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The goal: A foot-friendly city

Group compiles ideas on making Pasadena safer for pedestrians.

August 10, 2008|Rong-Gong Lin II | Times Staff Writer

A band of walkers gathered Saturday at Pasadena Presbyterian Church with a mission: Give pedestrians in this city their rightful place on the sidewalk. Reduce auto vs. pedestrian conflicts. Add some more shade trees.

"Make it enjoyable to walk," said Nancy Nelson, a Pasadena resident.

Nelson was one of about 40 people who came to hear the conclusions from the city's first "walkabout," which was held on a foggy morning in March. At that event, about 125 people fanned out over 25 walking routes to understand why walkers often say Pasadena's streets feel so hostile.

"Loud, scary and fast," one participant wrote of Walnut Street.

Some sidewalks were so narrow that pedestrians felt threatened by the rush of cars speeding on Lake Avenue toward the 210 Freeway onramp.

One volunteer recalled a motorist nearly running him over at a crosswalk.

Some suggested adding trees to provide additional shade from the hot sun. Others wanted more lamps to illuminate the sidewalks instead of just the road. Some asked for more signs giving directions to parks, Old Pasadena, the playhouse district.

Many complained about a lack of signs advising walkers how to get to the Gold Line light rail stations.

Other ideas targeted auto traffic.

Widen some sidewalks at the expense of roadway, some suggested. Others wanted police to crack down on speeding motorists.

"I think it really is important to just slow down the drivers," said Deborah Murphy, an urban designer hired to organize the walkabout by the Playhouse District Assn., a Pasadena business improvement district.

Pasadena already has plans to add more trees and historical-style street lamps in the playhouse district, said city engineer Daniel Rix. Other ideas, such as more directional signs, are good points that the city should consider implementing, he said.

But some suggestions, such as widening sidewalks and narrowing streets, would be more difficult to accomplish in a short period, Rix said.

The walkabout recommendations will continue to be discussed by business and city leaders.

Pasadena is not alone in trying to improve the plight of the pedestrian.

Los Angeles officials are trying to reverse a policy in Hollywood that calls for wider streets when a large development is built. The policy also translates into narrower sidewalks. In Glassell Park, residents say they want more bike lanes and wider sidewalks, which are sometimes obstructed by utility poles or boxes.

"We have some places on Eagle Rock Boulevard . . . where the sidewalk becomes about 12 to 15 inches wide," said Helene Schpak, a resident who helped organize a walkabout there last year. "It doesn't make for a comfortable walk."

Before World War II, cities were developed with pedestrian needs in mind. But the growth of suburbs made cars king.

"Then you have the whole transportation system oriented to moving cars as fast as possible," said James Sallis, a psychology professor at San Diego State.

Motorists are allowed to drive at speeds that make walking or bicycling "unpleasant and unsafe," Sallis said. "Some roads have no sidewalks. You don't want to take your kids there."

Studies by Sallis and others have shown that people who live in walkable neighborhoods are less likely to be overweight or obese than those in areas built for auto traffic.

Some cities have taken aggressive steps to improve the experience for walkers and bicyclists.

Portland, Ore., has tried to slow cars on some streets by adding speed bumps and traffic circles. Slower auto traffic makes those routes more attractive for bicyclists and pedestrians, said Lynn Weigand, director of the Initiative for Bicycle and Pedestrian Innovation at Portland State University.

In King County, which includes Seattle and its suburbs, officials sped up the permit process for developers who planned to build walkable neighborhoods. Such features included more sidewalks, narrower streets and nearby shopping.

Some Pasadena attendees still dream big. Many in the audience applauded loudly at an idea percolating through business groups and city officials to build a streetcar that would link Old Pasadena to the South Lake Avenue shopping area.

A streetcar system might help relieve parking shortages, said Michael de Leon, general manager of the Paseo Colorado shopping center.

"We need to figure out something that's more sustainable," he said.

--

ron.lin@latimes.com

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