Biking advocate Crowley dies

By Janette Williams, Staff Writer

Dennis Crowley, President and CEO of California Cycleways in Pasadena, with a Draisne wooden bicycle on exhibit at Pasadena Museum of History. (FILE. Walt Mancini/Staff Photographer)

PASADENA - Dennis Crowley - a bicycling advocate known for his quirky campaign to bring back the 1900 elevated Horace Dobbins Cycleway from Pasadena to Los Angeles - died last weekend. He was 60.

Crowley, who lived alone, died of a suspected heart attack at his Pasadena home, friends said.

He was remembered as a "visionary" by Tim Brick, who appointed Crowley to a city committee that in 1990 provided Pasadena a blueprint for becoming bicycle-friendly.

"Sure enough, he was the sparkplug behind the whole effort," Brick said Tuesday. "He also dealt with improvements around the Rose Bowl - but it wasn't just bicycling for recreation or health purposes; he was also looking at ways to relieve congestion."

Crowley's main goal in life, friends agreed, was to convince transportation officials that it made financial and environmental sense to build the Arroyo Seco Bikeway - a 21st century version of Dobbins' elevated wooden bicycle toll road to downtown L.A.

The first and only section of the Dobbins Cycleway - looking a little like a wooden roller coaster - was hailed as an engineering marvel when it opened in 1900, but it quickly fell victim to the automobile. It was demolished, and the route later became the Pasadena Freeway.

Crowley was aware that resurrecting the bikeway sounded a little eccentric, long-time friend Dennise Marie Keller said, but he never tired of talking about it.

"It was his life, to bring that back," Keller said. "And a couple of times, he came pretty close."

In a 1996 interview with the Star-News, Crowley said when he first started promoting it in the early 1990s "people were telling me I was wacky. But it's gaining in credibility."

And Brick, board chairman of the Metropolitan Water District of Pasadena and managing director of the Arroyo Seco Foundation, said the $12 million or so venture is looking less "wacky" all the time.

"Every few months he would call up and say, `We gotta get this going,"' Brick said. "Dennis had these big dreams and he never did get to see them fulfilled. But (the bikeway) is not totally unrealistic."

Crowley's was something of a compartmentalized life, friends said, with different friends from many different interests beyond bicycling. A prolific letter-writer to the Star-News, he also loved photography, racing his 1960s Saab Sonnet sports car and riding a restored Ducati motorbike, said longtime friend Peter Jacobsen.

"I saw him as a big-picture guy, grasping at a lot of forces working at a global level, and saying this is what Pasadena needs to do more of," said Jacobsen, an engineer who worked out some of the Arroyo Seco Bikeway logistics for Crowley. "But Dennis saw it as fun, too."

Another interest was the Pasadena garage band Crowley played in every Saturday, running the mixer board for the band's covers of Pink Floyd and classic rock numbers, band member Don Henderson said.

He recalls Crowley as something of a hippie when he arrived from his home state of Ohio in the 1970s, and said he was remained a "free-roaming" guy.

"Honestly, we could never pin down what he did for a living. He'd organize things, and get pittances from here and there," Henderson said. "He was interested in everything that was going on - probably the most learned non-educated historian I know."

Mayor Bill Bogaard, himself a keen cyclist, called Crowley an "environmental conscience" in support of the increased use of bikes for transportation in Pasadena and beyond.

"We'll all miss him, but prior to his death he succeeded in bringing an awareness of the importance of biking to widespread attention," Bogaard said. "He recognized the importance of safe biking but advocated reducing traffic as a way of enhancing the use of bikes for recreation in the area."

Dennise Keller said Crowley's friends are in touch with his sister in Ohio, and funeral arrangements will be announced later.

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Dennis Crowley

Dennis Crowley

Rest In Peace