This past Sunday, Mayoral Candidate Bob Filner invited a group of residents to ride with him on a street that was known by regular riders to have some serious problems. When his campaign asked me for suggestions, I immediately suggested India Street – a street that has some serious problems in its design that makes riding on it both terrifying and uninviting and one that I get constant complaints about. Fortunately, thanks to a Chargers game, auto-traffic on India Street was very light and thus my initial fear of putting a mayoral candidate in grave danger, thankfully, didn’t come to pass.

The worst parts of the ride

India Street and Kettner Boulevard is a major north/south thoroughfare for San Diegan riders. Other routes east and west of these two streets don’t connect because our forefathers didn’t have the foresight to build bridges connecting the many canyons that dot our landscape. While we had visionary leaders carving out space and designing some truly outstanding freeways that crisscross the entire city of San Diego, these same visionaries paid little attention or thought to other modes of travel.

The ride began at Ivan Stewart Electric Bicycle Shop. The start of the ride began on a section of Little Italy (below Hawthorne) that has no bike infrastructure:

Start of the ride in Little Italy on India Street. Image:

As we rode north toward Laurel Street, having a group of over 20 people riding made the ride feel safer, but it was mostly unpleasant with speeding cars passing aggressively close. At Laurel, Filner discovered the first sign of some space allocated to bicycle riders along with the looming dark tunnel with dim lighting that we would all ride through:

Part of a bike lane and the India Street tunnel.

As we headed toward the tunnel, the bike lane paint faded and the atmosphere turned decidedly dark:

Heading into the India Street tunnel
In the tunnel.

We all made it through the tunnel relatively unscathed just in time to climb the hill to face a disappearing bike lane and play frogger to merge with an off-ramp that was spitting out cars coming out from the freeway at a high speed:

Disappearing bike lane on India while heading uphill
Time to merge with traffic exiting a freeway at high speed.

After making it through and now on flat ground, we rode parallel to Pacific Highway on India Street and continued into Old Town both to continue the discussion and share ideas on the problems that a road like India was indicative of. The entire ride, Filner was attentive to everyone who spoke:

Mayoral candidate Bob Filner (in white) listens to riders explain problems they face on a regular basis and brainstorms on ideas for possible solutions.

Once at Old Town at El Fandango, everyone cooled down with some cold lemonade and then listened to Filner speak. One of the first things he stated was,

Biking is an aesthetic experience. You get a different experience when you’re on a bike

This statement articulated clearly why current residents in San Diego ride at all. Filner in this short ride intuitively grasped at the joy one experiences from atop a bicycle saddle and articulated it in a manner that impressed me and many others. He also recognized the challenges that come from having to dealing with fast moving traffic and dealing with multiple freeway mergers on surface streets. He wanted to highlight one street that he could make a model.

My suggestion was University Avenue continuing to Washington Street:

View SD Bike Network in a larger map
If this section of the city had protected bike lanes connecting the east and western portions of the city, ridership would jump even higher and the proven safety benefits that come from increasing bicycle mode share would benefit the city as a whole. University Avenue is a busy thoroughfare and the mid-city area of the city already has a high percentage of riders riding on a regular basis but they constantly face danger because they lack protective barriers from fast moving motor vehicles.

One significant item of note from the ride is that this year is the first time in San Diego’s history that bicycling has risen up and become an issue in the mayoral campaign. Filner, as far as I can determine, is the first candidate to actually ride with residents to truly experience what riders face on a regular basis. This alone is noteworthy for many reasons, especially for what it means for our quality of life. Now that Filner and his staff have experienced how a lack of vision from the past has unwittingly pitted drivers against riders on a regular basis today, I look forward to seeing how Filner’s upcoming bike plan will address how he intends to make our city more livable and pleasurable, especially atop a bicycle saddle.