Uptown Bike Corridor: A Critical Juncture for Our City’s Future

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In my previous post for Bike SD, I described the Interim Height Ordinance in Uptown and its use by community planners to promote lower densities and increased parking.  This time I’ll be talking about the SANDAG Uptown Bike Corridor Project that would create protected bike lanes (cycle tracks) for both local residents and bicycle commuters.  

On Thursday, February 6th there’s a community update on the Uptown Bike Corridor at Roosevelt Middle School (3366 Park Blvd), and final routes will likely be presented based on prior feedback.

The meeting is also an opportunity for local businesses to give their input.  Bike SD has created a Bike Friendly Business Survey to understand their concerns and goals regarding safe bike lanes in San Diego.

The Uptown Bike Corridor is part of SANDAG’s San Diego Regional Bike Plan, a “network of corridors enabling residents to bike safely on more direct and convenient routes between major regional destinations”. It’s part of the San Diego Regional Comprehensive Plan, which provides “a balanced regional transportation system that supports smart growth and a more sustainable region.”  Our elected leaders on SANDAG’s board unanimously support the Bike Plan, and directed over $200 million in Early Action funds to the project last year.

My last post suggested that the Uptown Planners Community Planning Group, who advises the city regarding land use and development projects, is out of touch with (or actively opposed to) current urban neighborhood trends.  Its position on the Uptown Bike Corridor is no exception.  During a meeting last year, a majority of the packed room spoke in support of cycle tracks on University (or Washington) Avenue, and 4th/5th Avenues.  Uptown Planners responded by voting not to consider the project until the completion of its community plan in late 2015.  Meanwhile construction of the Corridor is set to begin in 2016.

Funding doesn’t guarantee the Uptown Bike Corridor will be built.  It faces strong opposition from Uptown Planners and some residents.  At last year’s meeting, an Uptown board member said, “This is San Diego.  We drive here.  If you want to ride a bike, go to New York City.”  While a majority of the board’s members likely make all their trips by car, this is not the trend among Americans between the ages of 16 and 35.  For them, car travel is down by 23% while bicycle trips are up by 24%.

A report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group states “(Younger Americans) are more likely to consider forms of transportation beyond the car – the go-to option for many older Americans”.  Another report says millennials are “less likely to personally own a car or drive one regularly”, and “(cite the) environment as a motivation behind their transportation choices/routines”.  This last reason is consistent with the sustainability part of the SANDAG Regional Comprehensive Plan.  Conversely, here’s the view of an Uptown activist opposed to moving forward:

San Diego is losing millennials at a rate higher than nearly any other major U.S. city.  Even the “hip” Hillcrest zip code of 92103 saw a two percent drop in persons aged 20-44 from 2000 to 2010.  Could one reason be that our city has lagged its peers in implementing robust public transit and cycling infrastructure?  The top cities millennials are moving to include Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Denver, Minneapolis, D.C., and Austin, which are all on this list of “best cycling cities in America”.  It’s urgent that San Diego and its current hourglass economy comprised of few middle-income workers attract a talented pool of  younger residents to work in the highly-skilled industries driving our city’s economy. If the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation really wants to compete in the global market place and remain relevant in the coming months and years, the leadership at the EDC needs to start taking a serious look at our woefully inadequate bicycle infrastructure. Our talent is flocking to other cities and we’re losing out.

Safe bike infrastructure isn’t just about millennials’ preferences – bicyclists of all ages are rightfully scared to venture onto our unsafe roads.  Those opposed to safe bike lanes claim there aren’t enough riders to justify building them, yet the Green Lane Project describes 8 cases around the U.S. where installing protected bike lanes increased ridership from 54% to 266%.  Last year’s CicloSDias event in San Diego saw thousands of riders take part, many of them families enjoying streets closed to auto traffic.

Opposition isn’t limited to Uptown Planners.  The publisher of the Presidio Sentinel in Mission Hills has personally lobbied SANDAG against the Bike Corridor, and looks upon cycling as a lifestyle choice:

Just because we build a bike corridor, that doesn’t mean people will ride bikes. It’s about lifestyle. You choose to be a bicyclist.

 Was teenager Angel Bojorquez, an Albertsons cashier working past the end of daily bus service, choosing to be a bicyclist when he was killed in a hit-and-run while riding a dangerous Rancho Santa Fe road?

It’s difficult to break the prevailing mindset in Southern California that roads are for cars only.  A recent LA Times editorial stated:

The very design of the city has supported and emphasized the idea that the roads belong to them and that anybody not using a car is an interloper at best and a threat (to their rights, freedom of movement, even happiness) at worst.  This familiar attitude suggests that every change to the city, whether it’s new architecture or new transit lines, should be weighed primarily, if not exclusively, by its impact on motorists and levels of car traffic. It has seeped so deeply into the civic consciousness that it has fundamentally skewed debate on a wide range of crucial issues.

Drivers only pay 51% of road costs, and most cyclists and pedestrians are drivers too.  Don’t they also deserve safe access to our roads?

Increased auto congestion is another justification against bike lanes, but isn’t this an inevitable by-product of vibrant, successful cities?  The Uptown Bike Corridor will implement bike lanes on just a handful of the dozens of lanes devoted exclusively to parking and vehicle travel in Uptown.

Loss of street parking is the most common objection to the project.  Yet on Park Boulevard, there will be a net gain of parking spaces for the Mid-City Rapid Bus Line by implementing angled parking on side streets.  Can’t we do the same for the Bike Corridor?  Increased meter rates/hours would also result in more parking turnover.  And Hillcrest has implemented a business corridor shuttle with service to the free DMV parking lot.

Removing parking spaces or travel lanes for protected bike lanes has actually increased local business in several cases, including New York City, Fort Worth, Memphis, Long Beach, and Seattle (Uptown Planners ignored these examples when cited last year).  In 2010, El Indio owner and Uptown Planner Jennifer Pesqueira vowed not to give up a single street parking space for the benefit of cyclist safety.  It’s hard to find compromise with that.

Bike share is coming to San Diego in the next few months, adding hundreds to thousands of cycling trips per day to our roads.  Are we going to put these riders, many of them visitors unfamiliar with our city, on unsafe streets forever?

Pedestrians benefit from bike lanes too, through road calming, removal of cyclists from sidewalks, and creation of pedestrian islands that shorten street crossing distances even more than bulb-outs used elsewhere in Uptown:

The obstacles bicyclists face in securing safe bike lanes for Uptown aren’t unique to San Diego.  In Chicago, a woman summed up opposition to a proposed protected bike lane when she said, “I like the neighborhood the way it is“.  It isn’t just that improving safety for Chicago cyclists might inconvenience her, but because it requires change.  And to many in Uptown, that’s simply unacceptable.

The truth is that neighborhoods do change over time, for better or worse.  Uptown’s planners have placed residents’ parochial concerns over consensus-based regional transportation solutions, and they continue to apply yesterday’s auto-centric planning to the community’s future.  If you want to change Uptown for the better, voice your support for safe bike lanes next Thursday.