In wake of cycling deaths, San Diego ramps up biking infrastructure
Speaker 1: (00:00)
The city of San Diego has taken bold measures to greatly expand the number of bike lanes on its streets, a move partly in response to a number of traffic deaths that have occurred in recent months. One of those deaths was of Matt Keenan, a 42 year old cyclist who was struck and killed while riding his bike on Camino Del Rio south in mission valley last month, here's his widow, Laura Keenan.
Speaker 2: (00:25)
I'm so excited to see Evan grow up and do all this stuff with Evan. Like I mentioned, he was going to take his first step soon and not wanted to teach him music and play sports with him. And he's never going to be able to do that. You know, he'd ride to work. Um, he works in LA Jolla. So he'd drive from north park to LA Jolla. He would ride his bike to go to the grocery store or just run different errands. It was just if he, if a day went by without biking, it was not a complete day for him.
Speaker 1: (00:57)
Advocates of bike safety, hope to make the streets safer for bicyclists like Keenan, they're encouraged by the addition of new lanes and increased safety protocols. Still others in the community are concerned about the impact that more bike-friendly streets could have on traffic and parking. And the city's already congested roads. Joining me now with more is San Diego union Tribune, reporter David Garrick. David, welcome back to the program.
Speaker 3: (01:22)
Thanks for having me.
Speaker 1: (01:23)
So how has the city attempted to prioritize bike safety in recent months?
Speaker 3: (01:27)
Uh, well, in recent months with the fatalities that happen, they kind of came up with this new idea that maybe some are calling a model where instead of when you see a street as dangerous let's plan for two years, how to fix it, they immediately went out and put bollards on Pershing drive and bubble park, and they did some striping as a sort of a temporary slash permanent measure until a more firmly permanent measure can be put in place.
Speaker 1: (01:52)
What role do a number of recent traffic fatalities actually play in the city's aggressive development of bike lanes?
Speaker 3: (01:58)
Uh, I mean, I think there's been a constant call from environmentalist and advocacy groups for cyclists to have better bike lanes. Uh, and the city has done a generally a good job. Obviously the, the folks who want them would love to see it go faster. But with these fatalities, that's just increased sort of the sense of urgency at city hall. And we do have a new mayor who's I would say, arguably more focused on this issue than his predecessor.
Speaker 1: (02:23)
I was going to ask, you know, has mayor Todd Gloria's approach to this issue been different to that of mayors past?
Speaker 3: (02:29)
I certainly Todd Todd would tell you that. I mean, I think if Kevin Faulkner were here, he'd say he did a good job and he focused on it, but I think Todd has a Todd Gloria, the new mayor has put greater emphasis on it. Being included in the budget, a million dollars for a 12 person team. That's going to be dedicated to planning and building a bike ways across the city, which is something Faulkner hadn't done. I do think that the environmental groups are waiting to see what mayor Gloria does sort of on the mode share goals. That's a fancy term for more people, commuting by bike and less people commuting by car. Uh, the city has some ambitious goals in that area. And I think the environmental groups want to make sure that the mayor puts in place a plan to get to those goals.
Speaker 1: (03:06)
You write that establishing a bike lane can often be a drawn out process. How was the city's effort to build a lane after a pair of deadly crashes that occurred on purging drive in Balboa park different.
Speaker 3: (03:17)
It's just a new way of looking at it instead of the normal city process, which has lots of bureaucracy and lots of red tape and lots of approvals in the old days. If somebody died on the street, they would say, oh, that's a dangerous area. Let's study the intersection, let's put a consultant on it. Let's figure out what to do. And then maybe six months, a year later, we'll propose something, we'll run it up the flagpole and then maybe we'll have a change a year and a half later. This was a situation where I don't know, four or 5, 6, 7 days later, they went out and they did something immediately. That's an immediate reaction sort of cutting through the bankruptcy and the red tape.
Speaker 1: (03:49)
And the city has established hundreds of miles of bike lanes in recent years. But you write that much of that. Doesn't offer cyclist that much protection in the first place. Why is that?
Speaker 3: (03:59)
Yeah, there are four different levels of bike lane, at least a class 1, 2, 3, and four, the common ones and the safer bike lanes as the class one where it's actually like, there's a medium blocking it. So it's a bike path and it's protected on both sides. And then you go down to the lower level where you have those Sheros those arrows in the street where it just reminds cars, please be nice to the bicyclist. And then in between that you have the striped lanes, which they don't offer protection, but at least it's a Stripe that shows the cars exactly where they can and cannot go. And, uh, one of the critics that a cycling advocate pointed out at the meeting that I covered that 410 out of the 450 miles that the city has created since 2013 have been the less protected kind, which means that you're still vulnerable on a bicycle. If somebody swerves or somebody is a reckless driver, you're going to get hit. Whereas when you're in one of those protected lanes, you're much safer
Speaker 1: (04:48)
Aside from the lanes themselves, the city is taking a number of steps to improve the overall quality of biking in the city. What can you tell us about that?
Speaker 3: (04:56)
Well, I mean, they're, they're doing a lot of different things to try to make it better. I mean, it's, it's a multi-front war. Um, they've had a cycle tracks in downtown. Those are the special areas where it's a bike lane in between parked cars and the curb, uh, to try to encourage people to bike in downtown. Again, the overall goal here is that an urban areas of the city. They want folks to be commuting by bike more often, uh, it reduces traffic congestion and it will, uh, help the city meet its greenhouse gas emission goals in the climate action plan
Speaker 1: (05:23)
From the community saying about the establishment of new lanes. Is there a split consensus?
Speaker 3: (05:28)
Uh, yeah, certainly divisive. I mean, a lot of the cycling advocates and tend to be maybe younger folks tend to be more positive about them. And then some of the single family homeowners who've been in their neighborhood for a long time, they are losing a lane of traffic or they're losing parking. And in some cases they're losing bowls and they may be happy to do that if they saw the lanes filled with bicyclists. But right now, you know, they often look at the bike lanes and they're mostly empty. They'll see one bicyclist pass by every two or three hours. And that kind of frustrates them feeling like, why are we spending this money to do this? Take away traffic lanes, take away parking spots for something that isn't going to happen, or they feel like it's, maybe it's a pie in the sky idea. I think the cycling advocates would say that if you build it, they will come and you need to build these lanes now make safe, cycling safer, and then more and more people will use it as an option test
Speaker 1: (06:16)
Cycling in general, seen a boost during the pandemic
Speaker 3: (06:19)
It has. And you know, that's another controversial issue. Some folks will say, look at all these numbers, they're so great during the pandemic. And I think a naysayer will say what 2020 was the weirdest year we've ever had. So any statistic that relies on 2020 is kind of a dubious one. So we'll see how that turns out. But during the pandemic, more people were biking maybe because they were working from home. And so they didn't have to get in their fancy clothes, which is awkward to, to ride a bicycle on. And the sales of electronic bikes were sharply up, which is another sort of encouraging sign. So for folks who were older or maybe can't pump up a hill, they're still choosing to bike, but they're using an electronic bike to solve the problem.
Speaker 1: (06:54)
I've been speaking with San Diego union Tribune, reporter David Garrick. David, thank you so much for joining us.
Speaker 3: (07:00)
Speaker 4: (07:02)
Advocates of bike safety who hope to make the streets safer for bicyclists have been encouraged by the addition of new lanes and increased safety protocols across the city.
Still, others in the community are concerned about the impact that more bike-friendly streets could have on traffic and parking on the city’s already congested roads.