City Council considers Union Street bike path

City Council considers Union Street bike path

Chamber, transportation department at odds over two-way bike track planned for Union Street
Still in conceptual phase, the yet-unfunded backbone of a massive cycle infrastructure overhaul faces resistance in business community

On Monday night the City Council will consider a plan to install bike lanes on Union Street.

On Monday night the City Council will consider a plan to install bike lanes on Union Street.

PASADENA – While not entirely new to Southern California (see Redondo Beach), a two-way bike path seems visionary in most Southland cities, where cyclist culture continues a slow creep toward becoming part of the mainstream infrastructure.

Pasadena’s plan to replace one automotive lane with a two-way cycle track on Union Street is still largely conceptual; having yet to enter the environmental and design phases that will solidify its look, feel and function.

And while Metro has awarded the city a $2.7-million grant (matched by $684,613 in local funding) for Phase I – a lane reduction and one-way bike path planned for Cordova St. – Pasadena’s transportation department has not yet secured funding for Phase II, the Union St. two-way track.

Meanwhile, in advance of the City Council’s meeting Monday the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to the City requesting that two-way track be switched from the South to the North side of the street.

Chamber member are concerned that the original plan would affect Union Street business owners in a negative way.

“We’re not objecting to the whole idea of two-way track,” said Chamber President Paul Little. “We’re a little bit skeptical about how it’s going to work because we’ve never seen that in Pasadena.”

Little said he views Union, which is under utilized, as a good choice for a cycle track.

“The challenge for Union, and what we’re hearing from many members, is that there are so many points of ingress and egress for businesses on the south side and there’s a concern it will impact business,” he said.

“No one’s objecting to making things safer for bicyclists but we also want to ensure it’s safest possible and as little negative impact as possible for folks who rely on Union St. to get in and out safely.”

Rich Dilluvio, Pedestrian and Bicycle coordinator for the City’s department of transportation, disagreed, citing signal and intersection conflict, parking loss and restrictions on red-light right turns as complications arising from a North side path.

“(The Chamber) brought it up before. I did my best to justify why I think it should be on the South side. The Municipal Services Committee was in favor of (the South side) proposal,” he said.

Ultimately, he added, “it’s up to Council if they want us to move it.”

North vs. South

Among the issues, Dilluvio explained, is that Union Street, currently a one-way, will become a two-way street with the addition of a protected bike lane that has its own signals. Putting a track on the North side on Union would mean pitting oncoming traffic against drivers’ righthand side – and complicating infrastructure built around the American standard of oncoming traffic on the left.

“On the South side, you have a left turn pocket, that’s now protected, we give them an arrow (signal)… So there is no conflict between bikes and turning vehicles,” he said.

Moving the path to the North side would also mean motorists would have to turn right around the bike lane, eliminating “free” right turns on red lights, and cyclists going southbound toward Colorado from Union would be merged into regular traffic – essentially undermining the purpose of a protected bike lane.

“They’ll have all that traffic behind them … they do not have that problem on Southside,” Dilluvio said.

Little cited safety concerns with the Southside: “(A business could) be liable if one of their customers pulls out and looks right for traffic and doesn’t think to look left and hits someone.

“There are fewer visibility issues, fewer driveways, a much smaller number of businesses that would be impacted (on the North side). That’s the recommendation,” Little said.

“A protected path through the heart of the city”

In July 2013, the City’s Municipal Services Committee considered input from cycling advocates and urged a “bolder” approach for an overarching cycle transportation plan.

“You could call it the backbone of our network,” Dilluvio said of the only two-way track in the integrated plan. “We were given direction by the Municipal Services Committee to put a protected east-west bike route through heart of the city.”

Initial rumblings from outreach meetings with the business community sank Green Street as a contender for the two-way path.

“We objected because we thought Green Street is too narrow, too congested if you take out a driving lane,” Little said.

Transporation had initially looked at Walnut, Union, Colorado and Green Streets. Dilluvio noted concerns from the business community, but said the decision ultimately came down to the fact that Metro had already awarded a grant to put bike lanes on Cordova.

“The likelihood they’d give us money to do a similar bike project one block north is slim to none. Union puts you above Colorado and addresses a different way to get there… And it’s a different project in the fact that it’s a protected path.

“It was less impact and more bang for the buck – and a better chance to get a buck if we put it on Union.”

Overall, Dilluvio said the two-way track has been mostly met with enthusiasm and support.

“Union Street is very underutilized, even at two through lanes of traffic, it’s still well under capacity, even with today’s numbers at peak…Once (people) see the numbers … most folks don’t seem to have a problem with it,” he said.

“There are some individuals and business owners that have concerns and those are justified… we’re trying to address them as best we can. We feel we’ll be able to deal with their concerns once we’re into the design phase and working on specific intersections,” Dilluvio said.

Brian Wallace, executive director of the Playhouse District, through which the proposed pathway largely runs, reserved judgment until those specifics come into focus.

“The Playhouse District has not taken a formal position. We’re waiting for the design process to resolve any concerns and see if the project will actually address those and can be an asset for the district,” Wallace said.

If the City Council authorizes a Memorandum of Understanding to source funding Monday, environmental clearance is scheduled for April 2017, with design engineering beginning in April 2018, and construction from June 2021 to February 2022.

“We’ll continue our outreach efforts,” Dilluvio said. “Everything so far is conceptuals… It will be nice to actually have a design or first draft we can take it out to the public, have workshops, get comments and feedback.”

— By Beige Luciano-Adams, correspondent