Few San Diegans Consider Commuting by Bike

by on August 24, 2021 · 29 comments

in San Diego

By Paul Krueger / San Diego Union-Tribune Op-Ed / August 24, 2021

I’m a veteran cyclist who commuted 14 miles to work and back for years. I’m fully committed to clean air, climate action and reduced use of solo-driver vehicles.

But I believe our city’s current strategy for attaining these laudable goals is misguided, and think it has already backfired by alienating the majority of San Diegans whose support we need.
My reading of public opinion — and what I see every day on our streets — has convinced me that only a tiny minority of San Diegans will ever consider commuting by bike. Most live too far from their jobs. Their routes to work include hills and uncrossable freeways. And their bikes won’t carry their briefcases, lunches and the change of clothes they need at their workplace.

The facts confirm my perspective. The most recent commuter survey by the San Diego Association of Governments, from 2019, reports that a mere 1.2 percent of San Diegans commute by bike. And the city has presented no reliable research showing that number will increase with its current strategy.

But the biggest barrier to biking long or short distances is safety. Bicycling is an inherently dangerous activity’. I’ve survived more than my share of collisions. I was knocked off my bike by a motorist who cruised through a stop sign. I was hit head-on by a wayward cyclist riding the wrong way on a Downtown street. I broke five ribs and my collarbone when I collided with a car in May while cycling on Washington Street in Hillcrest. (Luck}’ for me, the Scripps Mere}’ ER was just three blocks away!)

That’s one reason why I believe no amount of lane striping, “sharrow” signs or “protected” bike lanes will ever convince the overwhelming majority of San Diegans that it’s safe to bike to work, or to take even short trips in traffic on their on their bike.

And they’re right. We will never have enough money to insulate cyclists — or motorists or pedestrians — from injury or death caused by human recklessness. Last year, 30 San Diegans were killed by drunken or drug-impaired drivers. But we don’t demand that automakers put ignition-lock breathalyzers on ever}’ vehicle.

In fact, there’s a spirited debate about whether protected bike lanes, like the ones just installed on Fourth and Fifth Avenues in Hillcrest, actually put cyclists at greater risk. Some riders would prefer to share the road with vehicles, because protected lanes bordered by curbs and stanchions can trap cyclists, leaving them no escape route if pedestrians unexpectedly cross their path.

As for return on public investment, bike ridership is simply too scarce to justify construction costs and the loss of road space caused by many new bike lane projects, especially when cyclists can be accommodated — or already have designated lanes — just a block or two from major thoroughfares.

That’s a big reason I vehemently oppose the city’s ill-reasoned decision to transform North Park’s 30th Street business corridor into a cycle track. Those bike lanes have wiped out hundreds of parking spots, and are already hurting restaurant and store owners who had barely survived the COVID-19 pandemic.

Plus, the environment clearly suffers when we sacrifice traffic lanes for empty bike lanes, leaving frustrated motorists stuck in congested traffic, spewing greenhouse gases from their idling vehicles.

Those angry motorists will have their revenge. They’ll vote no on the next billion-dollar transit tax because they don’t trust how government planners will spend their money. And they’ll vote against incumbent politicians who responded to complaints with “We know what’s best” condescension.

For the balance of this article, please go here.

Paul Krueger is a writing coach, editor, researcher and retired journalist, who occasionally writes for the OB Rag. He lives in Talmadge.


{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Greg August 24, 2021 at 11:14 am

I agree with Mr. Krueger. The level of service degradation we have seen on our local arterials is not acceptable. We need to make our streets faster and easier for automobile travel. It’s awesome living on Sunset Cliffs Boulevard we need more of that on our streets. Can we start building double-decker freeways and giant parking structures too? Population increases and more people need to use their cars so we need to add capacity ASAP. Let’s fix our gridlock!!! Make more highways through our community!


Geoff Page August 24, 2021 at 2:24 pm

Common sense is lost on some people.


Greg August 24, 2021 at 4:07 pm

I’m curious as to what the solution is that prioritizes personal automobile travel and where that takes us? Los Angeles built freeways and prioritized personal automobile travel. It got them where they are today. Why would San Diego’s outcome be different? What solutions are being proposed that handle future growth or improve our current conditions? What is the common sense solution to increase capacity on the gridlocked 5-freeway? Do we want to double-decker it or bulldoze some houses and pave over wetlands? What’s the solution?


