Foto Friday: Enhanced Bike Lanes on (a part of) Montezuma Road

Montezuma Road stands as something of a poster child for failure: it is a city road linking the thick populations and work centers of College Area, Rolando, parts of City Heights, La Mesa and beyond with Mission Valley and points west and north. Yet, it has wide lanes, high speeds, and a general layout that seems to forget that fleshy humans inhabit the city and that pedestrians and bicycle riders might also use this important route.

The road has taken lives.

This morning, on Bike to Work Day, we learned that the eastbound (from Fairmount Avenue to Collwood Boulevard) side got the Genovese Treatment.

Brian Genovese, Head of the City’s New Multi-Modal Section, leads a novel effort: to use state-approved design guidelines and the city’s resurfacing & slurry seal program to create buffered, visible, and much safer and more facilitative Class II bicycle lanes with little more than paint, political will, know-how, and changing the way traffic engineers think.

These projects are “low hanging fruit” because they are already approved at a state level and resurfacing projects already require new paint. But instead of relegating bicycle riders to an afterthought, the city has begun to understand that many of our roads create hazardous conditions for riders – and for people who would like to ride.

People in San Diego who want a city designed at a human scale should congratulate and encourage Genovese and his leadership. You may email him at You should also thank the mayor who is making sure stuff is happening and moving quickly:

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.

City to Pursue Vehicular Manslaughter Charges Against Driver who Killed Chuck Gilbreth

Last June we learned that the SDPD investigators had recommended criminal charges against the driver responsible for the death of Chuck Gilbreth.

The City is now pursuing vehicular manslaughter charges against Francis Henry Zegler, the driver who killed Gilbreth. A jury trial is scheduled for February 25th.

Below is a copy of the letter from the City Attorney's Office to us, along with the summary of charges.

We don't have any more information but will keep you updated as we learn more.

Why has the green bike lane on Montezuma Road been scrubbed away?

Since earlier this month, we've been receiving lots of emails that the green painted section of a portion of the bike lane on Montezuma Road has been scrubbed out.

Many of our readers were not in favor of the green painted section because they didn't address the key issue that has resulted in fatalities and injuries along Montezuma Road - the high speed differential between vehicles and bicycles. Those who were in favor of the green painted bike lanes fell into the "it's better than nothing" camp of thinking.

Putting vehicles traveling at or above 55 miles an hour alongside slower vehicles traveling at under 20 miles an hour with no road treatments to account for something human beings do all the time - make mistakes - creates dangerous and deadly conditions. We weren't thrilled about the green paint because it didn't address the key issue we were trying draw attention to - motor vehicles traveling at high speeds on Montezuma Road alongside slower moving bicyclists.

According to our new friend, Brian Genovese at the Multi-Modal division, Genovese stated that some cyclists were observed changing lanes to enter the diagonal section without looking behind to see if there was oncoming traffic.

We're still pushing for some substantial treatments along Montezuma - treatments that provide a measure of physical barrier between people moving at different speeds.

We've been working with Councilmember Emerald's office on this issue and we'll keep you updated as this moves along. And we hope that the new treatments that Genovese and his staff is working on addresses this key point.

Update: Head over to KPBS and read more about this issue.

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.