San Diego's New Mayor: Bob Filner

San Diego now has a new mayor in Bob Filner.

Last night, Filner articulated what San Diegans can expect with him at the helm:

This city has changed demographically. It has changed business-wise. It has changed with the kind of people and the way they look at the world. They want a liveable, bikeable, walkable city. But the political structure has not kept up.

This explicit statement is certainly a stark departure from the past and we for one, are eager to work with the new Mayor on implementing that vision to make San Diego a more livable and inviting city to bike in.

Mayoral Candidate Bob Filner Goes on a Bike Infrastructure Discovery Ride

This past Sunday, Mayoral Candidate Bob Filner invited a group of residents to ride with him on a street that was known by regular riders to have some serious problems. When his campaign asked me for suggestions, I immediately suggested India Street – a street that has some serious problems in its design that makes riding on it both terrifying and uninviting and one that I get constant complaints about. Fortunately, thanks to a Chargers game, auto-traffic on India Street was very light and thus my initial fear of putting a mayoral candidate in grave danger, thankfully, didn’t come to pass.

The worst parts of the ride

India Street and Kettner Boulevard is a major north/south thoroughfare for San Diegan riders. Other routes east and west of these two streets don't connect because our forefathers didn't have the foresight to build bridges connecting the many canyons that dot our landscape. While we had visionary leaders carving out space and designing some truly outstanding freeways that crisscross the entire city of San Diego, these same visionaries paid little attention or thought to other modes of travel.

The ride began at Ivan Stewart Electric Bicycle Shop. The start of the ride began on a section of Little Italy (below Hawthorne) that has no bike infrastructure:

Start of the ride in Little Italy on India Street. Image:

As we rode north toward Laurel Street, having a group of over 20 people riding made the ride feel safer, but it was mostly unpleasant with speeding cars passing aggressively close. At Laurel, Filner discovered the first sign of some space allocated to bicycle riders along with the looming dark tunnel with dim lighting that we would all ride through:

Part of a bike lane and the India Street tunnel.

As we headed toward the tunnel, the bike lane paint faded and the atmosphere turned decidedly dark:

Heading into the India Street tunnel
In the tunnel.

We all made it through the tunnel relatively unscathed just in time to climb the hill to face a disappearing bike lane and play frogger to merge with an off-ramp that was spitting out cars coming out from the freeway at a high speed:

Disappearing bike lane on India while heading uphill
Time to merge with traffic exiting a freeway at high speed.

After making it through and now on flat ground, we rode parallel to Pacific Highway on India Street and continued into Old Town both to continue the discussion and share ideas on the problems that a road like India was indicative of. The entire ride, Filner was attentive to everyone who spoke:

Mayoral candidate Bob Filner (in white) listens to riders explain problems they face on a regular basis and brainstorms on ideas for possible solutions.

Once at Old Town at El Fandango, everyone cooled down with some cold lemonade and then listened to Filner speak. One of the first things he stated was,

Biking is an aesthetic experience. You get a different experience when you're on a bike

This statement articulated clearly why current residents in San Diego ride at all. Filner in this short ride intuitively grasped at the joy one experiences from atop a bicycle saddle and articulated it in a manner that impressed me and many others. He also recognized the challenges that come from having to dealing with fast moving traffic and dealing with multiple freeway mergers on surface streets. He wanted to highlight one street that he could make a model.

My suggestion was University Avenue continuing to Washington Street:

View SD Bike Network in a larger map
If this section of the city had protected bike lanes connecting the east and western portions of the city, ridership would jump even higher and the proven safety benefits that come from increasing bicycle mode share would benefit the city as a whole. University Avenue is a busy thoroughfare and the mid-city area of the city already has a high percentage of riders riding on a regular basis but they constantly face danger because they lack protective barriers from fast moving motor vehicles.

One significant item of note from the ride is that this year is the first time in San Diego's history that bicycling has risen up and become an issue in the mayoral campaign. Filner, as far as I can determine, is the first candidate to actually ride with residents to truly experience what riders face on a regular basis. This alone is noteworthy for many reasons, especially for what it means for our quality of life. Now that Filner and his staff have experienced how a lack of vision from the past has unwittingly pitted drivers against riders on a regular basis today, I look forward to seeing how Filner's upcoming bike plan will address how he intends to make our city more livable and pleasurable, especially atop a bicycle saddle.

Thoughts on Last Night's Mayoral Debate Addressing San Diego's Livability

Last night’s mayoral debate between Carl DeMaio and Bob Filner occurred at my workplace, the University of San Diego, and I was lucky to attend – even wearing a home-made BikeSD button.  I attended the VIP reception before the event and spoke with a number of people representing groups supporting walking, biking, infrastructure, and advocacy.  There was fantastic energy in the room, and Mr. DeMaio came and cajoled with advocates and activists.

I will leave commentary on the finer points of the debate to political analysts, but the biggest takeaway for me is that we all win.  I do not mean to suggest that either candidate said precisely what I wanted to hear.  There are likely thousands of San Diegans unhappy with either choice.  But we all win in that this debate focused on issues many of hold at the center of our efforts to bring San Diego to where it needs to be in terms of quality of life – symbolized best by walkability and the facilitation of bicycle riders.  Both candidates discussed Complete Streets, improved infrastructure, and a commitment to making San Diego safer and more facilitative for bicycle riders.

