Is San Diego channelling Janette Sadik-Khan?

Last week, bicyclists riding along Clairemont Drive Boulevard noticed new bike lane markings. This was unexpected and unprecedented especially as the City had sought no input from the residential or bicycling community and had reduced the lanes from two to one for automobile drivers, giving the second lane to bicyclists.

Image from PBIC Image Library
Image from PBIC Image Library

Last night the City of San Diego sent Senior Traffic Engineer, Gary Pence, to meet with Clairemont residents to explain why the changes were made.

The meeting was well attended by both bicyclists and by area residents. Gene Carman, a cyclist who attended the meeting, wrote up a report that we’re posting below with permission.


Cyclists were well represented last night. Kathy Keehan, the Executive Director for the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, was there and she greeted every cyclist she could.  There were those that rode bikes and were obviously cyclists, and there were those that arrived in 4 wheeled vehicles.  Kathy made sure that even the cyclists that were less than obvious at least had on a cycling emblem.

City council member Donna Fry was there representing her district.

The Meeting had an 8 point agenda, presented by a city traffic engineer, Gary.

After introductions, the accident history of the area was presented, recent changes were discussed, the city policy was laid out, other possible changes were mentioned.  People presented their concerns, and Gary stated that this all will be studied further.

This particular section of Clairemont Drive has had a terrible  accident record primarily due to motorists driving at speeds that are excessive for this particular stretch of road. The recent accident history of the last 6 years has had 42 collisions on this one stretch of road which is five times the rate of any other similar stretch of street in San Diego.  Law officer enforcement is not the solution due to the 85% rule. Thus, there was the need to lower, not raise the speed limit in the area.

The 85 percentile rule states,

The 85th percentile speed is how drivers “vote with their feet.” Studies have shown crash rates are lowest at around the 85th percentile speed. Drivers traveling significantly faster OR slower than this speed are at a greater risk for being in a crash. It is not high speeds alone that relate to crash risk; it is the variation of speed within the traffic stream.

The reasons for the collision history are the tighter along the radius bends of the road; the cars parked along the sides blocking views; vegetation along the road blocking views; and excessive speed of motorists, with an average speed of 43 MPH in a marked 35 zone.  Speeds as high as 60 and 100MPH have been clocked in this area.  The city and local residents felt that “something had to be done…”    Trimming vegetation and removing parking areas did not result in the desired changes.  So traffic calming was seen as the next step.

By removing one lane, and using the center as a painted area buffer, it is hoped that motorists driving at or below the speed limits will tend to act as moving “speed regulators” for all traffic in the area.   It was noted that this seems to be working, and that only during times of peak traffic at rush hour does this design reach maximum capacity.

The design still needs some adjustment.  Generally, the feeling of the residents was that the change was needed, but some adjustment needs to be made to refine the traffic flows in the area.  Perhaps moving bus stops or adjusting the ingress or egress of some streets or adding or removing left turns, even adding more red curb may help.

The primary reason for the community meeting was that this change, with the resulting bike lanes seemed to come about quickly, and the community felt somewhat “left out” by the sudden actions of the city.

The city knew something had to be done, and felt that both the roadwork that was concluding in the area, and the long community approval process just did not coincide.   In this case, it was better to ask forgiveness than to wait for permission.

The addition of bike lanes was due to the need to further buffer traffic from parked cars.  This was mentioned several times.  Bike lanes were not put in place to address any particular concerns or requests from cyclists, but were part of the overall “road diet” and traffic calming plan. On the flip side, a couple of cyclists commented that the bike lanes made the ascent of Clairemont Drive a far nicer experience.   There was also a recommendation that perhaps sharrows could be used from the top of Clairemont Drive at Burgener and beyond, so that the bike lanes would become part of a connected network, rather than just sit in isolation.

So bottom line, the bike lanes were the result of a need to slow traffic, not address any bike transportation requests.  Both the bike lanes and the rest of the paint will get further tuning.  There is a scheduled “slurry seal” in the next 6 or so months, and after said sealing, the striping will have to be repainted.  The traffic engineer, Gary, took several suggestions, and has stated he will watch the traffic patterns, and try to adjust the stripes to give the desired result of lower speeds and fewer accidents.