“I would like to be able to see children safely going to school and to activities on their own rather than be chauffeured everywhere by adults.”
~ Kaly Trezos
Funding secured, planning for calmer neighborhood ‘greenway’ connections is underway.
By Wesley Reutimann
Thirty years ago it was relatively common for children to walk or bike to school in Pasadena.
Nationwide an estimated 48% of children did so in 1990, according to the National Household Travel Survey. In 2023 that’s the exception instead of the rule. Large SUVs have largely replaced two wheels or two feet as the primary mode of transportation for children in the city, a development with broad impacts to the entire community.
A network of planned ‘greenways’ may help turn the tide, eight years after they were identified as an opportunity to improve mobility for all. Also known as ‘Neighborhood Greenways’, these infrastructure projects are designed to create calmer, quieter, safer, and more sustainable streets in residential neighborhoods.
Elements typically found on a greenway already exist on some Pasadena streets, thanks to past resident requests to address cut-through traffic and speeding in neighborhoods. Examples include speed humps, median ‘refuge’ or safety islands, high-visibility crosswalks, traffic diverters, curb extensions, neighborhood traffic circles, and wayfinding signage.
In many communities around the United States greenways are elements of local ‘Safe Routes to School’ networks to help students and families safely get to school via foot, bicycle, scooter, or other form of active mobility. Greenway networks also commonly connect parks, business districts, residential neighborhoods, libraries, transit stations, and other key community destinations. For example, in Palo Alto, CA, a network of greenways has been so successful, that now nearly half of students in the city ride their bikes to school.
The four greenway corridors currently planned for Pasadena include El Molino, Wilson, Sierra Bonita, and Craig Avenues. Why these streets? They are among the few north-south corridors that cross interstate 210 — a significant barrier to walking and bicycling in the city. Most city streets that cross the highway were designed to move as many vehicles as possible. Vehicle on/off-ramps at major crossings such as Lake, Fair Oaks, and Allen also are hazardous for people walking or bicycling.
Community Support for Greenways
Local support for greenways is growing. In April 2023, the Pasadena Unified School District adopted a board resolution in support of greenway implementation. In May the City’s Environmental Advisory Commission submitted a greenway memorandum to the City Council, underlining the importance of increasing walking and bicycling trips to meet the City’s Climate Action Plan goals. On June 21st the Pasadena City College Board of Trustees adopted a greenway resolution, noting that many PCC students do not have access to personal vehicles to take them to or from campus. The City’s Accessibility and Disability Commission recognized that safe greenways are “necessary for supporting accessibility in transportation in the City of Pasadena”, and is writing a letter of support. And a petition in support of safer neighborhoods has garnered almost 500 signatures to date.
The proposed Wilson Avenue Greenway, which would run adjacent to Caltech’s campus, has also prompted the university community to weigh in. A 2022 survey of Caltech stakeholders found that many experienced dangerous or stressful conditions walking or bicycling along the corridor. In early 2023 Caltech’s administration as well as over 200 students submitted comments urging the City to incorporate the ‘Wilson for All’ proposal into the final greenway design.
Designing for ‘All Ages and Abilities’
Stakeholders are rallying around a request for an ‘All Ages and Abilities’ standard for greenways endorsed by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO). For shared streets this means creating calm corridors with speeds below 20 mph and limiting cut-through traffic. The latter has become a bigger problem in recent years as navigation programs direct drivers to follow routes that shave off a minute, even if that means cutting through a residential street.
Greenway proponents note that cut-through traffic can be reduced by tools such as traffic diverters, which require some vehicles to turn onto streets prioritized for automobile traffic. One of these devices can already be seen on Marengo and El Molino. On El Molino, southbound drivers are required to turn right or left onto Washington Boulevard, while only northbound drivers may proceed straight.
The Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition estimates that only a handful of new diverters would be required to reach the national best practice of traffic volume for a greenway, which is no more than 2,000 cars per day for an All-Ages-and-Abilities greenway corridor. In reviewing the City’s latest traffic count data, the coalition determined that the total traffic on all four proposed greenways, combined, is less than the traffic on even a single high volume street in Pasadena such as Los Robles, Marengo, or Hill Avenue. As a result the coalition has concluded that diverting some of these vehicles onto adjacent streets with more vehicle capacity would have no significant impact to vehicle travel flow in the City.
Realizing a Healthier, More Resilient Community While Accommodating Future Growth
The success of Pasadena’s greenways program has implications for public health, safety, the environment, and even student learning outcomes. When children get physical activity before class, studies show that they are better able to focus and perform academically, as well as experience fewer behavioral problems. Moderate physical activity such as a walk to a nearby business district also has significant health benefits for adults.
More walking and bicycling trips would also help improve local air quality, which remains among the worst in the nation according to the latest finds from the American Lung Association; gas-powered vehicles are a primary source of local pollution. And safer greenway corridors would improve pedestrian safety at a time when the number of serious and fatal collisions has been on the rise in Pasadena.
Greenway infrastructure can even help the City capture more stormwater, a benefit that local experts at Caltech and JPL highlight will become increasingly important as our community faces longer and more severe drought conditions in a hotter climate.
Helping residents take trips by foot, bike, or transit is also critical as the City plans additional housing in the central district and 710 stub. Roadway space in Pasadena is finite. Replacing some vehicle trips with walking, bicycling, or transit trips will help Pasadena accommodate new residents.
Pasadena Secures Competitive Funding
In February 2023 the City was awarded $12 million in greenway implementation funding from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority as part of a larger package of local mobility improvement projects. Over the next year the City will continue soliciting public input, refining project design, and moving towards implementation. Members of the public can learn more about the project and submit comments on the City’s Greenways Feasibility Study page.
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