California Coastal Commission stalls bike lanes on deadly road in Point Loma
On Oct. 30, a 41-year-old woman was riding her bike on West Point Loma Boulevard when an SUV driver struck her from behind. She survived, but was hospitalized with a fractured pelvis.
The collision took place on a stretch of the road where city officials had planned to install protected bike lanes earlier this month following a resurfacing project. But those plans hit a roadblock with the California Coastal Commission, a state regulatory agency tasked with preserving coastal access.
Outside San Diego's coastal zone, recent laws and court rulings have granted the city broad authority to install bike lanes on almost any street with little to no red tape, even when such projects require eliminating parking or reducing the number of lanes.
But the thwarted bike lanes in Point Loma demonstrate how the Coastal Commission, and the laws that created it, can make sustainable transportation infrastructure more cumbersome and expensive to install near the coast than elsewhere in San Diego.
Stephan Vance, an Ocean Beach resident and board chairman of the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, said the commission is putting bureaucracy ahead of common sense.
"Let's be reasonable about what we do to preserve coastal access, and at the same time protect the safety of people traveling regardless of how they're going about town," Vance said.
The Coastal Commission argues it is simply enforcing state law, and that city officials had ample time to get the commission's approval for the bike lanes.
"The commission strongly supports bike lanes as an important form of public access," Kate Huckelbridge, executive director of the Coastal Commission, told KPBS in a statement. "We’re still committed to expediting this project and working with the city to get it approved quickly and consistent with the law."
But it's unclear whether the city intends to move forward with the bike lanes anytime soon.
The road was resurfaced this month between Nimitz Boulevard and Adrian Street. Rather than delay the project to accommodate the Coastal Commission's requests, the city opted to keep the street's original design. That configuration forces cyclists to share a lane with drivers — many of whom take the speed limit of 40 miles per hour as a suggestion rather than a mandate.
Vance said the plans for protected bike lanes on West Point Loma Boulevard were requested several years ago by the Peninsula Community Planning Board. Residents were frustrated by the corridor's high speeds and lack of bike and pedestrian infrastructure.
At least two people have died in collisions on the road in the past two years, according to city crash data. A pedestrian also suffered life-threatening injuries from a crash on Oct. 10.
"People here want to be able to walk and bike, to be able to safely cross the street," Vance said.
City officials settled on a redesign of the road that would have preserved nearly all the street parking, using it as a barrier to protect cyclists from traffic. The so-called "road diet" would have also reduced the number of lanes in each direction from two to one, slowing down traffic and reducing the pedestrian crossing distance.
The problem: San Diego's Local Coastal Program (LCP), a land use document that cannot be changed without Coastal Commission approval, designates West Point Loma Boulevard as a 4-lane road. Commission staffers told the city if it wanted to reduce the number of lanes, it would have to analyze the circulation impacts and apply for an LCP amendment.
"Resurfacing and restriping is a pretty simple thing for the city to do," Vance said. "But when you start throwing in those other bureaucratic processes, then it becomes a whole other ball game and it makes it more difficult for the city to do projects like this."
Coastal Commission staff say they are approving bike lanes much faster than in the past, pointing to examples in Encinitas and Imperial Beach that have taken only three to four months. But that doesn't include the time cities have to spend on the front end before officially submitting a bike lane project for commission approval.
Even still, commission staff say San Diego officials are aware of the process and should budget their time and resources accordingly.
"We met with the city over a year ago, and offered multiple options to move forward with this and other bike lane projects," Huckelbridge said. "But they didn’t follow through."