Mayor Kevin Faulconer: “We are going to fix our streets”

Last Wednesday, Mayor Faulconer gave his first State of the City address at Balboa Theatre. Faulconer devoted a fair bit of air time toward transportation issues, with particular emphasis on fixing potholes and repairing poor road conditions. He also acknowledged bicycle riders in his speech:

2015 is the year we seize our opportunities.
We’re going solve some of San Diego’s biggest challenges.
And we are going to start by fixing our streets.
Let me say that again.
We are going to fix our streets.
As those of you who drove or biked here know, about a quarter of our streets are in poor condition.
As a cyclist let me tell you, if you think driving over a pothole is bad, try hitting one on a bike

In particular, he emphasized that he plans to seek council approval on his five-year plan to double the city’s street repair efforts:

This spring I will ask the City Council to approve my five-year plan to double our street repair efforts.
We will repair one thousand miles of streets.

Nimitz Boulevard in 2012 prior to getting resurfaced.

The city has 2,960 street miles. So we can expect to see a little less than half fixed in the next five years.

Faulconer also delved into what he sees as our city’s identity: innovation.

Our city beats to the pulse of innovation

In the course of the past two years, we have managed to witness three mayors (including one interim mayor) lay out their vision for San Diego. Let’s recap those visions before addressing Faulconer’s vision to fix our city streets.

In 2012, former mayor Filner stated the following in his State of the City address:

[…]we need to support those efforts with transportation systems that enhance our quality of life – pedestrian-friendly designs like Bird Rock’s roundabouts, dedicated bike paths linking neighborhoods, and improved options, to meet the rapidly changing needs of our residents.

We must restore urban planning as an independent and leading voice for envisioning our
communities’ future.

Land use and development review functions within City government will be reorganized into a Department of
Healthy, Safe, and Livable Neighborhoods. This Department will focus on accelerating completion of our community plans; putting proper emphasis on transit – oriented development, walkability and bikeability; economic development; energy sustainability; affordable housing; and elevating our expectations for design excellence in new development

Filner went on to state:

I will urge other local agencies to focus their efforts in complementary ways. I will ask SANDAG to re-prioritize transit funds to fast-track alternative and public transportation options.

I will advocate at the Airport Authority for an airport that is designed around multimodal access and
served by light rail and direct access from Interstate 5, rather than relying exclusively on automobile access from Harbor Drive.

The infrastructure being put in place by these two agencies must work seamlessly with our City’s needs.

Last year, Councilmember Todd Gloria laid out his vision (filling in for the mayor’s role, after Filner went down in flames, figuratively speaking). Gloria’s vision for San Diego included a truly innovative vision: one where San Diego would be a “world-class bike city“.

He laid out his vision for bicycling as a transportation mode while also acknowledging the basics of road maintenance, fixing potholes and resurfacing our city streets. The bond to bring about the funds needed to fix our streets was approved during Gloria’s tenureship as interim mayor. Gloria’s State of the City included this:

Finally, San Diego’s transportation future demands that we become a world-class bike city.

Fifty miles of roadway were restriped last year to accommodate wider bike lanes. Green bike lanes have been installed at numerous intersections and hundreds of shared lane markers have been placed around the city. Next month, we will eliminate traffic lanes on two local streets to create safer bikeways. Yes, we have begun eliminating car traffic lanes for bike lanes in southern California. We’re doing it by working together.

Later this year, our bike sharing program will kick off with the phased installation of 185 stations around the city. This partnership with DecoBike will not only expand bicycle access to more San Diegans, but will improve the connectivity of our bike, pedestrian and public transit systems.

Our updated Bicycle Master Plan and the $200 million approved by SANDAG late last year mean bigger and better advancements in this area. Pedaling makes sense for public health, our environment, reducing traffic congestion and for greater interaction in our neighborhoods.

Our vision is for San Diegans to be connected by a transportation network with robust pedestrian, bicycle, car and transit options. Our streets are not just for cars. They’re for people. And when they are designed and function as the public spaces they should be, everyone benefits.

Having reviewed previous State of the City addresses, I can’t help but state that I was a bit disappointed in Mayor Faulconer’s transportation vision for the future. While Faulconer only focused on potholes, I kept hoping that “fixing our streets” was also another way of stating that he intended to reallocate space on our city streets and ensure that our streets were not as deadly.

Fixing up potholes and repaving streets is an important service, but its hardly something I would consider to be the hallmark of innovation. Cities hoping to compete in the global marketplace, have to – at a bare minimum – have streets free of potholes. Considering the ambitious goals set within the mayor’s Climate Action Plan (that went through Filner, Gloria and then eventually Faulconer), I was hoping Faulconer would expand on his vision for how bicycling would help meet that goal. Potholes was the last thing I thought the mayor would expound upon.

Click image to enlarge: San Francisco had to rely on their citizenry to fix potholes. The first of four panels on the new “Turn ‘Em In” pothole campaign. Image: Jonas Madden-Connor and Francois Vigneault. via Streetsblog SF

In recent years, other cities where mayors are touting their city’s ability to innovate, while simultaneously daring other mayors to best them, implementing protected bike lanes have been a cornerstone of their city’s transportation agenda. Reducing all traffic fatalities has been another innovative idea that leaders around the U.S. have started to embrace.

In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has stated that he intends to,

build more protected bike lanes than any other city in the country, redesign intersections to ensure they are safer for bicyclists, and improve hundreds of miles of residential streets for bicyclists, pedestrians, and the people that live on them.

In the little city of Pittsburgh, Mayor William Peduto fast tracked plans to implement protected bike lanes within months of getting into office and then made bold claims on how he intends to have Pittsburgh leapfrog every other city on bicycling and livability.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio was one of the first mayors in the country to embrace and adopt Vision Zero.

In San Diego, since getting sworn into office, our mayor has repeatedly reminded everyone within hearing (or recording) distance of the fact that he is a cyclist. His appointment of SDPD Chief Shelley Zimmerman, also a rider, is definitely unprecedented as we now have two leaders at the top of their organizations who have a sympathetic ear for cycling issues. Early last year, Faulconer appointed Kris McFadden to take over the city’s Department of Transportation. McFadden’s highest priority? Fixing potholes.

Last year, the mayor supporting boosting the city’s Transportation budget by adding 16 full time positions. Most (14) of those positions were devoted to fixing potholes.

So while I was disappointed at our mayor’s idea of innovation, I hope that he will focus on charting a course that indeed innovative during his term. Fixing streets certainly includes eliminating potholes, but truly fixing our streets would induce more bicycling and walking while also improving our quality of life and meeting and aiming to exceed the goals outlined in the mayor’s Climate Action Plan.

In a city where only 1.1% of San Diegans regularly ride a bicycle is truly embarrassing. Re-allocating space and redesigning deadly freeway interchanges so that walking and riding a bicycle isn’t just something open to the 1%, but something that everyone in the city can participate in – now that would be really innovative.