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Guest View: Adding bike lanes adds to public spaces

The Pasadena Star-News: Guest View: Adding bike lanes adds to public spaces

By Jen Petersen
Posted: 03/06/2010 06:13:07 AM PST

It's not a bicycle master plan - it's a roadmap toward a people-prioritizing city. You should support it even if you swear you'll never ride a bike.

Last month, the city of Pasadena unveiled its Bicycle Master Plan, which is intended to make bicycling safer and more convenient for existing cyclists, and increase bicycle use over the next 10 years. Though the plan outlines intentions for 16 new miles of bike lanes, plus integration of traffic-calmed bicycle boulevards on several north-south streets and one east-west route, it falls far short of the kind of plan that will benefit all residents. If we're smart, we'll demand a more ambitious plan to calm traffic, clean air, increase property values and commercial profits and raise our quality of life.

Simply put, a comprehensive bike plan is a blueprint for more thoughtful use of public space.

Cities with vibrant public spaces - plazas, parks, squares, transit stations, libraries - are profitable for businesses and more attractive to visitors and tourists, while less costly to maintain.

During the last century, however, many U.S. cities forgot that streets influence how people get to where they need to go and how physically active people are, how much neighbors trust each other and whether their kids can play outside. Street life is a key determinant of quality of life in cities. We've swapped this vitality for car-prioritizing streets. Though once lively, our streets are usually lifeless.

In Pasadena, however, there is hope.

We are a small city, where well-distributed residential and commercial development permits us to shop, send our kids to school, and visit libraries right in our neighborhoods. But what if our streets were slow and felt safe enough to use our feet, rather than our cars?

We are also a beautiful city with tree-lined blocks, breathtaking mountain views and a year-round mild climate. Imagine if our streets were as irresistible. We need to demand these things of our streets.

Streets should behave like excellent public spaces: easily connect and convey people, offer respite and places to play, help us lead happier lives and spur sustainable commercial and residential development.

Bicyclists are currently risking life and limb pedaling toward what will benefit us all. The proposed bike plan doesn't do enough to laud the bravery and leadership of these early adapters. Mostly, it promises to keep bicyclists out of the way instead of creating facilities where they can demonstrate what slower, quieter, more peopled streets will do for all of us.

The plan we need would build bike lanes that look and feel safe to even the most timid. They'd be buffered from cars by a physical barrier, as in Holland and New York. Where not buffered, bike lanes would run next to the sidewalk, with parked cars protecting them from moving cars, rather than the reverse.

The plan should replace some car lanes in busy commercial areas, since slow-pedaling people spend more money, and more regularly, plus cost businesses less in parking provision. More bike shoppers on local thoroughfares would show us how convenient it is to do errands in our skin instead of our cars, free up parking space for more productive uses and clean the air so we can breathe easier.

Finally, a good bike plan rewards cyclists where they already travel in high volume. From my house on Orange Grove Boulevard, I watch many bicycle-dependent residents take to the sidewalk to avoid fast cars or opening doors from parked cars, as they pedal to school, work or to shop along this street. This sets up unfair competition between pedestrians and cyclists, and also makes cyclists less visible at intersections. Safe bike lanes are essential in low-income neighborhoods with high rates of public transit use and bike dependence.

We need a better bicycle master plan in Pasadena and other cities for great public spaces.