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SANDAG Reverses Course On Talmadge Bike Safety Project

A traffic sign at 54th Street and University Avenue in City Heights reads

Photo by Andrew Bowen

Above: A traffic sign at 54th Street and University Avenue in City Heights reads "Bike Route End," Nov. 9, 2017.

San Diego traffic engineers decided to reverse course on a key bike safety project in the Talmadge neighborhood and return it to the planning phase, saying the proposed designs were infeasible. The change will postpone the project's completion by several years because its design budget has already been exhausted.

The Monroe Bikeway project is part of a larger set of regional bikeways planned by the San Diego Association of Governments, or SANDAG. Its original design would have added traffic calming infrastructure, street markings and other improvements to a one-mile section of Monroe Avenue, connecting to a planned network of new bike facilities throughout the Mid-City area.

SANDAG officials are now abandoning the project's most controversial design elements — a traffic circle at Euclid Avenue and a bike turn pocket at Aldine Drive — and instead will seek outside grant funding to study alternative routes. They said they came to the decision after meeting for months with city traffic engineers and concluded the road was not wide enough to accommodate the necessary improvements.

As recently as last year, SANDAG was prepared to initiate environmental clearance for the project and estimated construction would start in October 2019. That was later pushed back to 2021. The most recent changes could delay the project indefinitely, as the additional grant funding is not guaranteed.

RELATED: For Those Touched By Traffic Deaths, Bike Safety Delays Are Especially Painful

The decision came after years of intense community pressure, with residents fearing the project would worsen traffic congestion in an area they say is already overwhelmed with vehicles during peak hours. That opposition was cited in an email sent out by SANDAG, which said it had presented updated designs to community groups in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Linda Culp, a SANDAG principal planner who oversees the project, said the agency had spent roughly $200,000 so far on the Monroe Bikeway, exhausting the project's design budget. She said staff would now go back to drafting new design concepts and scheduling additional community outreach meetings — but only once new grant funding is secured.

"That's going to add a few years on to the project, but really the clock would start when we identify some additional funding," she said.

John Anderson, a board member of the nonprofit Bike SD, said the change to the Monroe Bikeway was another example of transportation officials allowing residents to delay and derail necessary improvements that would make San Diego more bike-friendly.

"I think this was because of pushback by the community, and I don't know how anybody that's been involved with it would read it any other way," Anderson said. "The road width hasn't changed since that segment was first looked at."

RELATED: After Public Shaming, SANDAG Has More Bike Project Delays

Anderson added that a direct route across Monroe Avenue was the shortest and flattest route for cyclists to connect to other regional bikeways and that any realignment of the project would be inferior.

Culp declined to say whether SANDAG would have moved forward with the project had it received support from the volunteer Kensington-Talmadge Community Planning Group, which advises the city on development and infrastructure matters.

David Moty, the planning group's vice chair, said he was disappointed that years of engineering could not produce a design that worked.

San Diego has ambitious plans to increase biking in the city as part of its Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Yet a host of infrastructure projects to improve bike safety and attract larger numbers of cyclists have faced lengthy delays and cost overruns.

The city announced last year that it would not complete a planned nine-mile network of bike lanes downtown by summer 2019, as Mayor Kevin Faulconer had originally promised. The first portion of the network on J Street was finished early this year.

Delays to SANDAG's bike projects have been just as extreme. Last year, the San Diego County Taxpayers Association gave SANDAG a "Golden Fleece Award" to shame the agency for those delays.

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