SANDAG Monroe Bikeway Held Hostage by Kensington Talmadge Planning Group, Residents
Last week the Kensinton Talamadge Planning Group (Ken-Tal) received an update on the Monroe Bikeway segment of the North Park-Mid City Bikeways from SANDAG (San Diego Association of Governments) staff member Danny Veeh. The Monroe Bikeway is one of the last planned segments of the still-unconstructed North Park Mid City bikeways, and is a 1.3 mile bicycle boulevard connecting from Copley Price YMCA to Collwood Blvd in the College Area:
Before summarizing the events of the meeting (hint: it didn’t go well), let’s go over the history of bike lane projects in the Talmadge area:
- October 2013: SANDAG OK’s $200M in early action funding to the bike lane network
- 2014: SANDAG awards City of San Diego with a Complete the (El Cajon) Boulevard study grant, to make the Talmadge section of ECB a “vibrant, safe, pedestrian, bicycle and transit-friendly area”
- July 2015: (Former) Ken-Tal chair David Moty calls on City, SANDAG to make Monroe Bikeway “the earliest part of SANDAG’s Early Action Plan”
- June 2016: SANDAG staff present Monroe Bikeway to Ken-Tal
- September 2016: Ken-Tal unanimously votes against bike lanes on El Cajon Boulevard as part of the Complete the Boulevard study, because of Monroe Bikeway:
- January 2017: San Diego selects Ken-Tal’s bike-unfriendly, watered-down redesign of El Cajon Boulevard
- July 2017: SANDAG staff present Monroe Bikeway modifications to Ken-Tal
- July 2018: SANDAG staff present more Monroe Bikeway modifications to Ken-Tal, including removal of HAWK signal at Aldine at the request of Talmadge residents
So after multiple years of Monroe Bikeway planning, traffic studies, traffic modeling, presentations to planning groups/planning group subcommittees/maintenance assessment districts/community councils, modifications to those presentations, more modifications to those presentations, and votes against other bikeways because of Monroe Bikeway—what did Ken-Tal planning group do? They prepared to vote against the Monroe Bikeway.
The overriding issue that long predates this project is auto congestion on Monroe during rush hour. While Ken-Tal and the City have implemented many attempts to address this issue, the entire community has never been satisfied. The city tried stop signs in 2013, left turn restrictions from 47th to Monroe in 2015, and Ken-Tal floated closing 47th at Monroe and a traffic island that restricted turns. Ken-Tal has also voted to widen El Cajon Boulevard at Fairmont, directly contradicting the city’s safety efforts on this deadly street for pedestrians. These actions have exposed a bitter community divide over a basic equity issue: Should auto access to one of the most heavily-used two-lane roads in the city be limited to wealthier north Talmadge residents, or do lower income residents in south Talmadge and City Heights have a right to this public road too? The City of San Diego answered this question by instructing SANDAG to design the bikeway without altering access to Monroe from 47th.
Despite Ken-Tal chair Don Taylor’s reminders that congestion issues are well beyond the scope and budget of the bikeway, Talmadge residents and board members continue to hold the Monroe Bikeway project hostage over this neighborhood dispute. In 2017, SANDAG staff was prepared to move the project forward for environmental clearance but delayed the project for 1 year to appease Ken-Tal’s concerns. As Ken-Tal requested, a HAWK beacon was replaced with a bicycle only left turn pocket in the most recent design. Despite this concession, many board members still refused to support the project. Remarkably, former Ken-Tal chair David Moty removed his support as a result of this concession.
When community members oppose a project for reasons that directly contradict each other, how is SANDAG ever expected to achieve the elusive “consensus” required for bike lane projects that is not required for freeway widenings and road expansions? This is the main reason why nearly every SANDAG bike lane project is behind schedule: attempting to appease armchair engineer residents who write 62-page manifestos demanding the city subsidize his lack of off-street parking, or Ken-Tal board members who attack the Monroe Bikeway for failing to improve safety—while offering no viable alternative. A Talmadge attorney even insisted the California Environmental Quality Act prohibits the bike lane—despite the governor signing two laws that prevent this environmental policy from being perverted to kill bike lanes.
Meanwhile, here’s fomer Ken-Tal chair Moty in 2015, offering full support for the Monroe Bikeway: “SANDAG staff are faced with challenges enough elsewhere, we should not create challenges for them here where overall community support is strong. The KTPG does not believe this is the city’s intent, and hopes the city will give its full support to SANDAG’s plan and remove any roadblocks to its implementation.”
As Ken-Tal prepared to vote “no” on the Bikeway (with chair Taylor, Transportation Subcommittee chair Sean Harrison and Deborah Sharpe the only apparent “yes” votes), District 9 City Councilmember Georgette Gomez asked the board to postpone their vote. Gomez was present for the full 2 hours of contentious debate about the Bikeway and does not support 24-hour left turn restrictions onto Aldine from Monroe. She promised to take the feedback from the community planned to work with SANDAG and City of San Diego staff. Councilmember Gomez has been vocal supporter of active transportation in her role on SANDAG’s Transportation Committee and BikeSD is hopeful her leadership will result in a high-quality Monroe Bikeway.
Yet so far Ken-Tal’s efforts to delay the Monroe Bikeway have been successful. As we’ve seen with the Uptown Bikeway and in communities across the country, this is a proven model to continually delay and water down bike lanes, until eventually killing them. If San Diego is going to implement any of SANDAG’s bicycle projects, city leaders must not give into “advisory” planning groups, who actually hold a powerful veto over bike infrastructure. Further, Ken-Tal’s long history of placing its own interests over the larger Mid-City community (attempting to move planned retail away from El Cajon Boulevard; voting to worsen pedestrian safety on ECB) is another reason why planning groups should be consolidated—at a minimum.
For supporters of the bikeway, the next big timeline will be a CEQA exemption hearing. Prior to the recent Ken-Tal planning meeting, SANDAG planned for a September hearing. Any delay will add to concerning pattern of City of San Diego and SANDAG tolerating delays to SANDAG’s early action bicycle plan.