Ed. note: Below is a video on how the City of Memphis is implementing the Complete Streets Policy. I posted this to inform our readers exactly what "Complete Streets" is and what it means for our future.

DeMaio’s published plan was a source of strength for his arguments throughout the debate.  Mr. Filner shone when he critiqued a question about parking, arguing that too often we put car parking before the interests of other users, and that should be flipped around.

Filner showed he learned something from two decades in Congress by his aggressive, badgering strategy.  DeMaio’s cool confidence relied heavily on the work he’s done creating a mobility plan (Filner’s is pending).  The questions lingering in the minds of many in the audience likely have to do with rhetoric vs. action: will they really follow through, regardless of who is elected?  Will they show the kind of leadership and political will to put livability issues at the center of their terms?  The debate itself gave our issues prominence – and provides a platform from which to hold the candidates accountable.

A low point for me was Mr. Filner challenging Mr. DeMaio to a bicycle race to determine who should be mayor.  This will clearly be the soundbite that shines through crowded news cycles, but it also promotes the myth that bicycles are for children and racers.  In the context of the city’s future, bikes are not about racing.  They’re about altering the fabric of the physical space and civic life of a city for a more humane, sustainable, and community-based structure of feeling.  A high point for me was hearing BikeSD and Ms. Ollinger referenced three times in the debate – more than any other organization.  For an upstart, that’s not bad.   That being said, the sponsoring organizations did a fantastic job pulling a complex event together.  Next time, I hope we’re up there with ‘em and hope even more grass-roots groups form so that we can expand our voices until every debate focuses on these issues.

Last Night's Mayoral Debate on Biking, Walking and Transit

Last night, the two mayoral candidates met to debate on livability issues that revolve around transportation: walking, biking and transit.

I was happy to hear Congressman Filner discussing his idea of bringing Ciclovia to San Diego and raising the issue of how important bike infrastructure is in order to provide a safe space for people to bike. Councilmember DeMaio brought the point about how he intends to tie biking to his Streets Plan.

Below is a video from NBC San Diego on where the candidates stand on the importance of bike infrastructure.

View more videos at:

I was unable to attend the debate last night. I am now a board member (and interim Treasurer) of the California Bicycle Coalition - our state based bike coalition. Our board meeting (my first) was scheduled for last night which presented a delightful conflict for me. I have to admit that I am incredibly pleased to see the issue of transportation around a livable San Diego finally get a place in the public discussion.

What were your thoughts about last night's debate?

Mayoral Candidate Bob Filner Wants to Ride with You on 9/23 at 1pm

Mayoral Candidate Bob Filner on Bike to Work Day. Photo from Bob Filner's Campaign Office.

Mayoral Candidate Bob Filner would like to do a bike tour on September 23rd at 1pm and learn more about the areas of concern or hot spots and learn more about how biking can be made better in San Diego. When his campaign reached out to me to ask for suggestions, I suggested two locations based on many emails and conversations I've had with riders over the last three years:
1: India Street or Kettner Street at the I-5 tunnel, or
2: Fairmount Ave

His campaign provided the following details:

We have one hour (1-2pm), anticipating picking up a bicycle at Ivan Stewarts (2021 India Street) to have Bob ride with others to location 1, time permitting we’ll visit location 2

Some aspects of this event will be used for the campaign (photos – not including those who wish to be excluded), the briefing would be non-politically involved, and we honor your presence by not referencing respective organizations. Though it would be great to have a bunch of people there.

Please RSVP if you’d like to attend…and pass the word along.

The campaign will release an Infrastructure plan on Oct 8th an Infrastructure plan and an Environment Plan on Oct. 22nd an Environment plan both addressing livability (bike, walk, etc…) issues and increased support. The campaign will share both, when available.

On the local bike commuter forums, Geoff suggested the following:

Please OH PLEASE take him on Hancock/Kettner from Noell St. to Downtown. You get everything a San Diego cyclist experiences in one place: cars exit the 5 at freeway speed; three lanes in one direction with no opposing traffic for SPEED~!; lanes not wide enough to share, making you take the lane or cringe against the curb; no bike lanes/paths/routes/sharrows/signs; on-street parking at random intervals so you can play "Watch Out For That Door!"; and this is the only direct route from Old Town to Little Italy/Downtown!

No, really, take any candidate for any political office on THAT ROUTE every single time. If they don't have a Mayor Villaraigosa moment, then they can't be phased (sic) by anything.

While I don't think it is a good strategy to put our elected officials or mayoral candidates in harm's way, Geoff does bring up a good point. This route is a key route. Nearly two years after the Uptown Planners voted to make India Street safer despite protests from a few businesses along India Street, no significant changes have been made. Personally, I refuse to patronize any business on India Street because of the the dangerous conditions that exist on that street and I think it is inhumane that anyone outside an automobile is expected to navigate such a speedy thoroughfare. The same could be said for Fairmount Avenue. If you ride along India/Kettner or Fairmount Avenue on a regular basis and have a video or photos of your ride, do send it in so I can post them.