UC San Diego’s Bike Un-Share

UC San Diego’s Bike Un-Share

The post below appeared on BikeSD on 5/19.  Since then, UC San Diego presented its Long Range Development Plan.  Despite several claims of the university’s ‘sustainability’, the presentation graphics included no mention of a bike share system, nor its Climate Action Plan goals to reduce solo driver commuters beyond this year:

There were also no renderings of the multiple new parking garages approved for campus, nor the planned parking lot that will pave over a canyon behind Geisel Library.  

After racking up more than 1000 free rides per day, the new (but unauthorized) Ofo bike share system was removed by UC San Diego officials last month. Despite the obvious demand for bike share, and a four-year-old UCSD undergraduate report describing a bike sharing system for campus, officials pulled the plug on the program.

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Ofo’s “insurance policies did not meet campus requirements when reviewed by UCSD Risk Services”, according to UCSD Marketing and Communications Director Laura Margoni.  In addition, a UCSD police officer explained that no procedure for maintaining or repairing Ofo bikes existed.

Dumping 300 bikes on campus meant Ofo was using the same business model disruption method as Uber, Lyft and Airbnb.  Had these sharing economy companies waited for permission from officials – who were often unwilling or unable to comprehend the need for such services – they wouldn’t have succeeded.  Similarly, Ofo demonstrated the large demand for bike share at UCSD by bypassing campus rules set by administrators who disregarded years of requests for such a program.  After the bikes were removed, UCSD Transportation Services Marketing Manager Curt Lutz said:

“It is my understanding that the impression left by the OFO experience was that there is likely demand for a well implemented bike share program that has a sustainable funding model or to be piloted for trial of competitive models.”

Wasn’t this demand communicated to UCSD by the undergraduate report four years earlier, by multiple students and employees, and in employee parking and sustainability surveys?  And while most municipalities have worked out agreements with unauthorized sharing services, UCSD instead removed a bike share system that cost nothing to install, with no official communication about its replacement.  (Meanwhile every temporary parking lot closure is announced to campus.)  Mr. Lutz again:

“We have been working on a review (internally and with cooperation of SANDAG staff) of bike share vendors, technologies and programs for the past several months to evaluate moving forward with an RFP or RFI (Request for Proposal/Information). UC Riverside and UCLA are just launching programs with two of the prospective vendors offering different technologies.  At this time we believe that there is value in monitoring these implementations as part of our process. We are currently working with campus Procurement to scope options for bike share services including business models like OFO.”

Nearly 100 U.S. campuses had bike share systems in 2010, including UC Irvine.  UC Berkeley will implement Bay Area Bike Share shortly – without monitoring UCLA and UCR.  Yet UCSD still needs to monitor these programs before issuing a Request for Information?  Encouragingly, Margoni states that a bike share pilot will roll out at UCSD this fall.

A bike share program is important to UC San Diego for a number of reasons.  The freeway-like roads (or stroads) surrounding campus make conditions too dangerous for many off-campus residents to commute by bike:

  • Genesee Avenue on the north side of campus is 6+ lanes of 60 MPH+ traffic just inches from riders (here’s audio of a KPBS reporter attempting to bike it).  
  • The $105 million dollar Genesee Ave bridge being built over I-5 will be 10 car lanes wide, yet there wasn’t enough room for a protected bike lane.  
  • La Jolla Village Drive is also 6+ lanes of 50 MPH+ traffic, with pedestrians being hit and killed on its curving, high-speed I-5 on-ramps.  
  • Gilman Drive is 4+ lanes of 60 MPH+ traffic, with aggressive drivers often veering into the bike lane to cut into the I-5 south onramp queue.  

As a result of the above, many commuters use SDMTS bus routes that take them to the Gilman Transit Center, on the south side of campus.  This a 15-30 minute walk to many buildings on the vast UCSD campus, and bike share would address this first/last-mile problem of public transit.  UCSD does offer a useful shuttle system, but if you miss one it’s still faster to walk.

Some students do use the limited bike racks (two) on MTS buses, but they are vulnerable to the massive bike theft problem on campus.  Bike lockers would offer increased security but these do not exist at UCSD, despite my requests for installation several years ago.      

While biking could shorten the long walk times between buildings, it is actually against the rules to ride a bike on either of the main north-south campus routes, from 8:30 AM to 5 PM.  As a result, students frequently receive costly tickets simply for biking to class.  As this report from CirculateSD suggests, why not simply create dedicated bike lanes on these routes and elsewhere on campus?  BikeSD covered San Diego State’s new bike lanes back in 2011:

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Instead, the Grove Path bike lane was installed for a short segment between the two main north-south UCSD pedestrian-only routes. Pedestrians often use the bike-only Grove Path lane, and are not cited for doing so.

