Activists Growing Impatient With San Diego’s Bike Program
Thursday, May 4, 2017
Photo by Kris Arciaga / KPBS
Stand on Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach for just a few minutes, and you are bound to see some bicyclists riding on the sidewalk. The practice, while technically illegal, can be seen on streets throughout San Diego where people want to bike but do not feel safe doing so alongside moving cars.
Kathy Keehan, an avid cyclist and member of the city's Bicycle Advisory Committee, said it is a sign of San Diego's shortcomings.
"People tell you how they feel about the infrastructure by where they ride," she said while observing traffic on Garnet Avenue on a recent Friday afternoon. "Those bicyclists (on the sidewalk) are saying we need to do better on this street."
May is national bike month, and cities and nonprofits across San Diego County are holding events to highlight the benefits of biking: better health, fewer cars on the road and lower greenhouse gas emissions. But while bike advocates are leading many of the celebrations, there is frustration with what they see as weak progress on building out San Diego's network of safe bike facilities.
Keehan gave a presentation to the City Council's Environment Committee last month on how San Diego can speed up the implementation of its Bicycle Master Plan. The plan was approved by the City Council in 2013 and seeks to create an interconnected network of bike lanes. Its implementation is a key component of the greenhouse gas reductions in the city's Climate Action Plan.
Keehan acknowledged the progress city officials have made, primarily by painting new bike lanes or widening existing ones as the city resurfaces its streets. But she said the city has to do more to improve and expand its bike lane network.
"If there was room on a street for a bike lane, we've provided that bike lane on that street," she said. "Now we're in the difficult parts, filling those gaps. And that's going to be harder, and it's going to take more money and more political will to get those done."
2020 biking goals
San Diego's goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions rely heavily on big changes in the city's commuting habits. By 2020, 6 percent of people living near a public transit stop are expected to bike to work — a share that, by the city's best estimate, is at least triple the current rate of biking.
Linda Marabian, a deputy director in the city's transportation department, oversees much of San Diego's efforts to expand its network of bike lanes. Asked if she thought the city was on track to meet the goal of 6 percent, she answered without hesitation.
"Yes," she said. "We have a number of projects in the works now, (and) we have number of projects we've completed."
Marabian said the city had received more than $10 million in grants over the past year to fund projects that include improved bike facilities. Those projects include new street engineering for sections of University Avenue in City Heights and Market Street in Chollas View.
San Diego Bike Improvements
San Diego lists the number of bike lane miles that have been added or improved over the last four and a half years.
Marabian also pointed to the Downtown Mobility Plan, which was approved by the City Council last summer. Officials said at the time that its nine miles of new bike lanes downtown would be designed and built within three years, by June 2019.
That commitment has not yet been reflected in Mayor Kevin Faulconer's budgets. While the cost of implementing the plan's bike lanes is estimated at $10.5 million, only $2.5 million has been set aside, according to city spokesman Anthony Santacroce.
Fifteen percent of the bike lane miles proposed in the Bicycle Master Plan have been implemented since its passage, Santacroce said, and 22 percent of the existing network has been improved — usually by adding a painted buffer zone to give bicyclists more space. But he also acknowledged errors in the original Bicycle Master Plan's maps: The entirety of Grand Avenue in Pacific Beach is shown as already having painted bike lanes, when in reality the lanes exist on less than half of the street's 2.5 miles.
The Bike Advisory Committee members will soon start working with Marabian and her staff on ways to speed up implementation of the Bicycle Master Plan. Frequently, Keehan said, the addition of bike lanes comes into conflict with residents and business owners who fear the consequences of removing on-street parking or a lane of traffic.
That conflict was what led city traffic engineers to eliminate bike lanes from most of a proposed redesign of El Cajon Boulevard in City Heights. The Bike Advisory Committee recently sent a letter to the mayor and City Council saying the project is inconsistent with the Bicycle Master Plan.
Keehan said she understands people's fears of losing on-street parking, particularly when a business owner sees that parking as essential to their livelihood. But she said that fear would eventually be disproved.
"I think as we do more projects, as we have ambitious plans and we start to install that infrastructure, people will see that it's possible to live without some of that on-street parking," she said. "It makes their neighborhood better to install this infrastructure for bicyclists to make it easier and safer for people to ride their bikes."
Marabian said the city's transportation network had to take into account the needs of motorists, and that improvements had to be a "multi-modal."
"It's about the car, it's about the cyclists, it's about the pedestrian, it's about transit," she said. "We are constantly balancing improvements for all the modes."
Activists Growing Impatient With San Diego's Bike Program
Andrew Bowen, metro reporter, KPBS news
San Diego has a goal of drastically increasing the share of people who bike to work by 2020. Cycling advocates acknowledge some progress, but say the biggest challenges are still ahead.
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