Home to a fifth of Los Angeles County's entire population, the San Gabriel Valley region encompasses 31 cities and five unincorporated areas. Although the region itself, nor any of the cities within it, aren't commonly considered biking communities, people definitely do bike here.
"I ride to school every day," said Mountain View High School student Daniel Martinez. "It's good transportation for me and gets my blood pumping."
Martinez, 16, is a youth advocate with Day One, a nonprofit community organization with a mission to improve community health throughout the San Gabriel Valley. He and his fellow youth advocates from the high school have been developing a Complete Streets policy to complement the Day One Bike Plan, a pioneering planning document that lays out a network of bike lanes and paths connecting cities throughout the region.
"We tried to find out what were important community issues to the students," said David Diaz, who is a Nutrition Education Coordinator for Day One and mentors the youth advocates. "One thing that they most identified with was a lack of safe streets, and the environment -- whether it be as a pedestrian walking home, or at a park, whether it be a concern of crime or safety. We tried to identify a strategy to make our streets safer; what they identified was a complete streets policy to complement the master plan."
Day One has been working with Bike SGV to develop a comprehensive bike plan for the region. The plan has been in development since 2012, has undergone public comment, and is now being submitted to the city councils in the region for endorsement. While the bicycle plan addresses San Gabriel Valley as a whole, specific area plans address the needs of five cities in particular: San Gabriel, Baldwin Park, El Monte, South El Monte and Monterey Park.
Each of these five cities has its own detailed bike network proposed; the idea is that while laying down the paths required for travel within each city area, the plans will complement one another to form a regional network that is interconnected throughout the San Gabriel Valley, promoting movement, and eliminating barriers between cities in the region. Few cities in the region, including Pasadena and Temple City, have pre-existing bike plans, but apart from the recreational bicycle paths existing along the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo rivers, and Puente Creek, bike lanes and even streets considered bicycle-friendly are sparse throughout the region, and there is nothing that is close to resembling a connected network.
"The cities that we're focusing on right now are lower-income, higher-needs communities," said Jackson Lam of Bike SGV. "These are the cities that had an interest, and they also had a need so it was easy for them to jump right on board."
The bike plan and Complete Streets initiatives are projects that have come to fruition in large part due to a $475,000 grant from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health in 2013, under the Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) initiative. The grant is intended to address obesity, air quality, and the development of livable streets. Obesity and diabetes are both major health concerns for the region, where more than two-thirds of its adult and youth population are overweight or obese.
"From a public health perspective, El Monte is suffering from one of the highest child obesity rates in all of L.A. County, ranking 92nd out 119," said Day One Coordinator Amy Wong. "A lot of that is due to the built environment that our children are exposed to."
After more than two years in development, the bicycle plan is finally being adopted by city governments. With unanimous approval from both El Monte and Monterey Park in recent weeks, South El Monte will be the last of the five to adopt the plan.
The youth advocates were out in full force at the El Monte City Council meeting on December 2, where three separate items on the agenda presented opportunities to improve conditions for cycling in the area: The first was support of the Day One Bike Plan, of which the El Monte bike plan is a key component; the second was the Complete Streets policy, calling for programs to promote, educate and facilitate in support of the infrastructure laid out in the bike plan. In addition to these, the council considered a memorandum to approve the development of a youth-focused bike co-op to be established at Fletcher Park. The co-op would be the city's first community bicycle workspace, for youth or otherwise.
"Historically the cities have been built around level of service -- how many cars can we get in and out through the streets?" said Diaz. "With the complete streets policy, it sets a framework of how to plan and design streets that are conducive to all users of the road."
Before the council meeting began, Day One's youth advocates created a mock bus stop in front of City Hall and held a rally to promote complete streets. During the meeting's public comment period they presented a video detailing their findings from surveying members of the community and canvassing the streets. The students found incomplete sidewalks, unmarked crosswalks, and streets lined with garbage to be among some of the major deterrents to walking and biking in El Monte. Of 197 community residents surveyed, 58 percent favored more bike lanes on their streets, and more than half said they bike for exercise, to get to school and work, and to save money.
"The streets are very dangerous, but I manage to maintain my safety going along the rivers, and the streets of El Monte, South El Monte, Arcadia, Monrovia, and Duarte," said Martinez. "I love riding my bike. My real goal is to have complete streets in El Monte, to have cyclists everywhere, less polluted air from cars, and have more people out around the city."
Martinez named Valley Boulevard and Peck Road as two vital routes that desperately need bike lanes. "Those are main streets that everyone tries to get home on. The 605 on-ramp is on Valley and Peck goes through Monrovia, Duarte and many other cities."
Other arterial roads that are high-priority for infrastructure improvements include Garvey Avenue -- where a cyclist was killed in November -- along with Las Tunas and Rosemead Boulevard.
"Rosemead through Temple City has this beautiful cycle track, but as soon as you leave the cycle track north of the city in Arcadia there are parked cars," said Lam. "When you go south into Rosemead it's literally day and night, especially at night, because as soon as you leave the cycle track it goes completely dark under the railroad tracks."
Pomona, Monrovia, and Rosemead are also working with BikeSGV to develop better bike infrastructure within their city limits, and everyone involved is looking forward to the prospect of CicloSGVia -- with a route that spans almost 50 miles, the visionary open streets event would connect 17 San Gabriel Valley communities.
"Looking forward, now that we're in the process of finally passing these plans, we're telling neighboring cities 'Hey, look at all this wonderful stuff happening around you guys. Maybe it's time for you to jump on board too,'" said Lam. "So we're sort of using this as leverage. In that way we're going to fill out the entire San Gabriel Valley, little piece by little piece. Ultimately we're keeping in mind that this is a regional plan and these five cities are just the start."