After All That Fuss. . . .

Last Sunday, on my way home from the Vélo Rétro ride through the San Gabriel Valley, I decided to head west on Colorado Boulevard, rather than follow my usual route through South Pasadena and Highland Park. I wanted to see the new bike lanes that had finally been installed, after so much contention, so many community meetings, such outrageous foaming at the mouth and predictions of Carmageddon by the usual hyperemotional reactionaries.

Remember, this was the campaign that inspired the lurid “no cyclists” posters that Pigeon Master Josef reported on last March.

As I rode along the placid Sunday street, I wondered what all the fuss had been about. There were still two “car lanes” (actually mixed-traffic lanes) in each direction. There is still plenty of capacity for cars. And anyhow, there is an actual eight-lane freeway within a couple of blocks of most of Colorado in this area. If you want speed, it’s there for you!

The reduction from three to two car lanes each way greatly improves the safety of people walking too. Even the most rabid driver has to step out of the car sometimes. Indeed, a few years ago I saw a “pedestrian” killed before my eyes in a bloody accident on Hollywood Boulevard. She had been crossing the street to get back to her car.

Road diets such as this one have been shown to reduce car-on-car crashes as well, so every road user benefits.

There has been, of course, a great increase in safety and comfort for people using bikes, which the experiences of other US cities, bolder and smarter ones than LA, have shown is better for business as well as public health.

The boulevard needs that boost in business. I noticed that there simply aren’t that many shops and restaurants along Colorado between Pasadena and Glendale. I suspect that may be because the wide bleak street and its screaming weekday traffic had long made it such an unpleasant place to be. Who wants to try to offer their wares to apoplectic drivers focussed on cutting off their peers in a mad race straight through the neighborhood? Maybe now that more people will feel comfortable bicycling along the (mostly) buffered bike lanes, it will be worth someone’s time and money to open up the kind of attractive, convivial establishments that create a real neighborhood, one where people want to linger, shop, stroll, and eat. You don’t get that by replicating freeway frenzies on surface streets.

Colorado does have a nexus of neighborly street life, replete with eateries and lively little shops, at the intersection with Eagle Rock Boulevard. The students from nearby Occidental College (alma mater of Barack Obama and Jeannette Sadik-Khan!) populate the little Main-Street-like blocks, strolling and, of course, pedaling around. It’s a happy place.

If you really can’t stand character or good food, there’s always the old-school mall Eagle Rock Plaza, nestled between a vast bleak parking lot and a roaring freeway, where you can immerse yourself in chainstores, junk food, and gas fumes to your heart’s (dis)content. Despite its stridently automotive orientation, it seems to have a hard time filling empty stores, and apparently only the draw of a Filipino fish market keeps it happening….

I guess I’m old-fashioned, but I prefer to pedal up to a lively sidewalk fronted by small local shops where I can find the good meals and distinctive wares that never see the light of day at junk food palaces or corporate roboshops. The road diet will help Colorado Boulevard become just such a place.

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