College Area Community Council Appalled at City for Recommending Inadequate Solutions to Improving Bicycle Safety on Montezuma Road

Last night nearly fifteen riders packed the College Area Community Council Meeting room to support our efforts to redesign Montezuma Road to be safer for bicycling. One of the items on the meeting agenda was a presentation by City staff on improving bicycle safety on Montezuma Road.

Montezuma Road today. Riders are forced to deal with 50-35 mph+ traffic. Photo: Randy Van Vleck

Last night’s presentation was the culmination of an effort we initiated with Councilmember Marti Emerald and her staff after Chuck Gilbreth was killed on Montezuma Road earlier this year.

Brian Genovese, Senior Traffic Engineer of the newly formed Multiple Modal Division made the presentation summarizing the results of the study that his department had conducted. The Multi-Modal Division, according to Genovese, is the reorganized Transportation, Engineering and Operations Division where the emphasis is to aggregate the Complete Streets focus and to address the transportation needs of all modes of travel and “do more than before”. His department looked at the College Area Community Plan which was last adopted in 1989 prior to beginning their study of the conditions on Montezuma Road.

Genovese started the presentation by stating, “we’re not going to see a reduction in lanes or a change in classification” of Montezuma Road which is classified as a 4 lane major road. He then displayed a map displaying all the crashes between 1999 and 2012:

Bicycle Collisions on Montezuma Road between 1999 – 2012. Source: City of San Diego.

This was broken down as follows:

Bicycle Collisions on Montezuma Road between 1999 – 2012. Source: City of San Diego.

Genovese presented solutions for low cost/low effort that could be implemented much sooner under what he later articulated as an O&M (or Operations and Management) effort as opposed to a Capital Improvement program which would be a lengthier process as it would entail extensive public outreach.

The short term solutions varied from keeping the existing bike lane free of debris, painting bike boxes, implementing other types of colored pavement markings, not removing the few spots of curbside parking and reconfiguring the interchanges through paint. The next steps proposed included having pilot projects, doing before and after studies after implementation and to coordinate with the “very aggressive” street overlay program to ensure that the overlays included the needs of bicycle riders. The long term solutions included installing a cycle track , removing curbside parking and having grade separated facility pop outs.

Other recommendations included putting in signs to “share the road” or “ride with traffic”.

The first comment after Genovese concluded his presentation came from a Committee member on the College Area Community Council who shouted that the city was “presumptuous that they could change behavior rather than provide cycletracks or safety.”

The Chair, Doug Case, refocused the discussion by stating that he had received multiple emails in support of cycle tracks on Montezuma Road. He didn’t know what they were and Genovese explained what they were.

Joan Fitzsimons asks for Class I bike path along Fairmount Avenue drawing smiles and cheers from the crowd.
The discussion was then opened to the visitors and one of the first people to offer comment on the City’s presentation was Tom Fudge who was seriously injured on Montezuma Road. He started by saying, “paint is great but paint doesn’t stop cars.” He went on to request that the city “find some way to separate cars from bikes”

Forrest Brodsky who is the President of The Bike Stand, the SDSU bike advocacy group, lamented how his group’s efforts to have SDSU recognized by the League of American Bicyclists for being a bicycle friendly campus “failed miserably primarily because of Montezuma.”

Joan Fitzsimons a resident of City Heights stated that she wanted to see a “complete transformation of Fairmount Avenue into a Class 1 bike path.” Fairmount Avenue is one of the three main routes to travel into the valley by bicycle and we believe that it is designed to be extremely unpleasant to ride on. Fairmount Avenue is a connector to Montezuma Road.

The Treasurer of the College Area Community Council, R.D. Williams asked Genovese “what would it take to eliminate parking” on Montezuma Road. Curbside parking exists on a short segment of Montezuma Road as seen in the image below:

Existing bicycle facilities on Montezuma Road. Source: City of San Diego

At this point the discussion got a little rowdy and it was hard to follow who was saying what. One Committee member voiced support for banning cars from driving on Montezuma altogether which received a fair bit of applause and more chatter until the chair, Doug Case, called the meeting to order.

Jan Riley who sits on the College Area Community Council was also appalled at the short term solutions being proposed by the City.

Jan Riley (second from left) expresses her disapproval of the proposal.

She stated that cyclists needed “physical separation” and that it could be done cheaply in the short term by means of “plastic cones”. She went on to state that a “little sign doesn’t help” and suggested that the City do something get drivers to pay attention. She also suggested to “remove parking all along Montezuma” which was also received with cheers and applause and seconded a comment given by a previous Committee member. She ended her comment stating that Montezuma “is dangerous.”

The Chair, closed the discussion by stating that Committee’s highest priority in their Capital Improvement Project list was improving bicycle and pedestrian safety on Montezuma Road.

The presentation was offered as an information item and this item ended after the Committee asked to be included in the process of improving Montezuma Road. Genovese stated he would do so.

Overall, we were pleasantly surprised with the incredible support we received from the College Area Community Council and the requests they made. The other visitors who spoke up also voice similar support as articulated above, but we didn’t capture the specific quotes for our write up. We hope the City will speed up the process of getting dedicated and protective bicycle infrastructure built on Montezuma Road, especially in light of the incredible support received from the Community Council and the bicycle community.