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Pandemic Brings More Biking And Fewer Crashes — But Can It Last?

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Bike advocates are thrilled by the recent boom in biking and a drop in cyclist injuries. But they say new public policy is needed to ensure that trend continues once the pandemic is over.

Speaker 1: 00:00 During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a Renaissance of bike riding in San Diego County. There's also been a decrease in bike crashes and injuries, perhaps due to lower traffic volumes, KPBS, Metro reporter, Andrew Bowen says advocates. See this moment as critical to whether that positive trend continues.

Speaker 2: 00:22 I'm biking with Oscar to Vera through terracotta park. One of the stopping points on the self guided black indigenous and people of color history ride to Vera is a board member of bike SD and helped organize a small group bike ride along the tour to Rolta park was included because of its significance to the history of city Heights. The site itself is a great visual representation of what can be achieved. Uh, the community organizers were able to advocate for this park. After the state, route 15 was constructed. It bisected the two communities, but this park was able to kind of join them together. It's making street-level connections like these that Tavarus sees as central to bike SDS mission. And one of the few positives of the pandemic is that people have become more apt to get on a bike and explore their city. He and others are hopeful that the new habits stick after the pandemic is over getting the people more comfortable with understanding the logistics of the road and feeling just even being comfortable, riding next to cars. I think getting those families and getting those daily commuters out of their cars and understanding that biking isn't a possible alternative, not every day, but most of the time could be a good solution. Longterm, the regional transportation planning agency SANDAG measured a 42% increase in bike trips, countywide for mid March to mid August this year, compared to last year. Meanwhile, cyclist injuries from collisions were down 19% in the city of San Diego during that period. So more people are biking and fewer are getting injured and

Speaker 1: 01:58 You get more people there. There is a critical mass and drivers become more aware. And I think we have to do all of that

Speaker 2: 02:02 County supervisor. Nathan Fletcher also sees a window of opportunity to make lasting change, to reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. His office recently launched a program to give away up to 400 electric bikes to County residents. He says e-bikes are especially promising in San Diego, which is spread out and has lots of Hills. And I think this program is a perfect compliment to come at the right time to inject electric bikes in there, which are

Speaker 1: 02:29 Much easier to use as a community than a traditional bicycle. And so I think we really need to think about as we come out of this, how do we maintain and expand that the progress we've seen in India?

Speaker 2: 02:38 Sorry, one life lost is too many. One, one person injured. This too many Hassan at chrono is executive director of Sandeck, which gathered the cycling data. SANDAG recently completed eight new traffic circles in the city of San Diego meant to slow down cars and improve visibility of cyclists. It Grotta says they're an improvement, but there's still not enough. Eventually we have to get to a place where we figured out how we separate bikes from traffic. And I think our longterm vision for San Diego region will envision a bike network that will provide San Diego the ability to ride without having a fear of hit by a car like to Vera and Fletcher. It karata hopes the increased interest in biking brought on by the pandemic will change mindsets around building new protected bike lanes. Some projects have been delayed by several years, often under pressure from residents who don't want to sacrifice any road space currently dedicated to cars.

Speaker 2: 03:38 We need our communities to be willing to, to, to give up something that got used to just simply because we believe a multimodal approach to any community is a great way to sustain that community advocates say the great promise of the bike boom during the pandemic is expanding their constituency. Things like e-bikes and safe, protected bike lanes can make biking more accessible to more people like older adults or families with young children. Again, Oscar to Vera. This could be a simple thing that you can start doing on the weekend, and it's not a 20 mile commute, but maybe just starting around your block in the neighborhood. I think that will kind of make the system last longer. Andrew Bowen KPBS news. Joining me is Andy Hanshaw. He's executive director of the bike coalition of San Diego County. Andy, welcome to the program. Thank you. It's great to be here. Now. We just heard about the significant increase in bike ridership during the last six months, which of course corresponds with the shutdowns caused by the pandemic. But why do you think people seem to be riding their bicycles more during this time? I mean, they could just as easily drive around the city.

