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South Pasadena Bike Lanes on Grand Are Here to Stay

The council narrowly reversed its previous decision, thanks to a major turnout of local cyclists.

A family cycles on the Grand Avenue Bike Lanes in South Pasadena. Courtesy of South Pas Active Streets

South Pasadena’s City Council voted Wednesday night to retain 0.6 miles of bike lanes on Grand Avenue that were previously slated for removal. The vote passed 3-2, with councilmembers Primuth, Cacciotti, and Zneimer in support of keeping the lanes, and councilmembers Donovan and Braun against. 

This project previously took a lot of scorn from residents opposing it in March, who at the time greatly outnumbered supporters. Their biggest grievances were that it had weak outreach, that it "uglified" the neighborhood and made driving more difficult with delineators and bulbouts, and encouraged “entitled” behavior from cyclists and joggers (using the bike lane for its intended purpose). 

Back then, the council killed the project unanimously, with the caveat that a short uphill bike lane on Hermosa Street would be kept. So how did the Grand bike lanes come back up on the dais?

Agenda item 16 for this week’s meeting was a recommendation that council provide direction on maintaining or removing bike lanes in the project (including Hermosa).

Public Works Director Ted Gerber elaborated: “The direction in March was to remove both of those lanes, though [they] have not been removed yet […] We were in the midst of the procurement process to have a contractor come in and grind out those lanes, but we were given direction by the council to reconsider the item, and so we halted the removal.”

The Debate

This time at the council, the tables were turned, with overwhelming comments from residents in favor of the lanes. Some did not state where they lived exactly, though many said they lived on or near Grand.

Does that distinction even matter? Not really, says Jason Claypool, whose children ride to school with a group of other kids in a “bike bus.”

A children's Bike Bus in South Pasadena. Courtesy of South Pas Active Streets

“The bike lanes are not designated for Grand Avenue residents alone. I think we all know that these lanes are for everyone, and determining the fate of the lanes shall not lie with the Grand Avenue residents alone,” Claypool said. 

Steve Koch, another resident who commented in March that Grand Avenue was so wide and safe that it didn’t need a bike lane, said this time that Grand just doesn’t make sense as a route to school for kids. 

“It's an unnecessary detour for most of these kids to even be on Grand Avenue,” said Koch. “It's fine if they want to do that, but they shouldn't argue that this is a required route for them to get to school. It's not. There aren't dozens of kids living in the northwest corner of the city that have been using the bike lanes on Grand for the last ten months to get to school.” 

He continued. “I think it's a terrible precedent that we're setting to install a project this way. We're trying to keep Grand from becoming a major thoroughfare. I don't want to see a yellow line down the middle and cut-through traffic.”

But local kid Mac Shropshire said it’s already a popular route for biking.

“I think taking the bike lanes out of Grand is a really bad idea, because a lot of cyclists use that to go to the Rose Bowl. And with the bike bus, it's a really bad decision, because they use it all the time,” Shropshire said. “It's just a line [in the street], and I feel like it makes a big difference in our community with bikes, and it makes a difference for me, because I use it all the time. [...] It's already there and we should keep building on it.”

Lisa Roa, a 20-year resident of the neighborhood, suggested that rather than invest in bike infrastructure on Grand, it would make more sense to post more police there to enforce the 25 mph speed limit. 

“We've existed fine without the bike lanes. Again, nothing has changed, no factual evidence that shows that we're any more dangerous as long as people are following our speed limit,” said Roa, referring to a lack of collision incidents on the corridor. Previously officials counted six in the last decade, only two of which involved cyclists/pedestrians.

El Centro Street resident Ben Steele disagreed with this ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach.

“I just think that's a horrible way to think about safety in terms of someone has to die or there has to be a crash for us to make something safer. We should absolutely be proactive about that and adding pipelines as a way to do that,” Steele said.

Reprising a familiar anti-bike lane theme, Grand resident Nancy Anderson implied having these bike lanes in place is actually more dangerous than not having any.

“We've always had cyclists and walkers on Grand Avenue; we watch out for them. And a few painted lines, we feel like they're giving people a sense of entitlement and false security. We've noticed that people pay less attention as they're walking by than they ever did before, because they feel like the bike lanes are magic,” Anderson said. Of course, the same could be said about the people driving several-thousand-pound vehicles.

The last public comment we’ll include is from Mission Street resident Maria, who spoke over Zoom. 

“I have a baby girl, and I get scared when people ride bikes on the sidewalk, and I'm there with my daughter, but I understand they ride on the sidewalk because they don't feel safe on the street,” Maria said. “And so then the only people who are safe are the cars on the street. And that's not the community that I want to live in.”

The Vote

The vote whether to maintain or remove the bike lanes on Grand broke as mentioned above, 3-2 to keep them, with councilmembers Donovan and Braun against, and councilmembers Primuth, Cacciotti, and Zneimer in support. The short uphill lane on Hermosa also survived, on a 4-1 vote with only Braun opposing.

Councilmember Janet Braun wasn’t convinced these pilot demonstrations should become permanent. 

“My rationale remains the same,” said Braun. “I mean, I rode my bike everywhere as a kid. I believe in the safety of children. I just think that the process on this one was a temporary grant that we kind of thought, ‘Well, let's just finish this up.’ I don't think it was a well thought-through plan for bikes. I support bike lanes. As the city manager knows, we've been trying to get some of the [South Pas] Active Streets people to get together for a meeting to really put something together where we can come up with a bike plan for the city. I think it just really needs much more strategy and planning, as opposed to putting in a temporary project, because we got a grant for three blocks of a bike lane.”

Councilmember Primuth however, was vocal about changing his mind.

“I'm going to change my vote to keep the bike lane. One of the difficult things is when you do a reversal, you have to explain yourself, and the best I can do is to say I didn't really understand the full utilization of the bikes back in March, and I hadn't heard from all the property owners. I thought I had,” said Primuth. “And as I have biked on Grand I felt safer with the bike lanes. That was my subjective experience.”

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