San Diego Must Get Real About Reaching Its Bike Commuting Goals

by on January 29, 2021 · 14 comments

in San Diego

By Paul Krueger / Times of San Diego / January 28, 2021

Count me among that small but dedicated group of San Diegans who embrace bicycling for its health and environmental benefits.

When I worked downtown, I often commuted 14 miles roundtrip from my Talmadge home. Now retired, I bike to doctor’s appointments in La Mesa and Mission Valley, and stores in North Park and Hillcrest.

It’s a rewarding challenge to climb those hills, and fun to see city life up close. But it’s also a bit demoralizing.

That’s because I have so little company on my two-wheeled travels around our county.

San Diego has spent millions of dollars for dedicated bike lanes, but from where I sit, the “if you build them, they will come” strategy has been an abject failure. Riding up and down the mile-long, multi-million dollar I-15 bike lane, I rarely pass even one other cyclist. Pedaling to and from Ocean Beach or downtown, I can often count the number of other cyclists on one hand.

My observations aren’t unique: while San Diego’s Climate Action Plan calls for increasing bike commuting to 18% of total commutes by 2035, the plan update confirms that bike commuting has been stuck at 2% since 2015.

Expensive new bike lanes connecting Hillcrest and Downtown via Fourth and Fifth Avenues and other busy corridors are barely used.

It’s not just wasteful spending, it’s counterproductive: forcing cars and buses into fewer lanes slows traffic and increases congestion. Vehicles idle longer, and spew more pollution and greenhouse gases. Motorists are understandably frustrated, even angry, when they stare at empty bike lanes while they’re stuck in traffic. Cycling advocates are alienating those whose support we need to encourage pollution-free commuting.

That’s why we desperately need new, creative strategies to get more commuters out of their cars and on their bikes.

I hope these ideas will start the conversation:

  • Let’s focus on densely-populated neighborhoods, where people both live and work. Right now, we’re building bike lanes that connect neighborhoods with employment centers. But those long routes include hills that many potential bike commuters can’t or won’t climb on their way to a busy work day.
  • Let’s spend some of that money on safe bike routes for commuters who live close to where they work. Mission Valley, Hillcrest, Mira Mesa, the Golden Triangle, and other high-density neighborhoods are good candidates for “short-haul” bike networks. In Mission Valley, we can build bridges and underpasses to help cyclists avoid gridlock and safely cross busy intersections and Interstate 8.
  • We should subsidize electric bikes for commuters. Most workers can’t arrive at work sweaty and tried. E-bikes make the ride easier, and have carry-alls for briefcases and a change of clothes. Recipients of those subsidizes can sign a pledge to commute, and we could use tracking technology to make sure they do. The county’s e-bike giveaway program could be a good framework. Business owners could also subsidize e-bike purchases, in exchange for tax deductions. We can also help the California Bicycle Coalition’s laudable effort to provide e-bikes for students, which will reduce their parents’ morning car trips.
  • Let’s encourage more employers to get bike-friendly. Give them rebates when they install bike lockers, sheltered and secure bike parking, and e-bike charging stations. Reward them for offering monthly bonuses for bike commuters who don’t use parking spots.
  • *We can subsidize a network of “sag-wagons” to give bikers, and their bikes, a ride home when it’s dark or rainy. Pay for their ride-share to work, or home, when they have to leave their bike at work for whatever reason. Buy them a portable bike rack. Offer free helmets and other “swag” to encourage biking. Do more community outreach, with speakers from different ethnic backgrounds, to publicize the environmental, health, financial and “fun” benefits of biking to work and school.
  • Put more bike racks on buses, or outfit them to carry bikes inside. MTS buses have just two bike racks. I can tell you from experience, there’s nothing more frustrating that waiting for a bus after dark — or when you’re tired or in a hurry to get home — only to have the bus pass you by because both racks are filled.
  • Lastly, don’t skimp on maintaining our existing bike lanes. Potholes and cracked asphalt have flattened more than one of my tires. Cyclists can’t call road service for a spare, and it’s a major hassle to get sidelined by a flat while pedaling to work or an appointment.