Don Wood August 24, 2021 at 4:45 pm

Nobody is willing to touch the third rail of California politics and argue that the most effective way to address most of our housing and transportation problems might well be to find more ways to stabilize our population in the state. At least in the major cities.


kh August 25, 2021 at 1:00 pm

Expanding the I-5 is certainly no easy task or silver bullet, but that didn’t stop SANDAG from selling the idea to pass a tax increase that surprise surprise, is no longer being used for that. They obviously can’t be trusted. I’m surprised some taxpayer advocate attorneys haven’t enriched themselves from that abuse of public funds.


Obeacian August 24, 2021 at 1:30 pm

Love to bike, more lanes and infrastructure please!


TD August 24, 2021 at 2:41 pm

This. All day this.

Thank you Paul for being a voice of reason on this subject. I grow tired of arguing with bike first advocates about plans to road diet and remove parking. I honestly think that they believe that if we make it so inconvenient to drive a car, that everyone will miraculously give up their cars and turn to biking. This is a pipe dream for the exact reasons you state but they are also not considering the elderly or parents who work 2-3 jobs and have to wrangle children from place to place with very limited time. Being able to bike everywhere is a privilege that many do not have. There are also people like me, who are just not comfortable on them and do not feel safe.

We also need to start thinking about the pollution that a car creates while sitting in traffic caused by all the road diets. Los Angeles is a screaming indication of how people are unwilling to get out of their cars and would rather sit on a freeway for hours. LA is a cluster but people there don’t care.

If San Diego was a small town, I’d be all in on this, but we’re not. It’s great to have the small biking infrastructure improvements to feel safe going to the store, the beach or hyper local locations but to expect people to commute and hope that all these changes will force people to give up their cars is wishful thinking.


Chris August 24, 2021 at 4:31 pm

I have mixed feelings about 30th St. I don’t bike commute to work since I live in Hillcrest and work @ Naval Base North Island, but I DO enjoy biking around here and the surrounding areas. My wife and I like to bike to North Park, University Heights, Normal Heights, Kensington. Going up and down 30th has been a scary nightmare and with the lanes we feel much safer. It is ironic though that I see less cyclists with the lanes now with the lanes than before. Go figure. Regardless I enjoy it much more now. While I understand the economic impact it will have on the businesses there, should we go back to how it was before and people like me just need to suck it up as far the danger or simply opt not to ride there? That doesn’t seem fair to me either. So what’s the solution?


Geoff Page August 24, 2021 at 7:30 pm

Here’s an idea. Ride on the roads parallel to 30th St. Why is it so necessary to ride on 30th? Except for a small stretch from Switzer Canyon south to about Juniper, there are roads that parallel 30th one block on either side. I don’t understand this insistence on riding major roads. Why ride Voltaire west of Sunset Cliffs instead of Muir one block away? Same with Santa Monica and Newport. If the goal is to get from one place to another, then plan routes that don’t put your life in danger or frustrate drivers. Common sense is really missing in this discussion.


Chris August 24, 2021 at 8:12 pm

Well Geoff, more often than not we did exactly that. Also I say I have mixed feelings. The few times we actually rode on 30th it was pretty scary tho (which is why we usually did what you suggested here) but since the lanes were put in we have taken advantage of it and I have to admit it’s kinda nice. If the powers that be decide to go back to how it was before than so be it but I just think it’s a bummer there’s not a way to make things out for everyone. That’s my 3 cents.


Geoff Page August 25, 2021 at 11:30 am

I can understand that, Chris, that it is kind of nice to ride the new bike lane on 30th.

I had a friend just off of 30th on the south side of Switzer Canyon. We met in 2000 and I visited his house for 15 years before he passed away. I watched the renaissance of 30th, it has been amazing to watch. Lots of small businesses transformed that street and these were not big budget small businesses by any means. It is very pleasant now and draws lots of people but these thriving businesses still are not all big budget. Taking away the parking is a challenge they should not have to bear.

Cyclists could always get to all of these businesses using side streets as I described, this bike lane was not necessary, meaning the only alternative for bikes to reach the bars and restaurants. It was desired. And the cyclists are not paying the price, the very businesses they want to visit are.
. Now it seems it is a casualty of its success.


Paul Krueger August 26, 2021 at 8:27 am

There’s a shared bike lane one block west of 30th, on Utah, which is part of the reason I oppose the 30th street bike lane. I just don’t understand why the city could not have routed the bike lanes on streets adjacent to, and nearby, 30th street.


Mat Wahlstrom August 26, 2021 at 11:25 am

I went through the same thing during the Uptown Bikeways plan. The answer I got from SANDAG and the city was that it is “unfair” and “discriminatory” to make bicyclists have to use secondary streets and not be able to pull up directly in front of a business — never mind the irony or concerns for safety or parking or other knock-on effects.

