Making San Diego More Bike Friendly – Understanding the Planning Process

This is the first in a series of posts articulating why San Diego is currently as bike unfriendly as it is and not recognized as a top bicycle friendly city in the country. In addition to not being recognized as a bicycle friendly city, San Diego has historically also had a higher proportion of fatalities involving cyclists. The 2011 Bicycle Master Plan Update (i.e. the update to the first bicycle master plan that was adopted in 2002) listed the proportion of collisions involving fatalities and bicyclists in San Diego as being substantially higher at 4.8 percent compared to the statewide average of 2.7 percent and the nationwide average of 1.7 percent. We will look at the first bicycle master plan(2002), the current bicycle master plan(2011), the regional bike plan, the importance of community feedback and grassroots pressure to ensure that projects get implemented on the ground. This series will also address the funding issues around implementing projects on the ground. In order to tackle the issues that we’re currently facing, it helps to understand how we got here in the first place. Bicycle counts are another key factor in determining where people are riding and where projects need to be implemented. This post will begin that process of looking at all aspects of what the existing plans consist of and how we can begin to have infrastructure implemented on the ground.

In order to understand where we are today, we will first determine how San Diego stacks up against three other cities in the country:

  1. Portland, currently the top bicycle friendly city in the country
  2. Fresno, a city in California that has faced significant economic challenges and yet still prioritized funding for bicycle infrastructure and,
  3. Philadelphia a city of similar size to San Diego

Below is a table showing when the above cities all adopted their first bicycle master plan, the current ranking in bicycle friendliness and how San Diego stacks up. The funding amounts listed are only from the city’s own coffers, not from regional, state or federal resources:

A Bicycle Master Plan opens the doors for a jurisdiction to apply for funding in order to implement projects (or bike infrastructure). In San Diego, the City of San Diego can implement bicycle projects using its own budget, or apply for funding from SANDAG, the state of California, the Federal Government or a combination of all sources.

The City of San Diego established its first Bicycle Master Plan in early 2002 which was subsequently adopted by City Council on May 28, 2002. It was the first city bike plan that was created to centralize the planning process that had previously been implemented within individual communities in the city. About a decade later, this process was further centralized when the regional planning agency, SANDAG, took over the process of managing projects to ensure a region-wide consistent focus and compliance with various state and national laws.

The purpose of the 2002 Plan was to guide the development and maintenance of the bicycle network through 2020. In 2011, the 2002 original plan was updated in order to provide direction on expanding and improving the existing bicycle network that would serve as a policy document through to 2031.

The four goals of the original 2002 plan were:

  1. Promoting bicycle transportation particularly for trips that were less than five miles in length
  2. Increasing bicycle transportation by making bicycle trips 10% of all trips
  3. Improving the local and regional bikeway network
  4. Increasing the benefits of bicycling that would result in reduced vehicle use, improved air quality and improved health benefits

The specific objectives of the 2002 plan in order to meet the above goals were to

A. Implement Bicycle Master Plan which identifies existing and future needs, and provides specific recommendations for facilities and programs over the next 20 years.

B. Identify and Implement a network of bikeways that are feasible, fundable, and that serve bicyclists’ needs, especially for travel to employment centers, schools, commercial districts, transit stations, and institutions.

C. Maintain and improve the quality, operation, and integrity of the San Diego bikeway network and roadways regularly used by bicyclists.

D. Provide short- and long-term bicycle parking and other bicycle amenities in employment and commercial areas, in multifamily housing, at schools and colleges, and at transit facilities.

E. Increase the number of bicycle-transit trips.

F. Develop and implement education and encouragement plans aimed at youth and adults. Increase public awareness of the benefits of bicycling and of available resources and facilities.

G. Increase government and public recognition of bicyclists’ equal right to use public roadways

As our focus is exclusively on the infrastructure component of bike advocacy we will only address the components of the plan that discuss bicycle infrastructure (Objectives A, B, C, and E). With current research on the benefits of protected bike facilities both on reducing injuries and on increasing mode share with its attending benefits of supporting policy goals on improving air quality, reducing auto-trips and in general livening up our cities – we will only look at the improvements made on infrastructure that offered residents protection from fast moving vehicle traffic.

The plan back in 2002 was stymied by the types of bike facilities that could be implemented. All facilities that could be implemented were listed in Caltrans’ Highway Design Manual and no guide existed to address the needs of the more vulnerable road users such as bicycle riders. The NACTO Urban Bike Guide was no where in sight so the planners were restricted to proposing three types of facilities:

Class I facility which is bike path that is typically not dedicated to just bicycle riders such as the San Diego river multi-use path,

Class II facility which is a standard bike lane and,

Class III facility which typically only has a sign stating “bike route”.
As far as what progress was done between 2002 and 2011 – one can only look at the maps below to decide the progress implemented in nearly 10 years.

Existing Facilities in North San Diego in 2001. Map from City of San Diego 2002 Bike Plan
North San Diego Bike Facilities as of 2011. Map from City of San Diego 2011 Bike Plan

The biggest change in 10 years in the northern part of the city was the implementation of the multi-use path around Lake Miramar and the completion of the multi-use path along SR-56.

Existing Facilities in Central San Diego in 2001. Map from City of San Diego 2002 Bike Plan
Existing Facilities in South San Diego in 2001. Map from City of San Diego 2002 Bike Plan
Existing Facilities in Central and Southern San Diego in 2011. Map from City of San Diego 2011 Bike Plan

In central San Diego even less progress was made except for the extension of the San Diego River multi-use path and the multi-use path along Harbor Drive.

In our next post, we’ll look at what projects were originally suggested, its progress to date and finally, how bike counts fit into the picture of expanding funds to implement additional infrastructure and expanding the bicycle network.