Save money, protect the earth, and risk your life

Neel Garlapati started biking to work from his Alhambra home in 2010. He wrote about the experience, saying that the city wasn't as bike friendly as he'd wanted it to be. Two years later five San Gabriel Valley cities teamed up with non-profit organizationsDay One and Bike SGVto collaborate on a Bicycle Master Plan for the San Gabriel Valley in 2013. The next year, the five cities unanimously adopted the final master plan document. Alhambra was not among the five participating cities. Instead, the city consulted with Alta Planning + Design to release a draft of its own bike plan in 2013. The plan was criticized for not adding enough dedicated bike lanes, leaving major streets out of the routes. In March 2013, staff postponed a presentation of a revised draft to Alhambra City Council. There are currently no updates regarding the bike plan, according to Director of Administrative Services Chris Paulson. Garlapati now works at Claremont McKenna College as Director of Foundation and Corporate Relations. Does he bike to his new job? "The College is a good 27 miles from Alhambra, so biking is not really an option," Garlapati said. He added that he sees "more people biking in the neighborhood" and that he feels "drivers have become a little bit more aware" of cyclists "but there are still some streets that are very risky."

8.27.2010

In the spring of 2006 my partner's lemon of a Nissan Altima was on its last legs, requiring repairs more expensive than the car was worth. We were (and are) cheap, young, and foolish — and so we donated the car to our favorite radio station, took the tax write-off, and hoped for the best. We made do with one car for four years. With some coordination, patience and luck, we found that reliable, quick transportation options do exist in our corner of Los Angeles County. Not as quick as hopping in your car and turning on the ignition, but doable. The secret, I found after several years, is that a bicycle is almost the great equalizer of public transportation in the sprawling suburbs east of Los Angeles. The key word is almost — getting to work is no jaunt through the park, and there are some risks involved.

Alhambra should be a great cycling city. We have a number of transit hubs available to us just out of walking range, but well within comfortable riding range, making a bike commute downtown or further into South LA, Koreatown, or even the Valley entirely feasible. Last winter the MTA announced a new express bus line – the Silver Line – which connects the San Gabriel Valley to the South Bay. The line runs from El Monte to the Artesia Transit Center and can get me from Cal State LA to my office in Exposition Park in about 28 minutes. With a bike, for me what was once a 15-minute walk from bus stop to home becomes a three-minute bike ride. Combined with my 15-minute bike ride, the total commute is 43 minutes when I time the connections right. Compared to 35 to 40 minutes grinding through traffic on the 10 Freeway, it’s a very attractive option.

But here’s the catch. The first time you try to ride your bike down Atlantic Boulevard at 5:30 PM, you will realize that Alhambra is not, in fact, a great cycling city. Most roads are highly congested and only wide enough for the cars that are on them, and residential streets, when available, can be just as dangerous with riders forced to weave in and out of parked cars. There is not a single bicycle lane in Alhambra, and while I am not a big proponent of bike lanes (I think that they often exacerbate the problems, because drivers don't learn how to drive alongside bicycles, and cyclists don't learn how to ride defensively alongside cars) it does speak to the low priority the city has placed on providing an infrastructure for cyclists.

My commute, while enjoyable, is particularly treacherous. I start out with an easy ride through residential streets, then merge onto Ramona Road running right alongside the 10-East. Ramona is a narrow street that gets busy with angry commuters trying to beat freeway traffic. The last thing they want is a bicycle slowing them down— which is exactly what I do. I get honked at frequently, and sometimes it seems that drivers try to pass as closely as possible just to intimidate me. I might occasionally react with my own choice gestures, but again I don't blame the individual drivers. Ultimately we, as a community, have to figure out a way that bicycles can be used as a reliable, safe means of transportation, so that residents and people who drive through Alhambra understand how to coexist. Until then, it is going to be rough going in what should be a supremely bike-friendly city.

My in-laws can't understand why we are so cheap, and my partner worries when I leave the house groggy on a cloudy morning. I love riding my bike, but I wonder about my longevity whenever an SUV whizzes inches past. I have spent the last few months trying to figure out ways to make my two-wheeled commute work, but until this commuter city changes the way it considers its bike commuters Bicycling will be a last resort instead of a first option. Call it defeat if you want to, but this month we finally buckled under the pressure – the horn honking and the treacherous blind left turns – and bought a Honda Civic. 

