The Battle for Montezuma

Montezuma Road Today. Riders forced to deal with 50 mph+ traffic. Photo: Randy Van Vleck
Montezuma Road Today. Riders forced to deal with 50 mph+ traffic. Photo: Randy Van Vleck

“Montezuma between Fairmount and El Cajon looks like a freeway and drives like a freeway for the western segment.” That was the description Brian Genovese, City of San Diego’s Senior Traffic Engineer for the Multimodal Program gave at last Wednesday’s College Area Community Council meeting. Unfortunately, that’s the way it may remain if other members of the Multimodal Program decide to stick with their track record of upholding the status quo. As he pointed out, the City of San Diego Bicycle Master Plan designates a Class II Facility along Montezuma which, by current standards, already exists.

Montezuma Road Bicycle Facility Assessment Presentation to CACPB on 11-14-2012
Montezuma Road Bicycle Facility Assessment Presentation to CACPB on 3-13-2013

Nonetheless, the crash data from 1999 – 2012 presented at the meeting confirmed what the audience was already aware of: Montezuma Road is not safe. BikeSD representatives, the CCAC, various members of the community and Brian Genovese himself all agreed that the current state of Montezuma is unacceptable. The biggest problem was identified as speed of motor vehicles.

When Genovese’s division tried an experimental approach to creating a safer cycling environment by installing a green painted section along Montezuma leading to the intersection with Collwood, many were excited to see this use of innovative new treatments. However, after four months of mounting opposition from within the City’s Traffic Engineering Section, much of the paint was removed. This defeat is representative of the current disaccord among engineers in the Multimodal Division. The Division at present lacks any type of consensus on a forward-thinking, broad-based progressive approach to dealing with capital improvement projects and instead adheres to a myopic view of individual endeavors.

Genovese vowed to continue in his fight for improvements along Montezuma using low-cost, low-effort strategies. These strategies refer to going after what he called “the low-hanging fruit”. According to Genovese, there are a large number of capital improvement projects currently underway that involve asphalt overlay, or repaving and re-striping roads. By simply identifying the opportunities to realign the paint on these streets in accordance with the City’s Bicycle Master Plan and current accepted guidelines for lane widths and design treatments, new and/or better bike lanes are able to be added at no additional cost.

Joan FitzSimons Presents a Map for the Proposed Greenbelt Along Fairmount Avenue. Photo: Marzhel Pinto.
Joan FitzSimons Explains a Proposed Greenbelt Project Along Fairmount Avenue. Photo: Marzhel Pinto.

Many attendees of the CACC meeting expressed doubts about the prospect of anything actually being implemented along Montezuma Road. Brian Genovese assured the audience that San Diego was ripe for change and likening the current momentum of the cycling movement to a juggernaut. Meanwhile, this proclamation seemed to be reaffirmed by Kensington-Talmage Planning Group member Joan FitzSimons’ announcement of a planned greenbelt along Fairmount Avenue connecting the San Diego River Watershed and Chollas Creek Watershed. The City of San Diego and the City Heights Community Development Corporation have filed an application for a $300,000 CalTrans grant. This regional pilot project would implement the Complete Streets Act and span from the I-8 Freeway all the way to 47th Street, traversing seven different communities and supporting multimodal transport as well as healthy, sustainable and green communities. Plans include a linear parkway with separated bike facilities and tree-lined corridors.

Juggernaut or not, the cycling community now has the attention of planning groups, traffic engineers, city council members and even the Mayor’s office. It’s up to us to hold them accountable and make sure they follow through with transforming San Diego into the world’s best city for bicycling.

Edit: To view the entire presentation that was presented at CACC, click this pdf link.

Correction, March 22, 2013: This post has been updated to reflect the fact that the $300k grant has been applied for but not yet received. It has also been updated to show that the applicants are The City of San Diego and the City Heights Community Development Corporation and the boundaries of the project are I-8 and 47th Street. Thanks to Randy Van Vleck for providing this information.