All of these incentives cost money. Some of them might be impractical. But if we need a big increase in bike commuting to help meet climate action goals, we must be open to alternatives that work, in the real world.

Paul Krueger is a former senior producer at NBC7 San Diego, writer for the San Diego Reader, and a resident of the Talmadge neighborhood.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris January 29, 2021 at 11:22 am

I fully agree with all of this, but as far as the bike lanes in Hillcrest and Bankers Hill I DO see lots of cyclists. More so in Hillcrest along University but a fair amount on 5th in Bankers. In Bankers not so much for commuting for work but quite a few on weekends, do I don’t understand why so many say they rarely see anyone in those bike lanes. That’s just not been my experience at all. In both those areas I haven’t noticed any negative impact on traffic either. I hear people complain but I drive those areas all the time and have noticed nothing in terms of increased congestion.
On to e-bikes. I have mixed feelings about them. To my they kill the soul of what cycling is supposed to be about, but I suppose they are the only realistic way people are going to start using bikes for work commuting, for all the reasons listed in the article.


Larry OB January 29, 2021 at 3:46 pm

I wouldn’t mandate it, but I think it would be good for business if large retailers allowed people to walk their bicycles through a store. Not on rainy days of course. Maybe have special shopping hours for bicycle shoppers.


Chris January 31, 2021 at 5:01 pm

Interesting article from Outside Magazine. It’s more focused on cyclists deaths as opposed to simply getting more people out of their cars, but it does give a good example of why we need more protected bike lines, not less:
The problem though with protected lanes (something I am in favor of for the most part) is that they don’t always achieve their goal. Cardiff is a recent example.


Geoff Page February 1, 2021 at 12:11 pm

I read your link, Chris. One glaring omission in their study was the reason for the deaths, how many were the cyclist’s fault and how many were the driver’s fault? For example, a cyclist was hit in the Midway area a while ago late at night with no lights. We all see cyclists running stop signs or riding at night with no lights. It is certainly possible that there are more cyclists on the road with less experience.

Here’s another example. I worked with a guy in Old Town who road to work from my neighborhood every day. He’s been a committed cyclist for many years. When I’d leave Old Town, I’d drive out to Pacific Highway to get to Barnett. Because of the flexible plastic traffic lane markers, I had to go down to the light in front of SPAWAR to the light, wait for the left turn arrow, and make a u-turn to get back to Barnett. My friend would cross Pacific Hwy north bound to the line of markers and then cross Pacific Hwy southbound. He often had to wait in the center to make it across with cars going 45+ mph on each side. He did this at night too. Luckily, he has not been hit, but if he was, how would the statistic show it was his fault for not following the rules of the road that driver’s AND cyclists are supposed to follow?


Chris February 2, 2021 at 6:21 am

I don’t deny Geoff there are many cases where the cyclist is at fault. I’ve had more than a few close encounters where the rider just popped out of nowhere and paying no attention. And that’s only exacerbated by the covid bike boom. Still you can research into thousands upon thousands of cases where it was truly the driver’s fault. Often intentional.
As are as running stop signs, that’s a double edged sword. I’m guilty of doing that but when I do, I see well in advance there are no cars on either side. I don’t just gleefully blow through. I know that’s kind of a gray area.
The story of the guy you worked with to me seems like a good example why we need better bike infrastructure. On an unrelated note, where did you work in Old Town?


Sam February 2, 2021 at 10:08 am

There is no gray area. Cyclists are not exempt from stop signs or signals.

From the DMV website:

“Bicyclists must obey STOP signs and red signal lights, and follow basic right-of-way rules. Do not cross through an intersection with a yellow signal light if you cannot make it across the intersection before the light changes to red.”


