By Beryl Forman & Sam Ollinger / San Diego Free Press / April 8, 2013
Last year, SANDAG began the work of implementing their Early Action Projects that are part of their 2050 Regional Bicycle Plan. Within the City of San Diego, SANDAG is currently working on the design of the Uptown and the North Park/Mid-City regional bike projects both of which are currently in the design phase of implementation.
The design phase of the implementation process to date has included putting together the working group composed of over 40 individuals representing a wide variety of stakeholder interests for each of the two urban core projects. The draft plan initially presented by SANDAG to the working group provided a skeleton of a map that was designed to get the working group efforts to coalesce around some specifics on where they thought the bicycle facilities to be implemented would be most effective and most utilized.
In developing a regional bicycle network, SANDAG planners are expecting to see an increase in the number of people choosing a bicycle as a transportation mode. Given the population increases being projected by SANDAG, redesigning our city streets to be less terrifying and more inviting would certainly go a long way toward accommodating all modes of travel including that by bicycle.
For years, only 1% of San Diegans have been taking to the streets on a bicycle and for good reason– a lack of a region-wide and comprehensive bicycle network composed of protected bicycle facilities has not been a top priority for our city.
The initial discussion of the two urban bike projects focused around the reasons why most San Diegans between the ages of eight through eighty weren’t comfortable riding on the busy, commercial roads such as University Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard. While the SANDAG maps included several hundred ‘community assets’ and other gathering places that exist along these main corridors, the existing bicycle network does very little to connect people to these destinations. The draft plan presented by SANDAG was focused on placing bicycle facilities on the existing bike network – the side streets that run parallel to these commercial corridors on residential streets.
To support good active transportation planning and bike safety, a majority of the committee members that comprised these working groups expressed displeasure with SANDAG’s draft plan. The reasoning behind the displeasure stemmed from the reality that the side streets were (relatively) safe in their current state in comparison with the commercial corridors which is dominated by fast moving traffic. It is these commercial corridors that need and can benefit the most from the investment that SANDAG is looking to make in the next two years.
Furthermore, local businesses rely on customers that ride bikes, walk, utilize public transportation, as well as drive. If the goal is to improve San Diego’s neighborhoods like Mayor Bob Filner has in mind, we can not allow these commercial corridors to remain in the state they are – which is unsafe for everyone including those who drive.
To pick one of these corridors, El Cajon Boulevard connects many neighborhoods in San Diego. It also has the advantage of being the most direct and level street to get people from one neighborhood to another – important considering that many of the side streets have steep inclines that most people would find challenging to ride up. Additionally these parallel side streets don’t connect the neighborhoods in as direct of a manner that the commercial corridors do.
With businesses including restaurants, cafes, grocery stores, bars, music venues, and hundreds of other service oriented destinations already existing on these corridors, SANDAG would be doing the local business community a huge disservice by not improving the main commercial corridors for customers who want to patronize these venues by bicycle. At the Mid-City neighborhood planning meeting, one working group member stated that SANDAG’s draft plan was great, as long as one wasn’t interested in going anywhere.
In the field of urban planning, the term ‘complete streets’ is a goal of many urban planners and municipalities. The idea is that streets must safely accommodate people who want to walk, bicycle, drive or take transit. During the course of this design process, SANDAG has done little to demonstrate that they do intend to implement a Complete Street as part of the Early Action Project program.
To achieve great neighborhoods within the region, the City of San Diego in collaboration with SANDAG must focus on implementing a regional bicycle plan that gets people around safely to where they need to go. This will simultaneously result in our region attaining statewide policy goals of improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions while also boosting our local economy, improving public health and making San Diego that much nicer of a place to be in.
Beryl Forman is the Marketing Director for the El Cajon Blvd Business Improvement District, which includes North Park and City Heights. She is currently working on her Master’s degree in City Planning at SDSU.
Samantha Ollinger is the Executive Director and Board President of BikeSD. She has a vision to transform San Diego into a world-class bicycle friendly city. She and two friends originally created BikeSD.org to change the conversation about bicycling in San Diego. She now has formalized the site into a non-profit organization that will push San Diego in reaching its potential as a world-class bicycle friendly city. You may reach Sam at sam@bikeSD.org