Where is San Diego Going?

As you’ve noticed, posts here on BikeSD.org have slowed down considerably over the last few months. And it’s not on account of lack things to write about as much as life getting in the way of good coverage for nearly all of us who have contributed to BikeSD during the past year.

I can speak for myself. In addition to holding down a day job that has increasing responsibilities, and using a bicycle as my primary (and sole) form of transportation, I also am a citizen who tries to do one little thing every week to increase the San Diegan cyclist’s point of view in the public’s eye by writing a letter, or reporting a pot hole, or reporting insensitive traffic lights to the City’s Streets Division. But sometimes I take a break, like I did earlier this evening.

Earlier this evening, while at one of the city’s bicycle friendly bars, Blind Lady Ale House, I sat down with a pint of West Coast Bitter to read this week’s CityBeat. CityBeat is the city’s alternative weekly that is growing to be a worthwhile and reliable barometer of the city’s pulse. This week had a letter to the editor bemoaning the city’s “reputation for foot-dragging and spinelessness” – a truth that becomes increasingly embarrassing in light of how cities all around San Diego is beginning to, well, see the light.

Just south of the border in Tijuana, the Paseo de TODOS (everyone’s ride) is attracting larger crowds every month just through its positive atmosphere.

Paseo de TODOS (everybody's ride). Photo by Arturo Viazcan

The idea behind Paseo de TODOS, to quote Arturo Viazcan, the founder of “Paseo Urbano Bicicletero” (Urban Bicyclist Ride), is to maintain a positive, well organized, courteous atmosphere while changing the way in which “society views perceives human mobility and transportation”. Participants from San Diego who have gone to Tijuana to ride, have returned gushing about the positivity experienced on a bicycle that is practically unheard of in San Diego.

Meanwhile, north of San Diego, Long Beach is well on its way becoming the country’s most bicycle friendly city thanks to the visionary thinking Charles Gandy, Long Beach’s bicycle coordinator. The city of Long Beach is putting money and their collective efforts into making Gandy’s vision a reality.

But here in San Diego, I can sometimes get a little frustrated over the most minor of requests made to the City. It is at times like this that I get the impression that the city is a little bit behind the times.

As an example, University Avenue is a major thoroughfare that runs in an east/west direction in one of the oldest parts of the city. However, the presence of parallel parking, lack of signage for cyclists, along with fast moving traffic and the presence of hills, makes University a rather dangerous street to ride on. The intersection of Park and University has claimed one cyclist’s life and attempts to honor this rider’s life with a ghost bike has resulted in the city removing said bike adding insult to injury.

Howard Avenue is a street that runs parallel to University and as a street with  a little less traffic than University, it can be a preferred road to ride on. However at the intersection of Park Boulevard, at the stop sign, a cyclist is faced with the following sign: right turn only. But, what if the cyclist needed to turn left?

In order to answer that question, I decided to ask the city’s engineering department to modify the sign with an exception to cyclists. It was what I thought was a very minor request.

My minor request was at first ignored, then after an email to my Councilmember, responded to – but sent to someone besides me, then finally denied. The email denying my request stated this in part,

We do not recommend any kind of traffic crossing Park Blvd at Howard Ave except for the right turns. It is extremely dangerous and not advisable to cross a busy intersection that is not meant for crossing.

I found this response to be more than a little irritating. On one hand the city states its desire to increase the bicycle modal share to 10% in ten years.  Yet the smallest of requests to move that intention forward is met with outright rejection.

Honestly, it is such a shame that the city is still so backwards. I hope that the city can create and implement a strategy to distinguish itself and carve out an niche that will stand out, because right now San Diego has a lot of catching up to do if it wants to get to where Tijuana or Long Beach have already been.