Speaker 3: 04:48 Yeah. I mean, I, it's been really interesting in a, in a good silver lining to all of this, but where people were starting to, you know, at the beginning of the pandemic, uh, looking for outlets and avenues to actually just be outside, be active and, um, remain socially distant for health concerns and being in your family unit. And, uh, it's nice to see that it's actually, you know, has happened during this time period. And we really want to ride this wave, uh, to continue to, to encourage more people to ride more often. How has this

Speaker 2: 05:22 Increase in ridership effected bike shops around town?

Speaker 3: 05:26 Well, uh, you can almost talk to any one of them in there. They're struggling to keep inventory. It's been a tremendous boom for bike shops and service, and you know, there there's a good, a bad problem where, you know, it may take some time for your bikes to get serviced just from the backup. People wanted to get their old bikes fixed up. When this came out, people wanted to find new bikes. I mean, it's hard to find, and this is, you know, not just local, this is an issue nationally with the bike, boom that's been going on. It's not just a San Diego issue, but, but in a good way, more people riding, but there is a lot of demand on bike shops and they've, they're really having, you know, a time trying to keep up with the demand.

Speaker 1: 06:09 It's also now apparently safer to ride a bike than it was in the pre pandemic days. And I know bike safety is a big part of your organization's mission. Tell us about that.

Speaker 3: 06:21 That's our top priority is to, to make it safe and enjoyable, uh, for anyone who wants to choose to ride. And some more people choosing to ride creates one, a, a safety in numbers, uh, idea where more people are riding. There's a greater awareness, but also we've been promoting the slow streets, movement and creating safer spaces during this time for people to walk and bike and be outside. And, uh, you know, that was, uh, has been a growing success that the city of San Diego and other cities across the County, we're at a real tipping point in the County. Um, you have the SANDAG regional bike plan early asking program projects, which is an investment of $200 million in new bike infrastructure. Uh, the kind that make it protected and safe for people to take these trips, as well as, you know, more things like, uh, the downtown mobility plan and all of it, uh, helps, uh, cities reach their climate action plan goals, uh, reducing GHG emissions, getting more people, taking less car trips, uh, it's translated into cleaner air and good results for, uh, mode share goals for the climate action plan. So we've got a lot of work to do, but I think that has been a real benefit to all of this.

Speaker 1: 07:35 Now expanding bike lanes and infrastructure has usually resulted in a fight in San Diego neighborhoods. So afraid of losing parking and auto access. Do you see that changing?

Speaker 3: 07:49 I do. I think once, especially, um, when projects and these bike lanes actually come online, people will see that it's not, it's not doing those things. It's not, you know, it's not limiting anyone's ability to drive. It's not creating a major inconvenience for people who choose to drive in. That's fine if it's their mode of transportation and that's all they want to do, that's fine, but there's so many people that want to ride and to really appreciate these, these new projects and this new infrastructure and safe spaces. And it, and it really just creates a balanced transportation network, which is what, um, you know, the city has been striving for all along and, and SANDAG as well. So we need a more balanced network for transportation modes. Bicycling is one part of that pedestrian access is another one, an expanded transit network. All of it is, um, creating space and opportunity for people of all modes. And I don't think it's creating those perceived inconveniences or, you know, lack of access if you want to drive.

Speaker 1: 08:58 Now, if people and families want to get out there and start discovering San Diego on bikes, where can they get advice to help them get started?

Speaker 3: 09:08 Yeah, well, um, I mean, I, I, you know, I'm always a fan of checking with your local bike shop. They're always good. Do check with us at the bike coalition. Our has a lot of resources has, um, routes has classes we've been offering free, uh, learn to ride traffic skills kind of classes for the last couple of years, thanks to some good grant funding. And it's really, it's really been effective and we're doing it virtually in most cases these days where we can, you can take a quick, you know, one hour class and, and learn, you know, commuting tips by bike. And then, you know, when we all returned to getting back together, we'll, we'll lead more of our community rides, but what's really been great to see is, uh, just so many families riding and families getting together. And so, you know, to find those safe routes, um, where your family can enjoy a group, family bike ride, um, we can help.

Speaker 1: 10:08 Okay. Then I've been speaking with Andy Hanshaw executive director of the bike coalition of San Diego County. And Andy, thank you for your time.

Speaker 3: 10:16 Thank you, Maureen.

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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.