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Local Group Wants To Get People Out Of Cars, Onto Their Bikes

Local cyclists riding on a rainy day in Little Italy.
Local cyclists riding on a rainy day in Little Italy.
Local Group Wants To Get People Out Of Cars, Onto Their Bikes
With gas prices soaring, a local organization has formed to encourage San Diegans to use their bikes more often. We speak to the spokesman for the San Diego Bike Union about their goals, and the challenges that local cyclists face when they ride around town. Is San Diego a bike-friendly city? How can our transportation infrastructure be improved to make our local roads safer, and more accessibility to cyclists?

With gas prices soaring, a local organization has formed to encourage San Diegans to use their bikes more often. We speak to the spokesman for the San Diego Bike Union about their goals, and the challenges that local cyclists face when they ride around town. Is San Diego a bike-friendly city? How can our transportation infrastructure be improved to make our local roads safer, and more accessibility to cyclists?


Thom Bahde, spokesman for the San Diego Bike Union


The launch party for the San Diego Bike Commuter Discount Program will take place at 5 p.m. Sunday, March 6th, at the Sea Rocket Bistro on 30th Street in North Park.

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Well, since the price of gas is climbing, it may be easier to sell the idea of using some human powered vehicles to get around town. Bicycle enthusiasts say there are several elements coming together to entice more San Diegans out of their cars. They say there's momentum growing behind the concept of utility bicycling, that is using a bicycle instead of a car for evidence trips around the neighborhood. I'd like to welcome my guest, Thom Bahde, he is spokesman for the San Diego bike union, Thom, good morning.

BAHDE: Thank you for having me.

CAVANAUGH: And we're inviting listeners if they'd like to call in. Are you riding your bicycle more? I wonder what it would take to get you to get out of why are car and to start riding your bike. The number here is 1-888-895-5727. That's 1-888-895-KPBS. What's the mission of the San Diego bike union?

BAHDE: Well, our mission is very simple. Our main idea is to get people to consider the bicycle as a viable transportation option. And currently we hear about bicycling for sport, bicycling for exercise, we don't hear so much about bicycling as a vehicle, and as a transportation option. And it's a very efficient one, especially within neighborhoods where you can run small errands to the grocery store or to the drug store or to the coffee shop to meet friends of it's a perfect way to save money on fuel, as your previous guest was talking about the rising fuel prices. It's a great way to get some exercise, save some money, and see the city in a different way.


CAVANAUGH: Thom how often do you ride your bike?

BAHDE: I ride just about every day to do various things around the city. Most of the riding that I do is, again, small errands in the neighborhood in the uptown area where I live. And we have a car between the two of us, my wife and I do. And we use it for the trips that are most practical to take a car. But we find that a lot of the daily trips that we take around our area, it's impractical to take the car, and it just makes a lot more sense to ride a bicycle.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, I know. I think if the question is between using why are car or a bicycle maybe to commute to work every day, or to commute to school every day, that's a little over people's heads, although I know [CHECK AUDIO] to the point where you're saying, you know, instead of taking a car to go out and mail a letter or as you say, to go out and meet your friends for coffee, you think that's gonna be a better selling point for people to actually get out of their cars?

BAHDE: Absolutely. You know, one of the misconceptions about being a bike commuter or riding your bike for utility purposes is that you'd have to ride from Chula Vista to Kearny Mesa in order to be a real bicyclist. And that's not something that you really have to do. A bicycle as a form of transportation is best on short trips, short practical trips around the neighborhood. You don't have to worry about showing up with helmet hair or sweaty and smelly or anything like that. It's something that's very doable within neighborhoods and within, especially, some of the core areas in San Diego. And if you can replace just a few car trips with a bicycle, imagine the savings in gas, the savings in stress for that matter. It's a great stress relief. Studies show that people who commute by bike or even just run basic errands by bike tend to be happier commuter than people who are stuck on the freeway in their automobiles.

CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Thom Bahde, he's spokesman for the San Diego bike union. We have a call. A caller on the line. Jeff is calling from Kearny Mesa. Good morning, Jeff and welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you. I just had a comment, I'd actually an avid bicyclist, I do quite a bit of biking. But to think to actually commute, it would be very helpful to have more dedicated bicycle lanes and just make it more bicycle friendly. It just seems pretty dangerous right now, and we get a lot of disgruntled motorists. I don't know if they're mad about the price prices or what, but as Thom just mentioned -- it's pretty difficult to get that. So anyway, my problem was --

CAVANAUGH: Jeff, thank you for that. Thanks a lot for calling in because that's an important point. You know, Thom, San Diego used to be, like, one of the best places, ranked one of the best places to ride your bike. You know? And now it's not. What happened?

BAHDE: Well, [CHECK AUDIO] San Diego is a great place to ride a bicycle. Of course we have the wonderful weather, we have a lot of very bike friendly neighborhoods like the beach communities and a lot of the uptown communities. But San Diego is also Chris crossed by freeways and some very busy areas. University city area, mission valley, obviously, are very autocentric, very busy areas and it can be intimidating to ride a bike in those places. And you think you mentioned at the introduction to the piece that we see a lot of exciting things coming together in San Diego right now to make it a more bike friendly city. And one of the things is that we're beginning to speak in more practical terms with the city and the county about how we can improve the bicycle infrastructure, the San Diego County bicycle coalition has done a lot of work in this regard, and we continue to do a lot of work to encourage the city and the county to spend more money on bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. And in fact, SANDAG has recently proposed something in the order of $2.5 billion over the next 50 years, 40 or 50 years to improve bicycle infrastructure in the county. So the winds of change are blowing here. And I think we are beginning to see a change in terms of putting the infrastructure in place in places where it's most useful [CHECK AUDIO].

CAVANAUGH: We're talking about bicycling around San Diego, might be guest is Thom Bahde of the San Diego bike union. And we're taking your calls if you'd like to join the conversation. Many is on the line in Ocean Beach, good morning, many, and welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning, hi. I'm an avid bicycle commuter. I commute into work three days a week from Ocean Beach to north island. I take a fairy service across the bay. And I just wanted to -- if people aren't aware of it, there's a San Diego harbor excursions or I think they're called flagship now, runs a subsidized ferry service from Broadway pier over to Coronado in the good morning and also in the afternoon. So anybody that's commuting between those two cities, between San Diego and Coronado can utilize that service. I also wanted to mention, like, just the road conditions in San Diego. In the afternoon, I take a loop around San Diego bay, and the silver strand portion of the commute's pretty easy, but coming up through, like, Chula Vista, national city, some of San Diego, up along harbor drive, the road conditions are kind of patchy. And I've addressed this to the city bicycle coordinator and some of it's been addressed by the streets divisions. But there's still a lot of really poor conditions along that particular route. And I'm wondering if there's something else that may be I can do to try and get those road conditions addressed in that particular area, along that particular corridor.

CAVANAUGH: Great, many, thank you. And I'm wondering, Thom, what can he do?

BAHDE: Well, the things that he's already done are really the most appropriate, talking to the city, going through -- and in many cases, the San Diego County bicycle coalition, which has a close working relationship with the city and county, to report those problems is also one avenue. But there are, you know, problems with infrastructure deterioration all over the city. And I know that stretch of harbor drive. I've ridden on it, and it is particularly bad. But there are places like that all over the city. And we can continue reporting pot holes and reporting roadway problems, you know, for the foreseeable future. In many cases it is a budget issue, it's a manpower issue in terms of getting those roadways patched. But the more people that we have contacting the city to get those repairs made the more we're gonna create that sort of momentum that people were realizing that this is a problem, and if there are many more cyclists utilizing those roads, and in fact we need better infrastructure. And that's a problem for bicyclists and motorists as well. And it's something that we need to continue bringing to the attention of our public officials.

