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Ellen Wright, Fall 2013

San Diego County improves bike facilities thanks to transnet tax

Harbor Drive

Recent improvements on Harbor Drive include a green bike lane, which alerts drivers of the presence of cyclists.

San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) is taking a new approach to ease traffic congestion and improve public health. SANDAG  is improving bicycle facilities throughout the county at an estimated cost of $419 million.

Decades of city planning focused on automobile transportation have left the city largely dependent on cars to get around. The San Diego Regional Bike Plan aims to ease traffic by connecting communities throughout the county with many different bike-friendly methods.

Modeled after Portland’s success with its bike systems, SANDAG transportation planner Chris Kluth says San Diego City Council is hoping to get more people bike commuting. Only .8 percent of San Diegans bike to work, according to the Bicycle Master Plan, which was approved by San Diego City Council Dec. 9.

Cycle-tracks and bike boulevards

Kluth says the emphasis is on the use of cycle-tracks and bike boulevards. These two methods, he says, will take away safety concerns and encourage people who currently don’t bike often to get out and ride.

Cycle-tracks

Cycle-tracks provide a physical barrier for riders. Courtesy: San Diego Regional Bike Plan

Cycle-tracks are lanes that run parallel to traffic but have a physical barrier between the bike riders and automobiles. Bike boulevards will be created on already existing streets and slow down traffic through the use of speed bumps, medians and stop signs to make cycling more convenient.

“We’re trying to appeal to the people that are interested in riding but but don’t quite feel safe just getting out there and doing it,” Kluth said. “That’s why cycle-tracks and boulevards are really good tools to get those people out there and trying it.”

Sherry Ryan, Alta planning consultant who worked with SANDAG on the bike plans, believes people don’t feel safe riding their bikes so close to cars and there needs to be a physical separation between riders and cars. “There’s a wholesale change towards recognition that we need separated facilities in order for people to change their behavior,” Ryan said.

SANDAG is drawing up concept plans to focus on two areas of the county. These areas are from downtown San Diego to Mission Valley and from the Old Town Transit Station east to Lemon Grove, according to Ryan.

The concept plans will address what type of infrastructure is best to install along already existing roads.

The public was not very receptive to the idea of cycle-tracks when the plan was first introduced, Ryan said.

Kluth says people were not thrilled with the idea because San Diego is “somewhat conservative” and people don’t like change. Although after five years, he says, San Diegans changed their minds because more examples have cropped up throughout the nation.

Ryan has a different explanation for the change in attitude.”There’s a wholesale change towards recognition that we need separated facilities in order for people to change their behavior,” Ryan said.

She says riders want to feel safe which is why there needs to be physical separation of cars and bikes.

Transnet provides funding for the project

The funding for the project comes from transnet, a half-cent tax approved by voters in 2004. It is estimated to provide $14 billion to support transportation. Of that funding, the bike plan is estimated to cost $419 million for infrastructure and $1.3 million for education and awareness of the facilities.

Education and awareness is essential to the success of the bike facilities, said project manager Kluth. He believes that building the facilities to increase biking is not enough.

“The plan is not just throwing down some paint and concrete. It’s telling people what it is, where it goes and what the benefits are,” Kluth said.

The San Diego County Bike Coalition has programs to educate riders. They offer a wide variety of education courses such as urban cycling, bike maintenance and courses teaching drivers how to properly interact with cyclists.

VIDEO: The San Diego County Bike Coalition takes beginners on easy rides throughout the county to highlight infrastructure improvements and teach riding in a group environment.

Benefits to an increase in cyclists

More people biking to work would mean reduced greenhouse emissions, less traffic and a healthier lifestyle for those who choose to bike, according to SANDAG.

Despite low numbers of people biking to work, the bike community is growing in San Diego. The executive director of San Diego County Bicycle Coalition (SDBCC), Andy Hanshaw, says the bike community in San Diego is healthy and growing, in part because of rising gas prices and movements towards healthier lifestyles. Events like CicloSDias, an annual event that closes streets to cars for cyclists and pedestrians and Critical Mass, a monthly non-organized take over of the streets, celebrate cyclists. 

SDBCC also hosts rides to teach beginners rules of the road. Their BLT Ride (which stands for Bike and Learn Together) invites cyclists from all over the county to bike in a small group at different locations throughout San Diego.

SLIDESHOW: Kerry Kunsman, league cycling instructor affiliated with the San Diego County Bike Coalition, teaches an urban cycling course from his home in Clairemont, Calif.

Bike sharing company DecoBike comes to San Diego

Another addition to San Diego’s active transportation is a burgeoning bike share program. San Diego City Council approved a 10-year contract with DecoBike, a Florida company that teamed up with the City of Miami to implement a bike-sharing system. DecoBike will implement bike sharing stations throughout the county and will be responsible for the capital investment of $7.2 million. The company will share some revenue with the city.

“That’s a huge game changer in my opinion,” Hanshaw said. “It’s going to encourage more people to get out there and do those short trips by bike and maybe choose to leave the car behind.”

The locations of the bike sharing terminals have not yet been determined and DecoBike, along with the city, plan to get community input to determine the locations.

Not everyone wants to bike

Some people say the existing transit methods are too slow and in order to get to work they need their car.

“Maybe if gas prices went up two more bucks I would ride my bike,” San Diego State University student Amy Williams said.

Williams says that taking the trolley along with biking anywhere in San Diego is too time consuming and prefers the ease and efficiency of her car.

Engineer Kurt Schaubel used to ride his bike to work from his home in Encinitas, Calif., but quit when he changed offices. “Taking the Coaster to Sorrento Valley and riding the rest of the way was doable but going to Mira Mesa is just too far, ” said Schaubel.

The city will begin construction as soon as funding comes through from The Early Action Program. Kluth says the current timeline to complete the project spans the next 10 years.

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