Group hits streets to make Pasadena nicer for walkers

Times Staff Writer

The roar of cars and trucks drowned out conversation Saturday morning as a group walked toward the 210 Freeway ramp on North Lake Avenue in Pasadena.

The sidewalk narrowed and the street widened.

Along the way, tree roots had heaved the sidewalk upward.

It was hardly a welcoming route to the Gold Line light rail station, built in the median of the 210, said Marsha Rood, a Pasadena resident.

“What you have is a transit station where it’s more important for cars to enter the 210 instead of pedestrians entering the Gold Line,” Rood said. “It’s so noisy.”


Rood was among about 125 people who met in the drizzly morning hours to participate in a “walkabout,” trying to figure out ways to improve conditions for those on foot in Pasadena.

They fanned out in groups of about five each to cover 25 walking routes that spanned neighborhoods from Old Town Pasadena to South Lake Avenue.

Their main goal was to identify which blocks were unfriendly to pedestrians.

The problem is that too many cities have been built to accommodate the automobile, said Deborah Murphy, an urban designer hired to organize the event by the Playhouse District Assn., a local business improvement district.

As a result, she said, far less attention has been paid to creating a pleasurable walking experience.

The problem manifests itself in Los Angeles and Irvine, as well as Houston and many Florida cities, Murphy said.

She referred to a 1999 editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. that said about 25% of all trips are less than 1 mile, yet 75% of them are made by car.


After she finished walking some of Pasadena’s main streets, Alhambra resident Carol Barrett said, “North Lake Avenue is a street that says: ‘This is for cars.’ ”

But something as simple as colorful geraniums in front of a gas station enhanced the walking experience, others found.

“Certainly if Union 76 can do it, anyone can do it,” Pasadena resident Jim Harnagel said.

The event was inspired by similar “walkabouts” in Hollywood and Glassell Park.

Participants in Hollywood found the narrow sidewalks and wide roads to be a problem.

They urged city officials to rescind plans that could cede more sidewalk space for automobile traffic if new development occurred, Murphy said.

The Pasadena walkers noted some of the same problems.

Participants acknowledged that the most costly kinds of changes, such as widening sidewalks, probably wouldn’t be coming soon.

But the walkers cataloged street problems block by block, such as trash cans covered in graffiti and broken street lights.

“Now we have a list to hound [the city] about,” Pasadena resident Steve Mulheim said.

Paul Jacoy, president of the Playhouse District Assn., said the group plans to fund the purchase of more benches and replace aging ficus and carrotwood trees that are cracking the sidewalks, in favor of younger gingko and palm trees. The association receives fees from the area’s businesses.


If people are comfortable walking, Jacoy added, then they may be less likely to move their car from spot to spot while shopping or doing errands -- something that could ease the city’s parking shortage.

“We want people to park once,” Jacoy said. “If walking is more convenient, safe and pleasant, they will do it.”