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Are Cycle Tracks A Better Way To Bike?

Protected bike lanes are an emerging idea that could make San Diego cycling safer and more popular.

— Montezuma Road is a four-lane road where car speeds reach a mile a minute. San Diego bike advocates, and the College Area Community Council, see it as a perfect place for cycle tracks.

One of the few cycle tracks in San Diego is found on this stretch of Friars Road, where a short concrete barrier separates car and bike traffic.

Call them sidewalks for bikes, or bike lanes behind barriers. Cycle tracks are getting popular with cities that think mixing cars and bikes on high-speed roads is not a great idea.

The subject came up earlier this month before the College Area Community Council, following a city report that documented 49 bike riders hit by cars on Montezuma Road in the last 13 years. One of them was killed earlier this year.

Samantha Ollinger, executive director of Bike San Diego, said cycles tracks can take the form of raised platforms, similar to sidewalks. They can be bike lanes that are shielded by cars. Just put the bike lane to the right of parked cars, not the left.

The point is to find some meaningful way of separating car traffic and bike traffic while giving both of them access to the same route.

A study by City of San Diego traffic engineers pinpointed the location of bike-car collisions on Montezuma Road.

“You can do plastic barriers (like pylons),” said Ollinger. “You can put in a concrete barrier, like they’ve done in Long Beach. There are many, many different things that I’ve seen.”

Cost would prohibit putting cycle tracks along every city road. Ollinger said the idea would be to target high-volume, fast-moving streets.

"I would put them on main thoroughfares, east-west, north-south routes. In the mid-city area, El Cajon Boulevard and University Avenue are main thoroughfares," she said. “Park Boulevard is another.”

In San Diego, less than 1 percent of travel is done on bikes, compared to more than 30 percent in a city like Copenhagen, where cycle tracks are part of the landscape. Andy Hanshaw, with the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, said cycle tracks could lure many more people to cycle by making them feel safe.

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Samantha Ollinger, executive director of Bike San Diego, said cycle tracks should be available along a city's main thoroughfares.

"It gives people more comfort in riding their bikes," said Hanshaw.

At this point, it’s a matter of finding the money and the political will to create them. Cycle tracks are fairly uncontroversial in the cycling community, though some bike riders say they still want access to the primary road the cars drive on.

Ollinger is lobbying the city of San Diego for a pilot cycle-track project. As for money, the local planning agency SANDAG has set aside $2.58 billion for bike and pedestrian projects from now until 2050. The only thing cities need to do is apply for the money.

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