The real answer is two-fold: by eliminating personal vehicles, developers can claim the supposed reduction from auto emissions as offsets under the Climate Action Plan against their greenhouse gas-emitting projects; and by claiming that we have ‘multi-modal’ main corridors, they can pack in more height and density under that bonus scheme.


Paul September 3, 2021 at 3:05 pm

PK, because the businesses and jobs are on 30th, that’s why.

Where does Utah run south of Upas? It doesn’t.

Perhaps motorists, who just need to push a gas pedal, could be the ones to inconvenience themselves by going out of their way. But we know you value motorist convenience over all else.


Geoff Page September 3, 2021 at 3:11 pm

Utah does run south of Upas, Paul. There are several streets running parallel to 30th as is abundantly clear on Google Maps.


Don Wood August 24, 2021 at 4:36 pm

Paul and TD may be right. I’ve spent decades urging SANDAG and local governments to get serious about creating a regionwide protected bikelane network what would allow a cyclist to get from anywhere in the county to anywhere else in the county without having to share streets or roads with two ton cars or trucks driven by drunk/drugged/distracted drivers. But after we began to see state and local governments beginning to set aside money for rudimentary bike lanes, mostly created by simply painting lanes along city streets, I’ve become discouraged with the results see to date. Large cities like San Diego simply have too many miles of established streets and roads to afford to develop truly safe protected bike lanes, and small cities like La Mesa are just painting stripes on existing streets with any curbs or solid bollards to keep the cars and trucks from drifting into the bike lanes and striking cyclists. As Paul points out, the ride share of bicyclists continues to be minimal, just like the ride share of residents using the trolley and buses remains well below 5%. As TD points out, perhaps these visionary efforts might have better chances in smaller rural cities, but those city’s probably won’t have the tax base or funding sources to create bike lanes or transit oriented developments.


Frances O'Neill Zimmerman August 24, 2021 at 5:50 pm

Cycling is incredibly dangerous in urban environments and works best in protected small communities like Davis, CA. The USA is not Holland, and even in the Netherlands, a Dutch friend’s elderly mother died biking in her small town. Painting stripes on roadways is an illusion
of safety for cyclists, easily shattered by “drunk/drugged/distracted”automobile drivers, not to mention cratered pavement. What’s happening to businesses along bike-reconfigured 30th Street is folly equivalent to newly-constructed infill apartment complexes without parking spaces. Whatever happened to the idea of really improving mass transit — quantity and frequency?


Geoff Page August 24, 2021 at 7:32 pm

That’s my mantra too, Frances. Improve mass transit – quantity and frequency. They manage to do this all over Mexico and Central America, you’d think we could do it too.


Peter from South O August 25, 2021 at 6:08 am

As someone who has used mass transit exclusively for my work commute for over 20 years I have watched unreliable subsidies (they change radically from one year to the next) affect the frequency of service, both rail and bus. If we truly want to get people out of their cars and convince them that long commutes are better spent relaxing, reading or doing a little work on a laptop we need a more extensive network with short feeder routes to feed express bus routes, and to have a funding source in place to guarantee that the system will not shrink from one year to the next. We are in an enormous County and the concentration on long routes that stop every other block is not conducive to commutes; express routes that stop only every few miles are, with people from the surrounding communities being concentrated at those stops by loop-route feeders. Take a look at these confusing statistics and see what your engineering noggin can come up with:


Chris August 24, 2021 at 8:02 pm

I agree with you and Geoff about improving mass transit, but why can’t we also improve bike safety?


Geoff Page August 24, 2021 at 8:21 pm

As I said above, we can start by making better choices of roads to bike on.


kh August 25, 2021 at 12:56 pm

When transit and bike advocates can come up with something more than making driving and parking suck, I’ll listen. Imagine a restaurant that brings in customers primarily by poisoning the other dining options.

My first hand experience is biking in my community is extremely dangerous but also healthy and invigorating to the extent you can stay upright. Danger is not my main obstacle. Biking and using transit would require me to add 4 hours to my work day, hire a second childcare provider, and to turn down most jobs requiring transport large tools and equipment. Not to mention riding at night in the wintertime. And it still would not replace owning a car or the need for parking.


sealintheSelkirks August 25, 2021 at 2:37 pm

There really isn’t an answer for this as cities were designed around cars. Look at how the automobile manufacturers bought up and got rid of all the well-established trolley lines in the cities during the very early 20th Century. This was planned.

