After Public Shaming, SANDAG Has More Bike Project Delays
Board members of the San Diego Association of Governments on Friday are due to vote on a budget that contains more delays for bike safety projects, one week after the agency was publicly shamed by a taxpayer group for the slow rollout of those projects.
SANDAG's proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 includes about $42.4 million for 24 bike projects spread throughout the county. Most of the projects are still being designed and engineered, however, and only two projects totaling 2.3 miles of bike paths are scheduled to open by the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2019.
Five bike projects are facing delayed timelines since SANDAG presented a draft budget in February. Those delayed projects include a shared bike-pedestrian path along Rose Creek in Bay Ho, protected bike lanes along 4th and 5th Avenues between Hillcrest and downtown and bike lanes along University Avenue between City Heights and La Mesa.
By the end of the current fiscal year, SANDAG will have spent $73 million on its regional bikeways program. Since the adoption of that program five years ago, the agency has opened 7.5 miles of bike lanes to the public.
Friday's budget vote comes one week after SANDAG received a "Golden Fleece Award" from the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, meant to shame the agency for what it called "inefficient use of public funds." The group cited reporting by KPBS earlier this year in its coming to its decision.
SDCTA spokesman Cameron Gyorffy said the committee that selected SANDAG for the negative award "noted the high proportion of dollars spent on community outreach to come to a consensus."
SANDAG Principal Planner Linda Culp attributed some of the delays to permitting, utility relocations, longer estimates for construction and extra time for city governments to review projects. Some projects have also faced delays because of opposition from neighborhood or business groups.
"Our goal on our program is to reach consensus on all of our projects, so that means we hold a lot of public meetings, we do a lot of presentations that's centered around that goal," she said. "Whether we reach that in every case, it really depends on the project."
Some cycling advocates have criticized that approach as unrealistic and say SANDAG has given excessive attention to minor criticisms while failing to see any urgency in safe bike infrastructure.
"I think we should have seen more projects on the ground by now for the amount of money that's been spent so far," said Judi Tentor, executive director of the nonprofit Bike San Diego. "I hope the money is being spent well. SANDAG has been doing a great job with encouragement (of biking) … but we need the infrastructure."
A handful of bike projects, including some that traverse corridors with high cyclist injury and death rates, still have no estimated opening date.
Culp said SANDAG's spending on the bike program should be viewed in the long term.
"The budget that we have is not just going to open a few miles, it's being spent on 69 miles of our 77-mile program," she said. "And so I think you'll see, and the advocates will see, over the next few years as we finish the design on another 30 miles and another 25 miles that those projects will be opening up."
Colin Parent, executive director of the nonprofit Circulate San Diego and a La Mesa city councilman, said frustration over delays to bike projects should be directed at the mayors, city council members and county supervisors who oversee SANDAG on its board of directors.
"At the end of the day, the responsibility lies with the elected members of the SANDAG board to direct staff on how to execute safety projects," Parent said in an email. "Staff needs to hear from board members that delivering projects to improve bicycle safety is a higher priority than spending enormous amounts of time and money trying to reach an elusive consensus."