Notes on Biking in Pasadena

Here’s what I sent to Ryan Snyder, regarding my routes and destinations.  Send him your routes too!  (update 2009-02-26: my emails to this address have been bouncing, others have not had problems, but another address for Ryan Snyder is: ryansnyder [at] ca (dot) rr (dot) com.)

As several other people also pointed out, a big problem with Pasadena’s bikeways currently is that they pay very little heed to which roads are actually pleasant and safe to ride on.  Here are some notes on the routes I use, and avoid.  I’m an experienced cyclist, and have always used a bike as my exclusive mode of transportation (didn’t get a driver’s license until I was 25…).  I live at 200 S. Parkwood Ave. (near the intersection of Del Mar and Allen).

Primary Destinations:

  • JPL
  • Caltech
  • Trader Joe’s, at Del Mar and Lake
  • Lake Produce, on Lake, just north of Orange Grove
  • South Pasadena, near the Gold Line stop
  • Farmers Markets, one at Pasadena High School on Sierra Madre, one on Villa, next to the community center.
  • The REI in Arcadia
  • Asian grocery stores in San Gabriel/Alhambra
  • Old Pasadena
  • Trader Joes at Hastings Rance
  • Santa Anita Canyon, in Sierra Madre, for hiking/biking
  • Echo Mountain trailhead, at the north end of Lake Ave.

Bad Roads:

  • Del Mar is awful – heavy east-west arterial, lots of fast traffic, heavy traffic, and parking.
  • California Blvd is basically the same deal as Del Mar.
  • Orange Grove is the same deal, but less heavily parked.  This is a mixed blessing as cars often then expect you to weave in and out of the road, and get out of their way whenever there’s a space between parked cars, but often there won’t be any parked cars for a whole block, which is nice.
  • No good easterly route south of the 210 Freeway.  Unlike Union, Green is busy and fast, because of timed lights, and has poorly maintained road surface.  Del Mar, California are both busy and heavily parked.  Going to and coming from the Arroyo, and JPL, I still generally end up using Del Mar though, and hating it.
  • the 210 frontage roads: Maple and Corson have primarily traffic that is getting on, or off, of the freeway, and it seems to largely already, or still, be in freeway driving mode: fast and impatient for any impediment.  In some places the bike lanes on these roads actually direct cyclists up onto the sidewalk, instead of to the left of right-turn-only lanes.  Another big problem with these roads is all the parking along them, the door zones from which render the bike lane itself a lousy place to ride.  I usually end up riding right on the left-edge strip of the lane.  Also, the parking exemptions for Sunday, next to all the churches on Maple, are super annoying.
  • Lincoln Ave. in NW Pasadena is awful.  Heavy, fast traffic, lots of parking, industrial traffic (trucks) bad road surface.
  • Hill Ave. is busy and fast, until you get pretty far north on it, as is Allen.  Lousy bike routes.
  • Once you get all the way east on San Pasqual, to Rosemead, crossing that road is a nightmare, but necessary in order to get to REI in Arcadia.  Usually I’ll continue east to Michillinda, and then take Colorado Blvd, which is there a freeway frontage road.  Fast, but decent shoulder and road surface.  Lately, I’ve just done all my trips to REI on the way to or from Sierra Madre though, and used Sierra Madre blvd.
  • Only place I’ve come really close to getting killed was Lake Ave., coming downhill very fast, using an entire lane.  Semi truck turned left in front of me, I guess not realizing that I was going 30 mph, and I went under it.

Good Roads:

  • Villa St, just north of the 210, is a generally quiet, narrow street, with lots of stop signs, so cars don’t like it, and a safe routes to school bike lane along part of it.  Main downside is that it’s heavily parked – riding safely here just about always means taking the whole lane.  I always use Villa for East-West travel north of the freeway.  Would IMHO make a great Bike Boulevard.
  • San Pasqual is almost perfect, as far as it goes, though people do sometimes speed pretty egregiously, and there are lots of roll-through stop signs.  My partner Michelle was hit by a car at Allen and San Pasqual.  Runs all the way from Michillinda in the East to Holliston, and Caltech, at the west.  This is my main commuting route.  I think it would be a great Bike Boulevard, or at the very least, could benefit from serious traffic calming, especially given how underutilized the parking is.  Some people treat it as if it’s Del Mar, and not a quiet little residential street.  Even just a couple of interruptions for cars along its length would probably keep people from using it as an automotive through route.
  • For continuing west, beyond Caltech, if I’m going to Old Pas, or City Hall, I use the one way street Union, which I don’t feel bad about taking a whole lane on, since cars have two others with which to pass me.  The road surface is great.  As you near old pas, it gets narrow, and heavily parked, but traffic is slow there anyway, so I just take a whole lane.
  • Wilson Ave. is the main street that I use going North-South to cross the 210 freeway.  Like Villa, it’s narrow and heavily parked, making taking the entire lane necessary, but traffic goes slower, and it’s clear that they need to change lanes to pass.
  • The one way streetsdd flanking Lake are relatively narrow, and slow.  Taking full lane is required, but practical.
  • Marengo is a decent north-south corridor in west pasadena.  El Molino and Raymond are also good.  All three are better than Los Robles, which is the designated route.
  • Sierra Madre (which I take to the Farmer’s Market and to the town of Sierra Madre) is very nice, though traffic can get fast.
  • Linda Vista, which parallels the arroyo, on the west side, is great, like San Pasqual, could benefit from some traffic calming.
  • The part of Orange Grove that goes North-South, over by the Arroyo can be okay.  It gets too fast and busy as you near the freeways though, but that’s one of the few places you can cross the Arroyo without heading down into it (on the Holly St. Bridge)  Having a climbing lane on Holly St, or sharrows, or big huge gigantic “BIKES HAVE FULL USE OF LANE” while climbing up to Orange Grove would be really, really nice.  There’s frequently debris there from the trees, cars that are in freeway mode, bad visibility, etc.  Have feared for my life here multiple times on the way home from JPL.
  • Orange Grove/Rosemead, to the east of Sierra Madre is decent.  I use this coming back from Santa Anita canyon often, after stopping by Trader Joes in Hasting Ranch.
  • Getting down to SouthPas, I take a very winding route, on Lombardy, Arden, El Molino, Alpine, Glenarm, Los Robles, or El Molino all the way to Mission, and then west.
  • Getting down to San Gabriel/Alhambra, I take Sierra Madre South, have a hard time crossing Huntington, and then continue on San Marino, to the north-south Del Mar, until I get all the way down to Valley.

