Bicycle Expressways for San Diego

by on August 20, 2013 · 15 comments

in Culture, Environment, San Diego

CicloDias 8-11-13 30thBus

Author on his bicycle (green shirt) on 30th Street during CicloSDias.


Bicycling in San Diego has some serious advocates, including the San Diego Bike Coalition. They see benefits for San Diegans if we switch to using bikes more often than cars. As a bike rider, I agree with them. The challenge in front of us is how to grow a bicycle culture.

CicloDias 8-11-13 30thSt03

30th Street at beginning of biking event, Aug. 11, 2013. Photo by Frank Gormlie

Along 30th Street I saw many fancy bikes with riders dressed in those colorful skin tight outfits. I also saw some unique forms of self-propelled transportation. I was hoping see folks wearing regular clothes as if they were going to school or work – but then it was Sunday plus CicloSDias is only once a year at that.

Given the agreeable weather, San Diego has been a great place for recreational biking. In the 70’s a familiar (now unfriendly) voice advocated for building bike paths and adding bike lanes. Roger Hedgecock had some success, including getting a path around San Diego Bay built that was recently expanded and improved. Bike friendly policies were promoted. So workers could ride to work employers were encouraged to provide shower facilities and bike storage lockers. I rode 7 miles to work, for a while. Taking a shower at work was less than pleasant.

But sharing the road with trucks and buses proved to be the undoing. A few near death experiences and I swore off the white paint bike lanes as suicidal.

That was then. Thirty years passing and the bike culture seems stuck in first gear. The bike is used by very few as a practical transportation tool. The economic collapse of 2008 forced many to give up their car and go to a bike, still the percent of commuters who depend on bikes is very small. For the San Diego Bike Coalition and others to succeed requires biking to mature from a recreational activity to a practical daily means of getting from point A to point B.

There are cities around the world that rely on bikes for daily transportation. I remember my grandmother telling about her visit to her place of birth in Denmark. At 98 she rode bikes in Copenhagen. I was surprised if not shocked that my 98 year old grandmother had the inclination let alone the physical ability to ride a bike. Why I asked? Because she said, “that’s how you get around, in Copenhagen.” Copenhagen has roads dedicated to bikes. They have bike traffic jams, intersections, roundabouts, bridges and tunnels. As a rule they do not share the road with 2 ton vehicles.

Biking in San Diego struggles for space; competing with motor traffic for road space. Proposals focus on carving dedicated bike lanes out of existing streets. Streets that were originally designed to carry motor vehicles. This contest for space is likely to force compromises aka more painted on bike lands. For me CicloSDias brought into focus this brewing contest between the aging car culture and the newer, wants to grow up bike culture. Each arm wrestling over who gets to use the streets.

There is one undeniable fact; we will evolve from where we are. Motor vehicles, whether electric or gas, will be with us for the foreseeable future. But is there any reason to wait? I think not. I think there may be a way to avoid an out and out fight with the car culture while giving to bikes dedicated pathways and the means to mature from a recreational pastime to a practical and normal means of daily transportation. Once in place I believe many drivers will see an advantage and get out of their cars.

Here’s an idea; dedicated Bicycle Expressways. Take a look at San Diego from Google Earth. Notice the many finger canyons that spread across the city. A Bike ‘road’ need only be 8 feet wide and doesn’t need to hold the weight of a semi-truck, only people on bicycles. Road beds and their supports can be pre-fabricated and installed with little or no grading. And, as a ‘road’ dedicated for bikes, special attention can be paid to creating a level road for ease of travel while maintaining the natural contours and vegetation of the canyons and ravines.

A ride to work could be pleasant and, with a level ride, could be free from sweat – no shower needed. For example, one path, from North city to Old Town could follow Tecolote canyon; another from 32nd and Redwood to Downtown via the golf course. Considering a standard street requires 40 foot and the strength to hold 8 – 10 tons, a bike path needs only 8 feet and to hold less than one ton of weight. Laying down a new path dedicated to bikes can fit into places long ago dismissed as insufficient for a street.

Ok, that brings us to the tough question – money.

Let’s face it, we end up with paint on a street because it’s cheap and easy. But, as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. Buy cheap, get cheap. And this idea is not cheap, compared to paint on asphalt.

As a recreational activity many sources of public money are not available. But as a public transit project; as a companion to trolley and bus systems, transit money could be available to help construct dedicated Bicycle Expressways that might conceivably move traffic off of the freeways and onto the bikeways. Billions are spent on roads every year. With just a small share of those funds, San Diego could create a network of Bike Expressways to serve the city for the rest of the century. I look forward to hearing your comments.

 This first appeared in OB Rag.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave Rice August 20, 2013 at 7:55 pm

Sounds like an interesting idea, but wouldn’t the very idea of placing roads in canyons involve quite a bit of elevation gain/loss?


