Guest Opinion | Andy Wilson: Tired of traffic? Here are Five Strategies to Make Things Better

Published : Friday, March 3, 2017 | 6:28 AM

ANDY WILSON, Pasadena City Councilmember for District 7

I’m a huge fan of our city.  I love our picturesque neighborhoods, prolific trees, historic architecture, incredible institutions, diverse citizenry . . . I could go on.  However, like many of you I cringe when I travel our congested streets at rush hour.

Frankly, I was surprised to hear Mayor Tornek’s report on this topic a few weeks ago in his State of the City address: “. . . despite the City’s modest population growth and increase in new development, average travel time on our major arterial streets has seen only a slight increase since 2006 and is actually DOWN in some cases.”  As an engineer, I can appreciate this data; but it doesn’t make me feel better when I am queued up on California Blvd in the morning hoping to turn on the 110 Freeway.

Pasadena has a long history of traffic calming and traffic mitigation.  This typically includes efforts to slow down or divert traffic from residential streets.  While this can be effective on a spot basis, it obviously won’t alleviate traffic overall.  Indeed, it tends to concentrate the problem on fewer and fewer connector streets.

Furthermore, though I am a huge fan of the Gold Line, the at-grade crossings at Glenarm, California and Del Mar have bisected this part of Pasadena for years now – a situation that only gets worse as train length and frequency increase.

So what is to be done?  First we must understand where peak traffic comes from.  It is not residents bopping over to Vons or CVS, but people heading out to work and commuters coming into Pasadena.  Approximately 55,000 residents (70% of our workforce) depart the city every day and commute almost 30 minutes (on average) to work.  Meanwhile, another 90,000 people pour in each day to work, study, shop and play.  So Pasadena swells during the day with out-of-towners.  Not surprisingly, the largest traffic generator is Pasadena City College: 30,000 students will do that!

Given the universal aggravation around this topic, a multi-pronged approach is imperative.  Unfortunately, there are no silver bullets (are there ever?).  Now that I have been on the City Council for more than a year and half, what strategies do I think really can make a difference?

  • Cut back on development: Soon after I joined the Council, we adopted the updated General Plan which scales back future development over the next 20 year by more than 50% for commercial and 12.5% for residential.  Slower growth, more targeted to downtown areas where residents can more easily get around without cars, will help protect single-family neighborhoods, ease traffic, and maintain our quality of life.

  • Improve rapid transit:  Recently I attended the ribbon cutting for the Gold Line extension; and Pasadena has actively supported Metro bringing a new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line to North Hollywood.  While I very much support that kind of expansion of regional mass transit capacity, the real challenge is to extend the network locally in ways that will make transit more convenient for more people.  Toward that end, we have recently purchased new buses to expand capacity along our most popular Pasadena Transit Bus Lines.

  • Invest in alternative transportation:   Walking and biking will never be the answer for everyone, but they can make a big difference – especially in a city like ours, with great weather, lots of trees and an extensive sidewalk system.  I’ve supported the on-going $15-million sidewalk repair program (now half complete) and the new matching reimbursement program.  We’re also expanding our bike system, most recently by authorizing a protected bike track on Union Street.  Later this spring we’ll see 34 new Metro bike-share stations with more than 400 bikes.

  • Keep our streets in good repair:  While moving people to other modes is important, most of us will still need to rely on our street infrastructure.  Pasadena will spend more than $2.4-million this year to repair and maintain existing streets by filling potholes, repaving and slurry coating.  If you have never used the Citizen Service Center app to report a pothole you should definitely give it a try (http://ww5.cityofpasadena.net/citizen-service-center/). You also get notified when the job is complete.

  • Create more jobs locally for people who live in Pasadena: As I mentioned, too many of us are driving too far to get to work.  My background in high tech and entrepreneurship made me keenly aware of how few jobs were available locally for this segment of our workforce.  That was a driving reason behind the creation of www.innovatepasadena.org  (a non-profit I continue to serve as volunteer board member).   This collaborative effort has already helped create, attract and retain hundreds of great jobs for Pasadena residents,  and cut commutes by thousands of miles a year.  It has the long-term potential to be real game changer.

My fellow Councilmembers and I recognize that an all-of-the-above strategy is needed to make a real impact on this difficult issue.   If you want to go deep on Pasadena’s vision for the future, you can read the updated General Plan Mobility Element at http://www.cityofpasadena.net/GeneralPlan/

There you will see guiding principal #5: Pasadena will be a city where people can circulate without cars.  That is an ambitious goal, but each of us can help realize it in small ways.  So look for me walking to City Hall or schlepping bags from Trader Joes (and if someone can fund undergrounding the Gold Line that would be huge too!).

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