Major Bike Barriers:

There are a few big walls to bikes in Pasadena, and it took me years of riding before I really went beyond them, largely because I didn’t know where to cross:

  • The 210 Freeway, obviously.  Only a few streets cross it, and half of them, at least, are very busy and intimidating.  This goes for both the East-west portion, and the North-South portion in NW Pasadena.
  • Rosemead in East Pasadena, south of the 210 freeway, because San Pasqual, which is nice to ride on, has no light at the intersection.
  • The Arroyo Seco, only a few places to cross without actually going down into the arroyo, and both the Holly St. Bridge and the historic  Colorado Blvd bridge are almost completely obscured by and entangled with the 210/134 freeway interchange.  Further north, there’s Woodbury, but its way far north, and busy.
  • San Marino, the city, which is a warren of curvy cul-de-sacs.  Took forever to figure out which roads actually go through!  And when I did, Huntington Drive was staring me in the face, also difficult to cross if you’re not on a big arterial.
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2 Responses to Notes on Biking in Pasadena

  1. ben says:

    Zane,

    First of all, let me say. Wow! You went under a semi! I've heard of this happening before, but wow that's insane.

    Your analysis is quite thorough and accurate therefore I'll only add a few additional bits of info.

    Overall, I would say that Pasadena has one street that I'm aware of with an actual useful bike lane and that's Sierra Madre. It goes for quite a distance without disappearing suddenly and doesn't have cars parked in it. What a concept. The other nice streets to bike on (like San Pasqual) are nice for reasons that appear to have nothing to do with a bike master plan.

    I ride Del Mar West from Oak knoll (where I live) and East to Oak Knoll from Caltech and from Rosemead, Green and Walnut for my East to West routes. Green is a rough ride, but I can, and do, take a full lane without too many complaints. So it's worth it. One lane roads have the obvious advantage of not having people turn left in front of you.

    For North and South, I would add that El Molino is the best route West of Lake to cross the highway and Wilson and Craig are the best East of the highway. El Molino is also my preferred route down the hill when I find myself at the top of Lake, which is quite often in the summer months. Unfortunately, it is blocked at Washington to prevent through auto traffic. Wouldn't have been nice if they made a South bound lane wide enough for a bike? How much might it cost to make this change? This would save cyclists from jogging over to Los Robles and back.

    I don't like riding down Lake for fear that my skills of dodging cars turning in front of me at 40mph aren't as good as yours.

    Holliston is another route down the hill that I would recommend.

    You recommended Linda Vista, a street that I also ride regularly. I have to disagree with you here though. I don't find it very friendly to cyclists at all due to the fast-moving traffic in a single lane and typically lots of parked cars. Also I haven't noticed much love or patience from the motorists there.

    Also, because I spend too much of my life riding in circles around the Rose bowl, I would add that the biggest problem I have at the there is from people (golfers) parking on the street near the club house. Mostly this is people pulling in and out of street parking in this area without looking and making u-turns in the middle of the street by slamming on their brakes and turning without signaling or looking in front or behind them. Eliminating the street parking on both sides of the street in this area would be extremely helpful. The walk from the nearby lot isn't that much farther.

    I'll write something a bit more coherent up and send it to Ryan.

    Thanks for going to the meeting and keeping us posted!

  2. Zane Selvans says:

    I agree, Linda Vista is a bit of a mixed bag. There’s one thing that I hate about it, and that’s heading north, where the road forks, and the right lane heads down into the Arroyo. To continue straight (up to JPL) I have to get into the left lane to avoid someone in the right lane rear ending me or cutting me off. This really pisses a lot of drivers off, and I’ve been honked at or passed dangerously close there several times. There really needs to be a better option there somehow.

    Also, I don’t really ride down Lake any more either. Pissing myself in public once was enough.

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