Phillip O’Neill was riding his bicycle on Del Mar Boulevard near Caltech on June 15, 2013 when he was struck from behind and killed by a motorist. The 25-year-old O’Neill’s friends and acquaintances initially mourned his death. Then they organized.
Their organization — the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition (PCSC) — is a group of local residents from a variety of backgrounds and occupations with the common goal of making the city’s streets safer and more appealing for everyone who uses them. Coalition members maintain that safety is a particularly pressing issue in Pasadena, primarily because of the unusually large number of fatal and severe injuries resulting from traffic collisions.
Between 2007 and 2010, the number of fatal and severe injury collisions involving pedestrians dropped from 13 to two. Since then, however, the numbers have risen in four of the next five years, with eight severe and fatal pedestrian collisions in 2011, six in 2013 and 2015, and seven in 2015. The number of fatal and severe injury collisions involving cyclists has fluctuated between one to six in the years between 2010 and 2015.
PCSC’s website (pas-csc.org) defines complete or livable streets as “streets designed for everyone” that “provide safe access for all users, regardless of age or mode of transportation.”
The move to create complete streets is gaining strength throughout the country. In California the movement was bolstered by the Complete Streets Act, signed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2008, which became effective on Jan. 1, 2011. The law requires cities, counties and other local jurisdictions to modify the mobility or circulation elements of their general plans to include “a balanced, multimodal transportation network that meets the needs of all users of the streets, roads, and highways” and to “find innovative ways to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT).”
Blair Miller, a member of PCSC who chairs the city’s Transportation Advisory Committee, says Pasadena is a leader in the complete streets movement because it was the first city to adopt the VMT method for measuring traffic rates on local streets. The city in 2015 also created a Complete Streets Division in its Department of Transportation.
Traditionally, traffic rates were determined by level of service (LOS), or how fast a car could move through an intersection. If traffic was unusually slow, Miller explains, “they made adjustments so the cars could go faster. The changes were often not good for everybody else. They would widen or add a lane. That’s how we wound up with suburbs with large arterial boulevards,” so large, that pedestrians often were unable to cross the street.
VMT, by comparison, measures how many vehicles will be generated by new development. “If you’re building a new apartment building near transit stops, you reduce the overall VMT because people can commute to their jobs,” says Miller. “If you build on the outskirts of the city, it might generate more traffic.
“We need people to adopt a different approach to mobility because what makes a street safer is when cars slow down,” Miller continues. “It could take seven minutes to get across a certain number of blocks now, and then [with complete street modifications] it could take eight minutes. That would be a tremendous difference in terms of safety and also in the livability of the city.”
PCSC also advocates for a multimodal transportation network in which Pasadenans could get out of their cars and travel on foot or by bicycle or public transit.
“There’s not a lot of bicycle structure in place that would make people comfortable to ride,” says coalition member Colin Bogart, who regularly bikes from Pasadena to his job at the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition in downtown LA. “People like me or Blair and others in the coalition ride bikes, and we are part of a smaller percentage of people who are willing to ride as things are now.
“The issue is that the overwhelming majority of the population would like to ride, but they’re concerned about their safety, and they’re not comfortable riding on the streets as they are now,” says Bogart. “Most people are not comfortable getting out there and mixing it up with vehicular traffic.”
PCSC seeks to influence city policy on bike routes and other transportation-related issues. It carefully tracks these issues, a task made simpler by the fact that some coalition members also serve on the city’s Transportation Advisory Committee. The organization then meets with city officials or attends public meetings to express its opinions on the issues it deems important. Some of the organization’s issues are the progress of the Union Street protected cycle track and the Roseways network — two projects that are included in the city’s Bicycle Transportation Action Plan.
The plan, which was adopted by the City Council in August 2015, aims to create a network of bicycle corridors by 2030. A portion of one of those corridors — a protected cycle track along Union Street from Arroyo Parkway to Wilson Avenue — is currently being designed, with construction expected to begin in 2019.
Richard Dilluvio, pedestrian and bicycle coordinator in the Transportation Department’s Complete Streets Division, said the city also plans a “road diet” for the portion of Cordova Street between Arroyo Parkway and Hill Street. The diet will reduce Cordova from four to three lanes, with the middle lane used as a two-way left turn lane. “There will be one lane of traffic in each direction and the addition of buffered bike lanes between the parked cars and the travel lanes. This will change the speeds of the vehicles on the roadway without significantly changing the travel time. Pedestrian safety will be increased by installing curb extensions at intersections to shorten the crossing distances for pedestrians,” he said.
In addition, the bike action plan includes the Roseways network, a series of low-speed, low-volume neighborhood streets where people can comfortably bicycle and use other types of transportation. The streets would have “sharrows,” or lanes shared by motorists and cyclists, and signage to facilitate biking.
At the Oct. 24 City Council meeting, PCSC urged the council to adopt Vision Zero, a commitment to end all traffic-related deaths in Pasadena by 2027. The council directed staff to determine the financial impact of Vision Zero.
Department of Transportation Manager Fred Dock sent a memo to City Manager Steve Mermell in December in which Dock wrote that while Pasadena has already implemented some measures aimed at eliminating traffic fatalities, the city has been slow to make physical changes to the street system “because of limited funding resources and public controversy about reducing capacity and/or removing on-street parking.”
Dock also explained that many of Pasadena’s pedestrian and bicycle projects are dependent on grants, a form of financing that stretches out capital projects over five years or more between the time a project is identified and the funding for it is available because the city must compete for funding with other cities in Los Angeles County and California.
“Because Pasadena’s funding for transportation and street maintenance capital projects is essentially at a zero-sum status, a Vision Zero commitment would mean defunding some currently funded programs to advance the priority of unfunded safety projects,” Dock said. “If Vision Zero is adopted, staff’s recommendations for the fiscal year 2018 capital improvement program budget would reflect more funding toward the safety projects and less for the traditional pavement management projects.”
In response to Dock’s comments, Bogart maintains that most cities“don’t have money allocated when they adopt a Vision Zero policy. “But adopting a Vision Zero policy can help to raise money. Since the federal government has recently announced some funding for Vision Zero, we would presumably be eligible for that funding. Our sense it that, sure, money from existing budgets would probably have to be reallocated, but that assumes we don’t pursue other funding. We can and should pursue funding for Vision Zero, but adopting the policy is the first step that leads to more funding.”