Higher Costs, Delays Threaten Downtown San Diego Bike Network
An ambitious plan to construct a network of protected bike lanes throughout downtown San Diego is facing an uncertain future, as city officials now say the project's costs may be more than double what they originally estimated.
The City Council in 2016 unanimously approved the Downtown Mobility Plan, which includes a network of "cycle tracks" stretching from Little Italy to the East Village. Cycle tracks are bike lanes that run parallel to car lanes but have a physical barrier protecting cyclists from moving vehicles.
The cost increase was announced to the city's Bicycle Advisory Committee at its March 7 meeting. City traffic engineer Brian Genovese told the committee that staffers were looking at breaking the bike lane construction into three phases, and that the first phase would likely be complete in June 2020. The second phase would be completed a year later, he said, and the project's total cost had risen from $10.5 million to $25 million.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer previously promised to complete the entire bike lane network in the Downtown Mobility Plan by June 2019, within three years of its approval by the City Council.
Kathy Keehan, a member of the city's Bicycle Advisory Committee, reacted with shock at the committee's meeting last week. City staffers had previously told the committee that bike projects elsewhere were being put on hold because traffic engineers were focused on designing the downtown bike network.
"I'm pissed," Keehan said incredulously. "We put all our eggs in the Downtown Mobility Plan basket, and the basket is on the ground and the eggs are broken."
Genovese responded with candor, appearing to acknowledge what bike advocates have long been saying: There is limited support for bike projects among city staffers.
"Really it's just the willpower and support internally is what it takes," Genovese said. "It's not about the design, because that's pretty straightforward."
The rising costs and potential delays come in part from a change in the cycle track design. Transportation officials had planned to use plastic bollards to protect the bike lanes, but Faulconer ordered them to upgrade the protection to concrete curb barriers. Genovese said the bike lanes later got bundled into other downtown capital projects, adding to the total cost and shifting oversight from the Transportation and Storm Water Department to the Public Works Department.
The order to change the cycle track design came from the mayor after he visited Vancouver last June and was reportedly impressed by the city's network of protected bike lanes. Vancouver has been praised for achieving a remarkably high share of city commuters choosing to walk, bike or ride public transit instead of driving. San Diego hopes to achieve the same shift in transportation, which is the city's largest contributor to climate change.
Both the mayor's office and the city's Transportation and Storm Water Department declined interview requests. City spokesman Anthony Santacroce said via email:
An initial review of an aesthetically enhanced concept for protected bike lanes as part of the Downtown Mobility Plan determined that it would require more complex construction, resulting in higher costs and more time. We are committed to our three-year timeline for this project and are working on solutions that would keep us on schedule while maintaining the protection and aesthetics necessary to make this a successful project.
Faulconer had previously allocated $7.75 million, mostly from developer fees, to the downtown bike network's construction, but he has never fully funded the project in his budgets. The City Council last month approved an application for $2.5 million from the San Diego Association of Governments to help fund the network's construction.
Bicycle Advisory Committee member Nicole Burgess on Twitter called last week's meeting "heartbreaking," but she said she would not accept the project delays as inevitable.
"We need to sit down as the bicycle advisory board and meet with the mayor and discuss what's the leadership," Burgess said in an interview Tuesday. "We're just not getting the leadership that we need at the city."