we, as individuals, are doing.

A pie chart showing the breakdown of greenhouse gas emission sources in the state of California. The biggest sector source appears to be transportation (at 41.1%), and the second largest source appears to be industrial (at 23.8%).

Greenhouse gas emission sources in California. The inner ring organizes the sources by sector. Source: Next 10 California (See larger)

In the United States, 48% of all vehicle trips are less than 3 miles, yet most of us choose to drive for these short trips. All of these short car trips cause congestion and pollution. And, as sales of SUVs show, we are increasingly driving very large, inefficient vehicles for all of our trips.

While several candidates at the forum touched on the connection between car trips and emissions, their proposed solutions were mostly limited to encouraging more electric vehicles (EVs). Although EVs are an improvement, there are huge environmental costs involved with producing batteries, and producing the electricity to charge the batteries. EVs don’t reduce congestion, and their brakes and tires still pollute. No matter what we’re driving, the simple fact is: we drive too much for EVs to be the only solution.

Some candidates were in favor of increasing transit service, which has an advantage over EVs of giving a larger number of people an efficient and affordable alternative to driving. But even that is not enough to get us out of our crisis: We have to find a way to reduce vehicle miles traveled.

How great would it feel to take a leisurely walk or bike ride with friends to dinner, knowing that you were fighting for the future and caring for yourself at the same time? We need to increase bikeability throughout our City.

A beautiful way to do that would be to shift our short daily trips – the 48% under 3 miles or less – to walking or biking. How great would it feel to take a leisurely 5-20 minute walk or bike ride with friends to dinner, knowing that you were fighting for the future and caring for yourself at the same time?

If we, as a city, want that feeling for ourselves and our neighbors, then we need to increase bikeability throughout our City. We need a viable bike network, which would make it easier, comfortable, and fun for people to get out of their cars for short trips.

What if Pasadena had a bike network that encouraged more residents to choose a different way?

A woman rides a bike in a lane that's separated from a lane containing several cars. A bright green bollard and several low bumpers forms a barrier between the bike lane and the other lane. The woman is smiling and seems relaxed.

Many cities have seen immediate positive results from committing to making biking a more viable option for residents. Of course, Amsterdam is the most famous success story, and Paris’s recent changes are transforming that city. But there are cities closer to home making great strides, like Davis and Palo Alto, where over 50% of the middle- and high-schoolers bike to school, taking hundreds of cars off the road every day.

Time and time again, it has been demonstrated that when biking feels safe, people will choose it. What Pasadena has now is a hodgepodge of bike lanes and “sharrows” that don’t often feel safe even for an experienced bicyclist. Riding in a bike lane between a row of parked cars (in the “door zone”) and a line of traffic traveling upwards of 35 mph is never going to encourage potential bicyclists to get out of their cars.

Pasadena needs a safe bike network, with dedicated lanes and plenty of bike parking. Biking to one’s destination is often faster than driving when traffic and parking are taken into account. And that’s to say nothing of how much more pleasant biking is than driving. People forget how much fun it is to ride a bike!

Time and time again, it has been demonstrated that when biking feels safe, people will choose it.

I would like to challenge all of the candidates (and incumbents) to take a hard look at Pasadena’s current transportation system. Is it sustainable to support – and continue to encourage – this much driving? I don’t think so. Something has to change. If Pasadena leadership will commit to trying to get around town by bike for even a day, they will see how difficult it currently is.

At the forum, most candidates spoke about limiting development in Pasadena, but California has a massive housing crisis. I don’t think Pasadena has too many people; Pasadena has too many cars. When I hear complaints about “over-development” in Pasadena, most often the objection is about the traffic, not the people.

It is often said that we just don’t have room to add more bike infrastructure, or that adding a bike lane will cause more car traffic or clog up neighborhood streets. These things just don’t ring true in places that build good infrastructure, like Pasadena could. Next time you’re out take notice of just how much space we give up to cars – both those that are moving and those that are stored (often for free) on our streets. I guarantee you, once you see it, you can’t un-see it.

We don’t need every street to be bike friendly or every resident to start riding bikes everywhere. But, a solid, connected bike network would encourage enough residents to choose biking that it would have a positive impact on people using all forms of transportation.

I love Pasadena; I grew up here and it’s my home. I dream of a Pasadena that doesn’t prioritize cars – a quieter, less congested Pasadena with cleaner air and healthier people.

We can have that Pasadena if we remake the streets for people, and not just cars.

Tags: bike network, Climate Forum, leadership

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