JEC August 20, 2013 at 8:18 pm

Not necessarily. The ‘road’ or path could be built in pre-fab sections with the surface mounted on piers – vertical supports – these posts would suspend the path above the ground and can be adjusted to maintain elevation along the contour of the path – like hiking paths found in some National Parks. Minimal impact on the vegatation. Some elevation gain or loss would occur, that’s physics but by engineering a path specifically for bikes, much of those changes could be smoothed out.


Dave Rice August 21, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Okay. I thought we might be talking about some sort of elevated platform here, just wasn’t sure. Seems like that would increase the cost somewhat, but given the relatively small size and weight of the project I could see it being manageable.


Steve F. August 20, 2013 at 8:46 pm

Suggest the bicycle expressway be at least 12 feet wide, or wider if runners and walkers will be on the same pathway. Otherwise, great idea.

On a business trip to San Diego I rented a bike and took early morning rides through the canyons. Getting to them on the traffic clogged roadways was underwhelming, but the canyons were delightful.

But even with bicycle expressways or rail trails or dedicated bike paths along freeways, cyclists still have to use some roads and streets to get from home to the path and from path to work, school, shopping or friends houses. We need safer roads to complement the bike expressways.


Citizen Cane August 20, 2013 at 9:54 pm

In some cases one-way streets might help. Using the photo at the top of the story as an example…drop it from 3 lanes to 2 lanes, make it a one-way street,and put a really wide sidewalk on one side of the street. Paint the sharrow on the sidewalk. Don’t lose any parking.

Notice in the picture that there’s an old guy walking down the middle of the lane. Maybe a skater or rollerblader in the background. Spend millions on a bike path, and it will be used by walkers, joggers, skaters, and moms with baby strollers. It makes sense to me that bikes should be tolerated on most sidewalks. We just need more wide sidewalks…really wide sidewalks.

Bike paths for long distance travel are important, but so are short paths that allow people to run everyday errands, visit friends, etc. Think about the rising number of retired boomers. They won’t be riding to work. In some parts of town, bike racks are needed more than paths.

I heard the Affordable Care Act will (eventually) have funding for bicycle infrastructure. Does anybody know any more about that?


Citizen Cane August 20, 2013 at 11:41 pm

As for the canyon trails….some of our canyons have sewer lines and storm drains. The slope is good for those utilities. It limits some of the bike path options. Maybe just do a simple asphalt trail, because you might need to dig it up for pipe repairs. It also means you have to be able to drive a truck on it.

One last thought…we could sharrow some alleys. Put them on the street sweeper routes so they don’t have too much glass and rock. Make everybody get their dumpsters and cars completely off the alley…get them onto their property where they belong.


Dana Levy August 21, 2013 at 9:19 am

JEC has a great idea whose time has more than come. Coronado is quite bike friendly and the 6 foot wide path from Coronado to Imperial Beach works perfect for all, walkers, runners, moms, bikes, etc. The use of our many canyons would be the ideal solution and if not now, when??? If our city is ever to expand beyond our backwards end of the line mentality (next stop TJ) we must incorporate all fresh and enlightened ideas from around the country as well as here at home and take the lead in innovative strategies to make San Diego a truly bike (etc) friendly environment complimenting our tourist enriched heritage of fine weather and superb beaches. Lets get ready to “pedal on”!!


John Loughlin August 21, 2013 at 2:45 pm

It’s a great idea. Relatively it’s not very expensive. Here’s a recent article from the UK with proposed aerial cycle highways and cost estimates.


JEC August 21, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Thanks for sharing – it’s a big idea, larger than mine. I enjoy the fact that all these cities so far north embrace bikes; and then consider our weather. What’s holding us back?


srvienna August 22, 2013 at 9:14 am

JEC this sounds like a interesting idea. In fact it sounds a lot like the California Cycleway that was built at the turn of the century in Los Angeles, connecting Pasadena to Downtown Los Angeles.

However, the California Cycleway was built in a time before CEQA existed and before the San Diego Multiple Species Conservation Plan.


JEC August 22, 2013 at 10:23 am

The Cycleway – Pasadena – my old neighborhood – I was born next door in Glendale. I believe the Cycleway preceeded the Pasadena Freeway – the first freeway – built in the 30’s. Glad you mentioned CEQA. There seems to be a view that, due to environmental regulations we can’t changed anything – that what we have is all we can have. Big business gets around it ok – think oil, nuclear. For the rest of us; for ideas that are hard to monetize we get sacraficed to the symbol of environmentalism – like being strung up by our own petard. And by providing an alternative to the car, bikes threaten to reduce corporate profits so I don’t look for support from big business. This path concept is used in National Parks – in nature centers – because it can provide access with limited impact on the surrounding environment. I think it’s a good, not perfect, idea. It builds a backbone on which a network can grow. A trunk that supports many branches.


Sergey August 22, 2013 at 11:27 am

Do you know about the Coastal Rail Trail project? It is currently in the planning stage and should pass through San Diego city.

The next meeting of the Coastal Rail Trail Project Working Group is scheduled for Wednesday, September 18th 5-7 p.m.. The meeting will be at the same location, the Nobel Recreation Center at 8810 Judicial Drive.


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