Since bike share helps solve the last-mile problem of public transit, UCSD’s removal of Ofo contradicts the university’s attempts to increase the number of commuters using alternative transportation to campus. Proclaiming “Sustainability is in our DNA”, UCSD’s 2008 Climate Action Plan seeks to decrease the number of solo-driver commuters from 49% to 39% by 2018, via increased biking, walking, and public transit usage.  Transportation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in California, and San Diego faces severe coastal impacts from a predicted 10-foot sea level rise by the end of the century:

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However, since its Climate Action Plan was announced, UC San Diego has taken the following actions with respect to transit:

  • Terminated its free bus zone program for students and employees (employees can receive an EcoPass discount)
  • Removed a free bike share program
  • Endangered bicyclists on Expedition Way and Voight Drive, by adding street parking to these narrow, hilly roads
  • Supported the $6.5 billion dollar widening of I-5 in North County – which includes no bus routes servicing campus
  • Announced the construction of three new parking garages on campus, despite the Mid-Coast Trolley’s arrival in 2021

UCSD’s goal of reducing single occupancy commuters is shared by the UC Office of the President (UCOP), which publishes an annual report outlining mode share rates and reduction goals:

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However, UCSD’s mode share numbers above are for all commuters entering campus, including students – not employees, as the report indicates.  Since the university has no way to distinguish students from employees in its semi-annual counts, the employee single occupancy vehicle number shown above is incorrect (a commuter mode share survey was recently launched to address this misrepresentation), and skewed downward by the large number of students using public transit. Students voted overwhelmingly to pay a quarterly fee for discounted bus service after the free bus zone was killed, and the MTS 201/202 Super Loop has the highest ridership per revenue hour in San Diego’s bus system.  

It should be noted that UCSD has taken some positive steps regarding alternative transportation, including the well-intentioned Grove Path above, and planning for Class II (unprotected) bike lanes on a short segment of Gilman Drive and the new Voigt and Gilman bridges.  UCSD is contributing at least $1.2 million to the Gilman Drive bridge, which will provider a calmer east-side route to campus. UCSD also provided 1.6% of the funding for the Genesee/I-5 project, which will include a bike path connecting campus to the Sorrento Valley Amtrak station.  Yet many of the projects identified in the 2012 Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Planning Study still have not begun, nor has funding been identified.

Further, UCSD’s alternative transportation spending is constrained by its limited sources, which are parking and ticket revenue.  (UCOP goals for increasing alternative transit usage aren’t backed by significant funding.)  And employee parking permit fees don’t come close to paying for the $100 million-plus cost of multiple new parking garages planned for campus (Torrey Pines North Living/Learning Neighborhood, Mesa Nuevos and Osler (UPDATE: and Voigt) Given the rapid rise of ride-sharing services like Uber/Lyft, does it make sense for the university to continue building costly parking garages?  As ride share systems test flat-fee pool programs, new and inexpensive options will exist for automobile commuters to skip vehicle storage on campus.    

If sustainability is truly in UC San Diego’s DNA, it should be leading state efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.  Removing a free bike share system that complements public transit isn’t leadership, nor is it consistent with UCSD’s sustainability claims.

“Pick a different place”

“Pick a different place”

111 Hillcrest mixed-use project (image from SD Uptown News)

Former Voice of San Diego journalist Liam Dillon writes in the LA Times that California won’t meet its climate change goals without greatly increasing density in its cities:

Getting people out of their cars in favor of walking, cycling or riding mass transit will require the development of new, closely packed housing near jobs and commercial centers at a rate not seen in the United States since at least before World War II, according to a recent study by permit and contractor data analysis website BuildZoom.

“You can’t be pro-environment and anti-housing,” said Marlon Boarnet, chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Spatial Analysis at USC’s Price School of Public Policy, who has advised state climate regulators on land-use issues. “You can’t be anti-sprawl and anti-housing. This is something that has not been very well understood.”

Dillon also covered a state report that blames the housing crisis in California’s metros on local opposition to development:

Local opposition to planning and building new housing to accommodate demand from current and future residents has led to an extreme shortage of homes that is driving up prices to record levels , the report said. Developers need to roughly double the amount of new homes built every year in California — at least 100,000 more — to keep pace with demand, according to a recent report from the state housing department .

This week Los Angeles voted overwhelmingly to oppose Measure S, an anti-development proposal bankrolled by a wealthy resident who didn’t want his views blocked:

In San Diego, where the city council has declared a housing state of emergency for 15 years while not doing a whole lot about it, there are finally signs of leadership.  Council member Scott Sherman proposed consolidating our NIMBY-dominated community planning groups into larger regional groups, and other changes meant to overcome the entrenched self-interests of the residents ‘planning’ our city’s future.