13 thoughts on “Save money, protect the earth, and risk your life”

  1. No bike paths, no dog parks, but yes to more high density development that brings in more and more traffic…Alhambra keeps going back into the 18th century while other cities think of the present and of the future. I SAY THROW THE BUMS OUT! (The city council and their puppets), and vote in more progressive, forward thinking elected and appointed officials.

    1. Totally untrue Richard and if you have a beef with this place you can always move.

      1. Greg, Alhambra is not current with city planning standards that address green space, alternative modes of transportation and proper use of high density. Our parks are over crowded, there is no safe way to ride a bike in Alhambra and the high density developments are taxing our infrastructure and reducing our quality of life. An enlightened city government should address the issues and increase the quality of life for all of us and not increase the profit of a small circle of well connected developers at the expense of Alhambrans. I agree with Richard that we do need a change of our council with more progressive and intelligent representatives.

      2. Richard, what constitutes “proper” density when there is nothing “proper” about our population growth and our extreme unaffordable housing. You tout lack of standards when in fact our communities are constantly changing – it’s the lack of adjusting our standards that is the failure here. You think our crowded parks are the problem? Have you been there? Half the people who crowd Almansor don’t even live in this city. Let’s start charging them to enter, shall we?

  2. What a waste of time and money to satisfy the .001% of people who ride bikes.

    If we were a resort community near the ocean then I could understand worrying about a bike plan, but this is a waste of resources.

    Most people in California love their cars and they will never use anything else to get around including trains, buses etc.

    Riding a bike to work is impossible for 99.999999% of people because we live in a very low density arrangement. The freeway system allowed people and businesses, for better or worse, to spread out over Southern California.

  3. A motorist and a pedestrain

    My personal experience is that a lot of bicyclists risk the lives of motorists and pedestrians by riding on the sidewalk and on the road as if they were the kings of the road and above the law.

  4. “No updates regarding the bike plan, according to Director of Administrative Services Chris Paulson” – UNACCEPTABLE RESPONSE!

    Alhambra needs a strong bike plan as part of the General Plan!

    The rest of our neighboring cities are implementing strong bike plans that will encourage more commuting by bicycles. Where is Alhambra in this picture? Why is our leadership resisting this key component in moving forward with the rest of the SGV? Lack of vision?

    Alhambra must revisit the bicycle master plan and redesign it with viable bike routes. Come on Alhambra City Council and get with the program!

  5. Great article. I may be adopting a bike commute; taking the Metro Gold Line in Pasadena.

    Your solution for driver awareness may have just been partially answered with the L.A. mayor & La Bike Coalition unveiling of the city’s new safety campaign.

    http://mayor.lacity.org/PressRoom/PressReleases/LACITYP_011363

    1. I like that, Give me 3!

  6. I’m inspired by your bicycle journeys to work (albeit suicidal) and want to take a crack at it as an alternative to my East L.A. to Glendale commute to work. [Motioning the sign of the cross]

    1. I highly recommend the bike-to-bus commute. Taking your bike on the bus is actually easier than on the train, and the two bike racks are usually empty. Just remember to grab your bike when you get off before the bus takes off! Good luck!

  7. Nooooo… Great article but I’m very dissapointed in your car purchase. My wife and I have been doing the one car thing for about 5 years (with two kids) and I haven’t felt better. A fifteen minute walk beats the hell out of a 8 minute drive. I do agree that LA has long way to go to be a “bike city” but we’re getting there.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I was also disappointed to finally make the decision to purchase another car. We went more than four years as a one-car family. Ultimately it was a safety decision. The bus stop is too far for me to walk on a daily basis, and I would have loved to continue riding my bike, but the roads I was taking are just not safe for bicycles – this coming from someone who is very comfortable on a bike and has been riding since I was a small child. In my opinion, the solution is not necessarily more bike lanes or bike paths, but for drivers to start having greater awareness and respect for the other people they share the road with.

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