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Cyclists fear Mira Mesa backlash could derail 'advisory' bike lanes elsewhere

San Diego transportation officials are dealing with backlash against new bike lanes in Mira Mesa. KPBS metro reporter Andrew Bowen says drivers are finding the design confusing.

San Diego transportation officials are dealing with backlash against new "advisory bike lanes" in Mira Mesa, where motorists are finding the unfamiliar street design confusing.

The bike lanes were painted last week on a quarter-mile stretch of Gold Coast Drive. Residents — even City Councilmember Chris Cate, who represents the neighborhood — say they were caught off-guard.

"If it's on this street, is it going to be on the next street? And the next street? And my street?" asked Mira Mesa resident Gary Sharp. "Won't be happy. Totally unsafe, stupid and ridiculous."

Advisory bike lanes are generally used on streets with low traffic volumes that are too narrow for conventional bike lanes. On a street like Gold Coast Drive, they offer cyclists their own dedicated space with no loss of street parking.

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The tradeoff is with travel lanes. Advisory bike lanes erase a street's center dividing line, requiring motorists in both directions to share a single lane. Drivers must veer into the bike lane when another car approaches. If a cyclist is in the bike lane, drivers must wait behind them while the oncoming traffic passes.

While advisory bike lanes are new in San Diego, they've existed in other cities and countries for decades. Cycling advocate Nicole Burgess said the design is safe, and that drivers who are confused by the street design will slow down and be more alert.

"As soon as this street is slurry sealed and you have a double yellow line, those cars are flying as fast as they can on autopilot," Burgess said. "So they're not paying attention to their surroundings, and this makes people pay attention to their surroundings."

Burgess has been pushing for advisory bike lanes on Evergreen Street in Point Loma, where she lives. The street was recently resurfaced, and faint markings show where the city intends to stripe the new bike lanes.

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"My daughter has a job over here on Shelter Island, and (Evergreen Street) is her route home," Burgess said. "For her to have a safe spot to be is critical."

But the fate of the bike lanes on Evergreen Street is unclear. Mayor Todd Gloria placed all future advisory bike lane projects on hold pending a public outreach campaign. In a public forum on Monday, the city's transportation director Jorge Riveros admitted the city failed to make residents aware of the coming change to the street.

Burgess agreed the city should have done better outreach and education on how to use advisory bike lanes, though she doubts it would have prevented the current backlash.

2021 was the deadliest year for cyclists in recent memory. And Gold Coast Drive was not exactly safe before the bike lanes — 72 crashes and 38 injuries have occurred on the street since 2015, according to city collision data.