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Guest Opinion | Blair Miller: New Union Street Protected Bike Lane is A Cause for Celebration, But There Are Lessons To Be Learned

Published on Thursday, September 7, 2023 | 4:30 am

Pasadena’s first two-way protected bike lane opens on September 9.  

I am excited about this milestone! But I also have concerns, and even a few regrets.  

First, a history lesson – why do we even have this protected bike lane? Former Councilmember  Margaret McAustin should take some of the credit. She pointed out that there is no safe way to  get from east to west across Pasadena. She also pointed out that protected routes are most important for vulnerable road users, such as some women, some seniors, and all young children who ride bicycles – really, anyone who isn’t comfortable riding in traffic with cars.  

Ms. McAustin recommended that staff find a way to create a safe east-west route through the  City, and here we are, eight years later, debuting the Union Street Protected Bikeway!  

Here is what I’m excited about:  

The Protected Bikeway fulfills the Councilmember’s vision! People who might normally feel unsafe will be able to get on their bikes and use Union Street to get to places like the Playhouse  Village Park, Vroman’s, Target, Old Pasadena (to, but not through) and Pasadena City College  (almost, but not quite). This is the first leg of a future connected network of safer streets which  will support Pasadena’s vision of being a city where people can circulate safely without a car.  

Not everyone wants to or is able to use a bicycle for every trip around town, but many people who live in, work in and visit Pasadena would prefer to have that option, if they felt it was safe.  This bikeway is a first step in that direction!  

Here are my concerns:  

There are very few two-way protected bike lanes on one-way streets anywhere in the U.S. In  Denmark, on-street two-way designs were removed from best practices for bicycle  infrastructure over two decades ago. Why? It can make interactions between people on bikes  and motor vehicle drivers more complicated at intersections and driveways.  

Because of this challenge, we should be doing more education and training than usual, and I am concerned that not enough education or training has happened, for bikeway users OR drivers.  

I’m also concerned that during the learning curve, someone will get hurt. Is that a good enough reason to say “No” to a protected bikeway? No! People using bikes instead of cars is good for our economy, our environment, our community and our physical and mental health!  

But we should be doing more to facilitate safe riding for everyone today, including creating a network of safe streets. Union Street only crosses half of Pasadena, and the Greenways design has not yet been finalized. Until that network is complete, I’m concerned we will hear “See!  Nobody is using the bikeway!” just because there are not enough safe streets connected to it to make a usable network.  

Here are my regrets:  

The Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition (a volunteer organization of which I am a member)  advocated for one way protected bike lanes on each side of Colorado, or a one-way protected bike lane in the same direction of traffic on Union and on Green, or making Union and Green two-way streets with bike lanes.  

So what happened to those ideas? The Rose Parade complicates a protected bike lane on  Colorado. A Green Street protected bike lane was eliminated from consideration, in part due to concerns about parking loss – concerns that have been shown to be overblown, post-pandemic.  The idea for two-way Union and Green could still happen, but must be discussed in the context of citywide traffic circulation.  

Another reason cited for no bike facility on Green is that Cordova is only a block below Green and is slated for a redesign including a dedicated bikeway – a redesign that has yet to be implemented.  

The City decided to advance the most expensive option — the two-way bikeway on Union —  and apply for funding without community outreach . Had potential users been given the opportunity for input, we might have advocated for lower-cost improvements on more streets.  

Pasadena’s Department of Transportation has worked hard to see this project to completion,  and given the limitations imposed, I can see why selecting this design seemed to make sense at the time. But I hope we can learn some lessons for how to design our future network, including getting input from potential users, using quick-build and temporary builds to test projects,  moving quickly to build out the network, and acknowledging that the streets are for the public benefit – on-street parking is not sacrosanct.  

Despite these concerns and “wish we would haves,” Pasadena has a major accomplishment to celebrate on September 9 th, and I hope everyone comes out and experiences for themselves how wonderful it is to move around Pasadena by bicycle!  

Blair Miller is a former Chair and Member of the Transportation Advisory Commission and a  founding member of the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition. She is a resident of District 4. This essay represents her own views and not those of the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition or any other group.

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