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Riding Bikes with the Mayor of Glendale

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More than 70 people came out to ride through Glendale with Mayor Zareh Sinanyan last Saturday for the 4th Annual Mayor's Ride. Coordinated by Walk Bike Glendale, the ride snaked along some of Glendale's busiest streets, cut through its picturesque neighborhoods, and made its way down to the Glendale Narrows Riverwalk, a one-mile section of the bike path adjacent to the L.A. River.

Glendale may not be a part of Los Angeles City proper, but it is actually the third largest city in the county, and while its politics, police force, and planning are separate, Glendale is poised between the San Fernando Valley to the west and Northeast L.A. to the east. In addition to a resident population approaching 200,000, Glendale is a vital business and commerce hub. Home to Dreamworks, the Americana, and an array of corporate and independent operations, Glendale is where thousands more work and shop -- the city's prominence was apparent in the makeup of that morning's cyclists, with attendees coming from Simi Valley, Granada Hills, and other not-so-neighboring communities.

Riding with Mayor Zareh Sinanyan was only one highlight of the ride, which also led to an open space at the end of the trail, the Glendale Narrows Spillway, where Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR) had stationed the L.A. River Rover, their mobile education station, for the group. Along with the Rover, park artist Robert Rossoff was also on hand to greet everyone and explain the meaning behind the details: egrets taking flight along the concrete abutments, a collage of artifacts composing an organic interpretation of the Verdugo Mountains that stand tall past Glendale city limits to the North, native plants, and a commemoration of the Tongva, who called this land home before there was a Los Angeles, etched into the benches. "Mu' Chemqal," reads one, a Cahuilla phrase meaning "We are still here."

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"We are starting to partner with more organizations," explained Walk Bike Glendale co-founder Erik Yesayan, who led the ride to the spillway. Yesayan hopes to partner with more local organizations, like FoLAR and the Glendale Historical Society, to give people more access to bicycling and more opportunities to get to know the city and its history.

"It's really about working with the community here, and talking to residents about what kind of streets they want in their neighborhoods, instead of just having a top down approach," Yesayan said.

While the Glendale Narrows Riverwalk and the open space along it offer an idyllic recreational respite, the streets of Glendale themselves are still wanting for adequate infrastructure to support cycling as a desirable means of transportation through the city's neighborhoods and commercial areas. With no rail and a sparse bus system, the Glendale Bee Line, to offer an alternative to driving in and out of the dense business core of Downtown Glendale, bicycle amenities have the potential to make the city much more accessible and livable.

It was on Glen Oaks Boulevard when I finally caught up with Mayor Sinanyan, where we shared our stories of both taking our driving tests on this stretch of road, and the intensity of traffic we experienced there as greenhorn drivers. Years later, here we were experiencing the busy road in a new way, taking in the gentle sloping street at a slower pace, and in a bike lane. Installed in 2009, the bike lane on Glen Oaks was installed as part of the city's own Bicycle Transportation Plan, a comprehensive document that is separate from the Los Angeles Bicycle Master Plan.

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Updated in 2012, the plan prioritizes bike infrastructure on Brand, Canada, and Verdugo streets, along with the Glendale Narrows and a plan to establish a nine-mile trail along the Verdugo Wash that would connect the Crescenta Valley to Glendale. The connection would provide an opportunity for people to pedal from their doorstep to the outdoors, and could also provide an outdoor learning environment for students at Glendale Community College, adjacent to the wash.

"The Verdugo wash is a big, very long term project," Yesayan said. "We're working with the various homeowners groups throughout the city that are along that wash to get support. Right now we're trying to get funding to do a feasibility study, and then we'll have a better idea of the costs, where we can actually implement this and where it is possible to have access points."

Sinanyan admits that accomplishing robust bike infrastructure in Glendale could be an uphill battle because of the community's conservative values, which have to come to include driving as a way of life. He says one the biggest fears he hears from people who live and work in Glendale is that a road diet or bike lane might make traffic worse. He is familiar with studies that show traffic calming on streets where road diets have been implemented, but believes that the only way to garner widespread community support is through a holistic approach to street improvements.

Existing and proposed bikeways from the 2012 Glendale Bicycle Transportation Plan
Existing and proposed bikeways from the 2012 Glendale Bicycle Transportation Plan

"They have to be well thought-out," Sinanyan said, "There has to be a comprehensive solution to transportation issues; pedestrian issues and biking issues. If we try to solve one at a time, I don't think we're going to have a very good result."

Before we reached Central, an ominous noise interrupted our conversation: The mayor had a flat. Alerting the front of the ride, we reached the corner and Yesayan pulled the ride over to wait safely out of the street while the tube was changed. The culprit? A thorn.

The group of cyclists applauded when the mayor's tire was fixed and ready to roll again, a sort of symbolic victory that everyone shared for overcoming a common obstacle. While the event made for a teachable moment as Walk Bike Glendale's volunteers gave a live tutorial on the basics of flat fixing, it also became an exemplary moment -- telling of both the vulnerability and empowerment bicyclists encounter.

The final leg of the ride took us down Central where a part of $10 million street improvement, which included widening the street, made room for a new bike lane. Installed in 2013, the new lanes provide key access by bike to the many businesses along one of the city's main streets.

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According to Glendale's Director of Public Works, Roubik Golanian, Sonora Boulevard is designated for the city's next bike lane. The route will enhance connectivity to the L.A. River and facilitate bicycle commuting for employees at Dreamworks Studios and other offices in Northwest Glendale.

"Sonora Avenue is one of the City's most used street by bicyclists and is immediately adjacent to the Glendale Narrows River "Entry Park" at Garden and Paula," Golanian said. A plan to install two bridges from the Glendale Narrows to the bike path of the western bank of the river will further strengthen connectivity between Glendale and neighboring communities. A joint project between Glendale and Los Angeles City, the bridges are still in early design phases, and will petition for construction funding following a final community outreach workshop to be held on December 11. "The bridge identified at the workshop will be used as a design direction," Golanian said.

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Between the river projects and street improvements, bicyclists in Glendale have a lot to look forward to.

"The idea of biking is new, and having rides like this can help expose people to seeing the city in different ways," Yesayan said. "Traffic and the way people drive here is an issue. I think safety is something that everybody's very concerned with. We're not just a biking organization, we're walking and biking, so we're trying to make the streets safer for everyone. What we're pushing the city to do is look at it more holistically, that it's not just about enforcement, or education, but how do we design our streets to make them safer and calmer, so people don't feel like they need to go as fast."

Photos: Krista Carlson

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