Predictably, the Planning Group folks weren’t too happy about it.  Here’s what the chair of the Scripps Ranch Planning Group had to say about adding housing in his neighborhood:

Wally Wulfeck, chair of the Scripps Ranch Community Planning Group, said many residents in his suburban community don’t support the goals of lowering prices and increasing supply.

“I think there ought to be a public debate before we talk about accelerating growth as to whether we want growth at all,” Wulfeck said. “There’s nothing wrong with rising prices of real estate if you are a real estate owner.”

Wulfeck said people who can’t afford San Diego’s prices will just have to move elsewhere.

“Some boys can’t date some girls,” he said. “Too bad. Pick a different place.”

Got it.  Surely the tolerant, progressive residents of Hillcrest are more accepting, right?  Here’s what was said about the affordable housing included in the proposed 111 Hillcrest mixed-use project (shown above) at last month’s Uptown Planners meeting:

Uptown Planner Roy Dahl to Planner Tim Gahagan: “Would you support this project if the affordable housing were removed, to lower the building height?”

Gahagan: “Yes.”

Hmm.  The lack of affordable housing in new Uptown developments is frequently cited as a reason to oppose these projects.  Yet when projects that include affordable housing are proposed, other reasons are conveniently found to oppose them (while asking the affordable housing be removed).  Uptown Planners Chair Leo Wilson echoed resident Ann Garwood’s (literal) rallying cry that preserving free street parking for lower income residents should prevent new housing.  Why not just stop subsidizing driving and build more public transit instead? Because these residents oppose improved public transit in their neighborhood, despite saying public transit improvements are required before new housing can be built. 

On El Cajon Boulevard, an affordable/senior residential mixed-use project from Price Charities and Rob Quigley is proposed at Fairmont Ave, steps away from a Rapid Bus station.  Quigley described the project components at last month’s Kensington/Talmadge Community Planning Group meeting, and they include a civic/park space fronting El Cajon Boulevard, another open lot where the current [email protected] market could continue, residential townhomes along 44th, and a series of 6-story buildings with “195 2-3 bedroom units on floors 2-6; first floor available for commercial space”.  

Residents and KenTal board members responded to the presentation with a series of questions about parking and traffic. One board member posted the following on NextDoor, implying that housing for seniors’ cars is more important than actual housing for seniors:

Any interest in the housing itself was mostly an afterthought at the meeting, as board members declared that “the community” wanted El Cajon Boulevard widened (despite the street’s high rate of pedestrian injuries and fatalities), the park space moved away from El Cajon, and the building heights lowered.  Well, I’m a member of the “community” and I oppose all of those things.  KenTal is the perfect example of a parochial planning group that needs to be regionalized, to include residents south of El Cajon Boulevard.

City Heights West is just 14% white, yet the KenTal Planning Board is somehow 114% white.

Having attended my fair share of community planning group meetings over the past several years, it’s become obvious that these folks have no business deciding our city’s development future.  Sherman’s proposals, and the City Council’s rejection of Uptown Planners alternative-reality Community Plan last year are some glimmers of progress in this area, even if they still don’t go far enough.  And residents who feel they have the right to prevent housing so their soaring property values can soar even further (thank you for your honesty, Mr. Wulfeck!) are free to sue the City all they want – just as SOHO San Diego is doing.  In the meantime, if these obstructionist groups are to remain, they need to represent the economic and demographic diversity of their communities – not just the wealthy white homeowners still paying 1980’s-era property tax rates, due to Prop 13.


  • Traffic Engineering also helped cover up a dangerous crosswalk in Point Loma that resulted in the death of a baby, and a traumatic brain injury
  • Another item at last month’s Uptown Planners meeting was on the traffic meters proposed for the north side of University Ave in Hillcrest.  Uptown Planner, Uptown Parking District member and nearby homeowner Tim Gahagan opposed new meters because residents use them for long-term parking.  Yet Gahagan opposed removing any metered parking spaces on 5th Ave for a bike lane, because of the high turnover the meters create.  That’s like opposing new development because it doesn’t contain any affordable housing, then asking for the affordable housing to be removed from a new development.  
  • The Hillcrest Business Association has come out in support of the City’s proposal to fill the Hillcrest Bike Lane Gap created by the HBA.  However, Crest Cafe owner Cecelia Moreno says the 24 net new parking spaces created for the bike lane project are insufficient, and is rallying opposition to the plan until more parking spaces are created.  Some members of the parking lobby will never be satisfied, but would you believe that when the HBA killed the Uptown Bikeway on University in 2015, Moreno told me that it was the *bike advocates* fault, for not compromising?

In Grantville, the first of many mixed-use projects is underway; this one is on Twain Ave:

It appears to be a modified version of the former CenterPointe project, reduced in size from 588 to 374 units.  Here’s the Grantville Master Plan.