Filner’s 9-month Mayorship was the Biggest Boon to Bicycling and Livability in San Diego’s History

Under the better late than never philosophy, I thought I’d write down some thoughts about the (now former) Mayor Filner’s short nine month reign in San Diego.

Back in 2011 when the November 2012 election season seemed eons away, I began to realize the importance of having a mayor in office ready and willing to push the bike agenda. I was just getting started in advocacy and having observed the success of having a champion in the mayor’s office from cities as large as New York City to ones as small as Oklahoma City, I thought I’d try and see how far I could get with having a mayoral candidate making a commitment a more bike friendly San Diego.

Once upon a time when things seemed pure and innocent, the former mayor rode with the South Park Bike Train. Photo via Howard Blackson.

The story of how that transpired has been documented on this website and elsewhere but ultimately, all but one major candidate (Bonnie Dumanis) came out with a bike plan and bicycling became a part of the conversation during the mayor’s race. During that period, about a dozen or so people talked me into converting my efforts on BikeSD, the blog, and instead focus my energy into a more coherent form by incorporating this website into a proper non-profit. Last September BikeSD formally launched as a non-profit so as to play a stronger role in the city in advocating for the region’s cyclists. The goal was to dictate an agenda instead of simply begging and pleading our elected officials to throw us an occasional crumb while rewarding them handsomely with photo opportunities.

My assumption was that we’d have about four years during which BikeSD could organize and grow and thus play a much stronger role in subsequent elections. I had hoped to use four years for us to master all the issues and then train and/or hire the requisite help needed to execute our mission. Unfortunately, the best laid plans sometimes never come to pass and Bob Filner’s term as mayor came to an end last Friday.

In the past nine months, the former mayor managed to execute the city’s first open streets event, convert a parking lot into a pedestrian plaza without building any new roads or bridges, and begin the process of fixing our horribly auto-centric roads that were built to the detriment of all human reason or acknowledgment that fleshy humans use our public streets. In other words, Filner was unprecedented as a mayor of San Diego on the attention he brought to understanding and implementing a vision of making San Diego more livable, more humane, and more considerate of our city’s bicycle riders.

All of this was a parking lot. Photo via Balboa Park.

For our movement, Filner did things that no mayor ever has. But in the eleven months since we launched as a formal organization, I have learned a great deal about what needs to be done at the city to make us a world class bicycling city – a city where a majority of trips are made by bicycle. Many have compared the movement we started to a juggernaut and I for one have no intention of slowing down or stopping. And so I expect everyone running for office of the mayor to come up with a coherent plan that understands not only induced travel but also the legal, policy and funding issues needed to continuing moving San Diego forward and the specific strategies needed to ensure the plan’s success. We were so far behind when Filner was sworn into office and we moved a bit during these last few months, we need to keep the momentum up and onward.

Edit: I neglected to mention that along with Filner, Ed Clancy who was appointed by the mayor to handle bicycle initiatives, also resigned.

Edit: Gerry Braun was kind to correct me on my dates – Filner was mayor for nine months (December 2, 2012 – August 30, 2013), not eight. I have changed the article to reflect that correction.