Same thing happened with train travel. Most long-hauling of goods was done by train…far more economical and FAR less polluting…until the trucking industry was invented and grabbed control. Now nothing but monstrously huge heavily polluting and very dangerous trucks packing the highways 24/7 do almost all of it.

And then planes took over long distance passenger travel from the trains. Travel used to take more time but be far less stressful…but we didn’t have 331,000,000 people in this country then.

Bicycles and pedestrians will never be workable in densely packed US urban areas for the majority. Everything is too spread out, too far away. Our citified lifestyles won’t work without cars. And LA found out that more traffic lanes isn’t the answer, either. Every time they built them problems. Oops.

We certainly are in deep doo-doo. And we’ll keep digging the hole deeper we are in because…that’s what we seem to always do. And I’m 15 miles from the nearest bank, supermarket, and hardware store in the town I fix furniture at a 2nd hand store one day a week. I’m part of the problem, too, because I have to carry 40 pounds of tools that day. No quick or easy answers and we KNOW we have to stop fossil fuel use because the consequences are glaringly obvious at this point…



Paul September 3, 2021 at 3:08 pm

“Bicycles and pedestrians will never be workable in densely packed US urban areas for the majority. Everything is too spread out, too far away. Our citified lifestyles won’t work without cars.” Have you ever been to New York City? Pedestrians far outnumber motorists in many areas.

It’s amazing what car culture has done to people’s minds.


Geoff Page September 3, 2021 at 3:51 pm

I am always amazed when people make comparisons with other cities and other countries. New York City has 27,000 people per square mile and is only slightly smaller than San Diego by 70 square miles. San Diego has 4,381 people per square mile. That alone negates any real comparison.

And again, lose the insults, they just make it look like you have nothing useful to say.


sealintheSelkirks September 3, 2021 at 5:21 pm

Yes Paul, I have been to New York as my birth mother moved there around 1970 and I visited her at 177 Bleecker Street 2nd floor apartment in the back just a couple years later. Hitchhiked from MB with a skateboard and surfboard as a matter of fact, and was mind boggled by the incredibly dense packed crowds of humans jostling one another elbow to elbow everywhere we went. Riding a clay-wheeled skate (before urethane came out in ’73) that was very hard to do with that many people on the sidewalks, and one would take a life risk skating in the street in NY then. The NY cabbie stereotype was well-earned then. Probably far worse now I imagine!

But as Geoff mentions, one really shouldn’t try to compare apples and oranges. And what car culture has done to people’s minds I’d tend to agree since my average mileage in my old ’95 4Runner is 30 miles a week. That one round-trip run to town is mostly all I do in a gas-guzzler between snow seasons. But I will admit I drive more in winter…



JR August 29, 2021 at 11:02 am

Thanks for the well written article on this subject. Transitioning to an alternate mindset for transportation – e.g., biking, walking, mass-transmit in place of automobiles – is a 30 year plan and not a two-year re-stripping project. I see a lot of new construction in the OB area with housing on the 2nd and 3rd floors and retail on the first floor. Since there is no parking, the first floor retain space is largely empty, because it would rely on people walking to the stores (no there isn’t any bike parking provided). The biggest challenge that is going unanswered how to pay for it. Our roads are largely paid for by gasoline taxes and federal subsidies (from Federal gas taxes). As we transition to electric, bicycles, and scooters – how are we going to transition an alternate form of paying for roadway infrastructure?


Paul September 4, 2021 at 10:40 am

“Bicycling is an inherently dangerous activity” and “we will never have enough money to insulate cyclists — or motorists or pedestrians — from injury or death caused by human recklessness”. Yet we spend millions to keep motorists safe – despite driving also being an “inherently dangerous activity”. Here’s just one example: https://www.10news.com/news/local-news/san-diego-leaders-unveil-plans-to-curb-wrong-way-crashes-on-freeways

Why does Mr. Krueger believe motorists deserve safer roads, but not bicyclists? Perhaps because he, like other boomer OB Rag writers Geoff Page, Judy Curry and Frank Gormlie have experienced a long lifetime of profound car culture bias. While I think their generation (and mine) are largely lost to this brainwashing, I’m encouraged that younger Americans and San Diegans are beginning to question these utterly sad and cynical views.


Geoff Page September 4, 2021 at 12:05 pm

We spend money to make driving safer because it is the primary mode of transportation in the country. A great many people need their cars and could never accommodate their lives to bicycles. So, we spend money where it benefits the most people.

You just can’t seem to help being insulting, can you?


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