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Environment

How will 'Climate Action Plan 2.0' change San Diego's bike policies?

The new Climate Action Plan approved by the San Diego City Council last week doubles down on shifting transportation habits away from cars, the city's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. But exactly how the city will achieve the new goals remains unclear.

Among the future actions laid out in the "Climate Action Plan 2.0" are an update to the city's 2013 Bicycle Master Plan, which activists say is outdated and insufficient to attract new riders. Implementation of that plan, and the bike networks envisioned in the city's various community plans, will also include a "class IV first approach."

Class IV bike lanes, which include physical barriers that protect cyclists from vehicles, are more likely to attract new riders compared with painted bike lanes with no protection. City spokesman Anthony Santacroce said "class IV first" will mean "protected cycle tracks are our preferred and first choice to install when it comes to on-road design."

Will Rhatigan, advocacy director for the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, said that would be an improvement on existing policy. But he said the city also needs more objective, safety-based criteria for which type of bike lane belongs on each road.

"That policy would look like a guide that says: 'Based on the speed limit and the number of lanes on any given road, here's the kind of bikeway treatment we need to make it safe and to make more people ride on that road,'" Rhatigan said. "And also we're hoping that this will be passed as an ordinance that would hold the transportation department legally accountable for actually implementing that kind of bikeway."

Looking further into the future, Rhatigan said the city would need to end its piecemeal approach to creating a network of bike lanes. Currently, the city only installs bike lanes after a road is resurfaced. That means collision-prone streets known to be dangerous for cyclists rarely get bike lanes until the pavement quality has deteriorated and the street has to be repaved.

And resurfacing rarely occurs on an entire street all at once. A street could be designated for bike lanes in official plans, but only two blocks are set to be resurfaced. In those cases, Rhatigan said, the city doesn't bother adding any bike lanes and will restripe those two blocks of freshly paved road as they were before.

The result is that nearly a decade after the city adopted its bicycle master plan, most of the network still exists only on paper.

It's difficult to compare the biking goals in the 2015 climate plan with the recent update. The previous plan called for 18% of commute trips that start in "transit priority areas" — areas within a half-mile of a major transit stop — to be made by bike by 2035.

The new plan aims for 10% of all trips in the city, not just commutes to work or school, to be made by bike. And the goal applies citywide, even in areas far from public transit.

The installation of bike lanes has sparked controversy in several San Diego neighborhoods, with some residents saying they don't seem worth the loss of parking or a travel lane.

But City Councilmember Raul Campillo, who fought to include the preference for protected bike lanes in the new climate plan, said bike lanes were about far more than just fighting climate change.

"I think people fail to see that these investments in infrastructure are going to help create jobs," Campillo said. "They're going to create better health outcomes. And all of that creates a more healthy and safe community for all of us."

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