Geoff Page February 2, 2021 at 10:55 am

Chris, I don’t deny that motorists are at fault for many of the incidents, but no distinction has been made here. What percentage of the incidents were the fault of cyclists? The data comes from a cycling organization “With the help of the nonprofit, we analyzed the data we collected on bicyclists killed by drivers in 2020 and found some surprising takeaways.” Surprising that there is no mention of how many of these the cyclists were responsible for.

You said you do this yourself when you can see no cars are coming. That’s called a Yield, Chris, not a stop. If cars of that, they get a traffic ticket.


Chris February 2, 2021 at 11:53 am

“That’s called a Yield, Chris, not a stop. If cars of that, they get a traffic ticket.” Yeah I know. That’s why I used the term “guilty”. My point for admiring that was to knowledge that cyclists are very much at fault in many instances.


Geoff Page February 2, 2021 at 12:42 pm

I didn’t mean to imply that you didn’t know what a Yield was, Chris, but some might not know that. You highlighted my typo, I meant to say If cars “do” that, not “of” that. I’m just hoping someone has a resource that tells us what I’m curious about. I rode motorcycles and scooters for a long time and every time I read a headline about an accident involving a motorcycle, I checked to see who was at fault. Depressingly, most of the time it was the motorcyclist. There were plenty of instances where the car was at fault too, but at least there was some perspective.


Chris February 2, 2021 at 12:51 pm

All good Geoff. I knew what you meant. That’s one thing that annoys me about posting on the Rag is I can’t go back and correct types.


Frank Gormlie February 2, 2021 at 3:37 pm

Chris – and Geoff – and anyone else; if you have a typo just alert me in an email : and I’ll fix it – although I cannot fix bad reasoning, sloppy analogies, or double entrendres .


Chris February 2, 2021 at 12:53 pm

Typos (see what I mean lol?).


Geoff Page February 2, 2021 at 1:12 pm

Ha, ha, mee too my friend.


sealintheSelkirks February 2, 2021 at 2:34 pm

Boy do I miss riding my old mtn bike. I’d even follow all the traffic rules if I could use my old Eddie Fischer ‘Tassajara’ model that I bought off my stepson in the early 00’s more often. Such a small price to pay.

And I admit I don’t. Stopping just doesn’t make any logical sense when you can see in every direction and there is no traffic whatsoever coming. By extension if you’re honest with yourself, it isn’t logical when in a car, either. I mean, sitting there waiting for a machine to tell you to when there are no cars visible is kind of bizarre behavior if you think about it. You mean you are unable to judge when it’s ‘safe,’ when no cars are coming or how quickly they are closing on you? But then a human’s spacial abilities are not fully matured until about age 22 I once read…means that if we were smart we shouldn’t let anybody drive a car until then…or bikes or skateboards or e-scooters… So if you’re under 22 (but the gov would think up some kind of test, right?), you can only walk or used public transportation. How amusing a thought!

Bet that idea probably wouldn’t go over real well…

I can barely reach the ground on my bike, and I had to switch out for a more comfortable seat that is as low as it can get (he’s 6’6″!), but just to be able to ride around when I want to go somewhere but not drive or walk…and in a freaking bike lane no less. I miss those! There is nothing but 2-lane rolling curvy blacktop state highway with blind corners and absolutely zero shoulders (mostly a ditch for runoff and snowmelt on both sides you won’t survive). The ones that do have shoulders tend to have a lot of debris to dodge I’ve noticed. That doesn’t look fun, ya know?

Or else county gravel roads that all start with warning signs when you leave the asphalt saying ‘Primitive Road Ahead’ which means idiots in very large pickup trucks doing 50mph flinging rocks and massive clouds of dust in the summer…and they all have the runoff ditch, too.

But the Riverside Park trails down in Spokane that follow the Spokane River for miles and miles in both directions; absolutely beautifully done! Lots more people in the city on bikes and skateboards. Since one of my old 70s pool riders is always in the vehicle when I go south to the flatlands during the dry season, at least I get to skate around doing errands.

Big sigh. I really really miss riding the bike. You guys are lucky! I keep going out to the shop and airing up the tires now and then…can I whine a little?



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