SANDAG hosted a public meeting in City Heights Wednesday to get feedback on the North Park to Mid-City Regional Bike Corridor Project. The map they presented shows Meade and Orange as the cycling corridors, and these routes got some support from community advisory public members and the general public. Among the positives: the streets have relatively few stop signs, less vehicle traffic, and in the case of Orange, schools and Teralta Park on top of SR-15. One cyclist used the term “bicycle freeways” to describe the potential for these routes, and modifications for traffic calming such as landscaped sidewalk pop-outs were shown by SANDAG for similar routes elsewhere (Berkeley’s bicycle boulevards). Yet these routes have significant deficiencies too: few businesses are located on them, they don’t link up to the burgeoning cycling population at SDSU, and they are ineffective for east-west traffic that originates more than a few blocks north or south.
Meade is my usual east-west cycling route from home in Kensington to North Park, Hillcrest and even downtown. It is a mostly-pleasant ride for each of those stretches before heading south down 30th, Park or Maryland. If SANDAG focuses on this route, I would recommend getting rid of the center turn lane – there’s not enough vehicle traffic to worry about backups behind a turning car – installing a landscaped median, and painting a green bike lane. Signage indicating the street is a designated “bike boulevard” (not just a bike route sign) would be helpful too. On this street a cycle track doesn’t feel as necessary, and I wonder how residents would react to having a bike lane between their property and their car parked in the street out front. Also, the cost of maintaining the traffic-calming landscaping features could be unsustainable.
Fortunately, several advisory group members pointed out the importance of having bike routes on the major east-west thoroughfares (University/El Cajon/Adams), preferably in the form of cycle tracks separated from vehicle traffic by parked cars. After all, this was a meeting to “think big”, so why not have our cake (bicycle freeways on lower-vehicle volume streets) and eat it (easy access to businesses) too? Yet while the meeting was just a kick-off for the Corridor, it might have also been useful to have some budget numbers/constraints to rein in our dreams and force us to prioritize. And when that occurs, I’m hoping that the cycle routes on major roads wins out, if we’re forced to choose.
Of the thoroughfares, I think El Cajon Boulevard offers the greatest potential since it’s 6 lanes wide from Park to Fairmont. You could easily take away one lane in each direction without significantly impacting vehicle flow. And if you did, the resulting reduced speeds would be good for cyclists anyway. However, there’s a big barrier to putting cycle tracks on ECB, and that’s the Mid-City Bus Rapid Transit Project.
I’m mostly in favor of this project since it will greatly improve the speed and quality of bus transit between SDSU and downtown. Yet as Walt Chambers at Great Streets San Diego pointed out to me a couple years back, this BRT project doesn’t exactly employ a “complete streets” approach where cyclists and pedestrians receive a fair shake. I understand it’s hard to mix cycling and BRT, but it’s not impossible. Unfortunately, there’s little mention of cyclists in the BRT project fact sheet beyond storing bikes on the front of buses. That’s too bad, because multi-modality should be a focus of public transit projects like this one.
Also on ECB, it was particularly discouraging to hear the Rolando representative say he was going to have 150 people complaining if they were to remove a car lane for cyclists in his region. Yet this is exactly what was done in Long Beach, and it’s been largely successful. Why should we continue to accommodate drivers who insist on being able to cruise through neighborhoods at high speed, while sacrificing the safety of cyclists and pedestrians who have just as much right to the road? And let’s not use the “because we pay for the roads with our taxes” argument, please. Often, the percentage of cyclists and pedestrians who are frequenting businesses on a stretch of road is greater than that of the drivers whizzing by. Of course, a valid counter-argument to the above is that slowing vehicle traffic on main thoroughfares can cause diversion into residential neighborhoods, which requires additional calming steps on these streets (favoring the bike boulevard approach). It’s worth noting the gridded street system in the western section of the corridor can distribute this traffic better than the canyon-heavy eastern part.
On University, the University Avenue Mobility Project got off to a rocky start but that ship appears to have been righted. This project removes a lane of auto traffic in favor of a bus and cycling-only lane. I’ve seen this approach in action in Santa Monica and it works. I’m not sure how the SANDAG corridor program could improve on this route – perhaps some green cycling lane paint if it’s not already budgeted?
Adams is narrower than ECB or University, so you’d likely have to remove a lane of parking to get cycle tracks in. And that’s been a non-starter elsewhere in town, even though some studies show this can actually improve the bottom line for small businesses nearby. Further, lost spaces can often be made up by converting side streets to angled parking, a controversial subject among cyclists (like one-way streets). But if there’s one east-west street in San Diego where this could happen, it’s got to be Adams due to the sheer number of cyclists I see on this road and its bike-friendly businesses. The best north-south candidate in my opinion would be 30th from Adams all the way to South Park.
Overall, it was an encouraging start and I’m looking forward to identifying the top routes and priorities for our region’s bike corridors.