CAVANAUGH: Aaron is on the line from San Diego. Good morning, Aaron. Welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Great program, thank you for taking my call. [CHECK AUDIO] is good, and it's good, I go to coffee shop often. How about some bike rack, they call it? I call it parking for bikes. How about some bike racking in Balboa park? Because I usually ride from normal heights to Balboa park, and I have a hard time to park my bicycle. That was my question.

CAVANAUGH: Is that another infrastructure problem? Not enough bike racks?

BAHDE: Absolutely. And studies have shown that parking issues are one of the main concerns that keep people from riding their bikes. And so we can, again, ask the city to install more bike wracks. In fact they recently have installed a number of bike wracks in the up down area. I think it's something on the order of 200 bike wrack. I maybe wrong in that. But [CHECK AUDIO] that's one issue that the San Diego bike union is working to address in the future. And that is we'd like to partner with business, we'd like to partner with the city to put bike parking where it's most needed. There hasn't, it seems in the past a great deal of attention been paid to where the parking is actually needed, where people are using it. So we'd like to identify places in the city where, you know, as the caller mentioned there is a lack of bike parking spaces where people are in fact looking to park their bikes.

CAVANAUGH: We talked about bad roads, we just talked about bike wracks. You mentioned a $2.5 billion in the SANDAG regional transportation fund for improvements encouraging bike transportation. Is there like a master plan? Is there something big in that 2.5 million that's gonna link certain areas of the county in a way that they are not linked now?

BAHDE: That's ultimately the goal, yeah, and both the city and the county have bicycle plans in place, master plans that are being revised and constantly updated. And a big part of those plans for a long time has been a more connected bicycle infrastructure. A lot of that has been slow to happen issue unfortunately. And so we would like to see more of that in place, and I think one of our goals as an organization, as the San Diego bike union, is to get more citizen voices speaking out for -- actually getting these changes made. Not just putting them down on paper and saying this is it part of our master plan eventually. We would actually like to see these things implemented in a timely manner with the money that's available.

CAVANAUGH: We have a couple callers on the line, I don't think we actually have time to take the calls. But both of them are concerned about the dangers involved in biking because there are too many cars, they're afraid of the cars, etc. Well, what is your advice?

BAHDE: Well, I think you need to look at the area that you're cycling in, and determine whether or not you feel comfortable riding in that area. The San Diego County bicycle coalition offers road safety crass classes if you feel uncomfortable riding.

CAVANAUGH: I think a lot of bikers think that drivers should be taking those classes.

BAHDE: Absolutely. And they should. I agree with that, absolutely. One of the things we'd like to change in terms of public perception is the fact that bicyclists have a right to the road. Many of the bicyclists that I know, myself included, have been told to get on the sidewalk by a passing motorist because they believe that's where we belong. We need to start changing public attitudes about the rights to bicycles to the road, and the fact that we are legitimate vehicles, and we are a legitimate form of transportation. So I completely sympathize with people who say that it is dangerous in some places to ride, and maybe they get harassed by motorists. And the best way to address that is by getting on your bike and riding and showing people that, yes, in fact, you do belong in the road, and very few people get run off the road by angry motorists of it's sometime something that tends to happen. There are sometimes threats that get yelled, but for the most part, you're safe riding your bike on the road just as much as you are being I pedestrian road driver.

CAVANAUGH: And maybe it's easier just to start out with those little hops that you were talking about.

BAHDE: Sure. Do what you're comfortable with, absolutely.

CAVANAUGH: I want to tell everybody that a launch party for the San Diego Bike Commuter Discount Program will take place at 5:00 PM, that's this Sunday at the Sea Rocket Bistro on 30th Street in Northpark. And you can find all about -- all about the commuter discount program at that particular launch event. Thank you so much Thom for coming in and speaking with us.

BAHDE: Thanks very much for having me.

CAVANAUGH: Thom Bahde, spokesman for the San Diego bike union. If you would like to comment on line, please do, Days. You're listening to These Days on KPBS.