A Smarter City: San Diego

The National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) reviewed cities across the nation and named 15 "Smarter Cities" in small, medium, and large city categories. They looked at the following criteria:

  • air quality
  • green building
  • standard of living
  • environmental standards and participation
  • transportation
  • recycling
  • green space
  • energy production and conservation
  • water quality

The mission in creating this list was to "foster a little friendly competition … as well as provide a forum for exploring the progress American cities are making in environmental stewardship and sustainable growth."The cities were then given scores based on a specific set of criteria.

San Diego was listed at #11. San Diego scored low on air quality, energy production and conservation, and standard of living beating New York City listed at #12.

Below is an excerpt on how San Diego is attempting in turning itself a Smarter City:

A major component of the city's smart growth strategy is the redevelopment of downtown San Diego, which is served extensively by transit and since 1975 has seen nearly $438 million of new public infrastructure and 14,800 new homes (2,650 of which are price-restricted). In 2008, the city incorporated the City of Villages smart-growth strategy into its updated General Plan to increase density near transit centers and to preserve open spaces. Although the Pilot Village program—an attempt to create sustainable communities linked by transit within the city—has been met with funding and organizational challenges, the program is continuing and has shown two successful examples of infill development: the Village Center at Euclid and Market, which is at the intersection of four neighborhoods and on a trolley and transit station, and the North Park Pilot Village, a revival of a historic section of downtown with high-frequency bus transit.

While the Village Center at Euclid and Market is accessible by public transit, it is located on an island of its own. There isn't much mixed use development between the Village Center and the downtown Gaslamp district. The housing development located near the center is incomplete giving the entire area a somewhat desolate appearance. The focal point at the Center is the automobile with much space devoted to a gigantic parking lot.

Rather than using smart growth strategies to create urban oases that aren't well connected, perhaps the city could create these oases more organically, encouraging mixed use development in all corridors that connect these smart growth centers. Perhaps our officials need a copy of Jane Jacobs' The Life and Death of Great American Cities in order to undersand and appreciate what exactly makes a city really smart.

Bicycle Commuting in San Diego

The last American Community Survey relating to commutes in the U.S. was released in 2007. The percentage of San Diegans that commuted by bicycle to work was 0.6% or 3,602 riders. The margin of error was +/- 920. This was an increase from 0.48% in 2003.

While the increase is encouraging, the percentage of people who do commute by bicycle is still pitiful. So perhaps it would be useful to provide some resources on how to commute by bicycle.

Paul Dorn's Bike Commute Tips blog is a very helpful blog that discusses all concerns about commuting by bicycle. In San Diego, we don't have to worry about commuting in the snow or even in the rain, but other concerns that are faced by many first-time commuters are addressed. Bike Whenever is another useful resource that has every imaginable sort of information, from picking a bicycle to riding it everywhere.

Maybe when the next issue of the American Community Survey comes around, San Diego's bicycle commuter numbers could be enviable.

Can San Diego grab Portland's Economic Dividend?

Tom Scott, Executive Director of the San Diego Housing Federation, sent us this story on Portland's Economic Dividend. The story focuses on a study done by economist Joe Cortright on how Portland's environmentally friendly policies have paid off in a big way.

Cortright estimates that the miles not traveled by an automobile result in an out-of-pocket savings of $1.1 billion dollars per year for Portlanders. Portland's land use patterns and commitment to environmentally sound policies have not only attracted new residents to the region but also businesses, thus multiplying the economic benefit that many cities struggle to attain.

If the city of San Diego took some lessons from Portland and pushed to create more infrastructure catering to bicyclists and pedestrians and public transit users, would there be a need to even hunt for parking structures in the city?

As we've mentioned in the past, San Diego has the most perfect weather all year round. Weather that  cities like Portland and even Amsterdam envy. This weather makes it absolutely perfect to ride a bicycle every single day. So San Diego, what's keeping you off a bicycle?

Response to SDNN's The Great Bike Experiment

We've responded to Chris Nixon's summary of his first week living car-free in San Diego. Below is a copy of our response.

I applaud you and your wife's attempt in going car-lite in September. As one of Bike San Diego's authors, my husband and I are car free and live happily year round without an automobile. In fact throughout our 10 year relationship, we've never owned an automobile.

Both my husband and I shop at farmers markets and at the Ocean Beach Coop. Living in North Park, the ride to the coop is about one hour one way. But the ride is very pleasant and we stock up on a month's worth of staples using panniers. Panniers are your friend if you plan on ditching the car. Additionally do not forget that there are also options like trailers made by Burley.

For example, this past weekend we hauled over 50 lbs of fruits and vegetables with no problem from the farmers market to our home. It is true that biking to purchase food requires planning, but it is no different than driving. Prior to driving you have to ensure that you have enough gas, that your tags haven't expired that you have your car keys and that your feet are not numb.

I'm glad you and your wife have such short commutes. Since you don't have access to a shower at work, you can try what I do: keep a nice supply of perfumed lotions at work along with wet wipes or wash clothes.

While public transportation is a nice fall back option, you may eventually find that biking is actually a quicker way to get to your destination. If SDSU's policy doesn't favor bicycles, perhaps Lisa could use this experiment as an opportunity to ask for better facilities to encourage bicycling on SDSU's campus.

As for emergencies, I recently had to be admitted to an emergency room in a hospital. How did we deal with this from a car-free perspective? By utlilzing one of the many services available to urbanites: taxi services. My husband called one, and we had a taxi at our doorstep in less than 5 minutes. We were at the hospital and my husband didn't have to worry about parking, but instead could focus on comforting me while I got treated. Also remember, ambulances are available for really drastic situations. Emotionally unstable people shouldn't be on the roadways anyway.

Again, I applaud your attempt to go car free. Feel free to contact me or check in with Bikesd.org to see how others live, work and enjoy their lives on a bike in San Diego.

Readers, do you have suggestions or words of encouragement for Chris Nixon? If you do, please let Chris know.

Where do bicycles belong? At the back of the trolley

San Diegan cyclist FO wrote to us describing an encounter he had with a self-described off-duty "federal officer." FO described himself as a fairly new resident to San Diego and still learning how to get around San Diego by bicycle. His destination this morning required him to use both his bicycle and the San Diego MTS trolley.

FO stated that he was considerably flummoxed when he got accosted by a trolley passenger. The passenger stated that "bicycles belong at the back of the trolley." Fred responded by thanking the passenger for his advice. The passenger wearing a knit shirt, a baseball cap holding a small child responded, "that's not advice, that's the law!" FO responded again by thanking him for his concern. Getting more visibly agitated, the passenger stated, "it is not my concern, it is a fact." He went on to say, "I'm a federal officer and it is the law that your bicycle goes in the back." FO said, "I always follow the rules, but I didn't know where to put it." The passenger said "it is posted everywhere." FO said he appreciated it but didn't see the signs and that he would put his bicycle in the back from henceforth. Before leaving the trolley, the passenger stated that the law was there to protect passengers, not bicyclists.

While it is difficult for us to assess whether this passenger was indeed an off-duty law officer of some sort, this type of interaction with members of the community is neither positive nor fruitful. Here at Bike San Diego, we have begun to reach out to various governmental and law agencies in an attempt to create a meaningful relationship that all bicyclists can benefit from. San Diego can be a perfect bicycling mecca, and having positive interactions with all members of society will certainly ensure that it remains as such.

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