City to Present Bicycle Recommendations to Further Improve Safety on Montezuma Road on 11/14

On November 14th, the City will be making a presentation at the College Area Community Council on how they intend to further improve bicycle safety along Montezuma Road.  The agenda [pdf] states that the presentation will happen pretty early in the meeting and Brian Genovese the Senior Engineer at the newly formed Multi-Modal Program at the City will be making that presentation. Genovese is the City Bike Coordinator's, Tom Landre, supervisor.

College Area Community Council Meeting
When: November 14th at 7pm
Where: College-Rolando Branch Library, 6600 Montezuma Road, San Diego 92115

The College Area Community Council is formally recognized by the City of San Diego and is the governing body that provides input on land use decisions that encompass the following area:

View College Area Map in a larger map

I emailed Brian Genovese to ask about reducing the speed limits on Montezuma. Cities are required by statute to conduct speed surveys periodically. While the high speed roads are a problem for safe riding in San Diego, simply reducing the speed limit by changing the numbers on a speed limit sign can create a speed trap for drivers which is something cities are loathe to do. What can be done instead is a redesign of a road to narrow the travel lane which then leads to slower driving speeds and thus safety (and noise reduction), not to mention more pleasant riding conditions. Speedy roads aren't simply a public nuisance, but they reduce reaction time for drivers and are deadly:

High Speed Roads are Deadly. Image from:

I wanted to know when the last speed survey on Montezuma Road was done and proposed installing protected bicycle facilities along Montezuma Road which would in turn reduce the width of the vehicular travel lane. Genovese responded back as follows and provided the following speed survey data:

As of this year, a new California law allows jurisdictions to round down the speed limits after conducting a speed survey.

Montezuma Road, despite being a major east west thoroughfare connecting La Mesa to points east in the City of San Diego, was not listed in the SANDAG regional bike plan. It is however, listed in both the 2002 City Bike Plan and the 2011 Plan Update as a thoroughfare needing improvements.

Back in 1993, Montezuma Road used to be a Class III Facility which is a shared roadway usually with a sign stating "bike route":

Description of Class III Facility. Source: SANDAG 2050 Bike Plan
Description of Class II Facility. Source: SANDAG 2050 Bike Plan

The 2002 Plan called for upgrading the Class III Facilities to a Class II Facilities, a standard bike lane which typically offer riders a designated space to ride in:

When the 2002 was presented to the public for feedback, suggestions on improving the corridor were offered (Items with asterisks next to them indicate that this issue was identified more than once.):

**Fairmount-Montezuma-Camino del Rio North connections made easier

In the 2011 Bike Plan Update, the Montezuma Corridor was ranked #8 in the list of Highest Priority Projects:


What is interesting about our proposal to reduce the vehicular travel lane by adding protected bike facilities is that this will reverse the City's repeated habit of widening the road to accommodate vehicles without any consideration for the safety or quality of city life.

From 1987 - 1997, bicycle traffic along Montezuma fell dramatically:

Source: 2002 City of San Diego Bike Plan

At the same time, the City was busy widening roads all along the College Area Community to accommodate vehicular traffic instead of providing residents with additional transportation options. The cycle of widening roads, and then conducting speed surveys that noted increased vehicular speeds created the perfectly bike unfriendly Montezuma Road that exists today. San Diego State University certainly didn't help matters by banning bicycling on campus (which they've since tried to rectify).

Genovese responded to our request to conduct a new speed survey and installing protected bicycle facilities as follows:

I checked into getting new speed surveys on Montezuma but the existing surveys have been signed-off until they expire, i.e. they are good until 2014. However, we may be able to get new surveys after we implement any bicycle facility improvements that could trigger a change of conditions. As you may have heard, we are working on a corridor study that will include recommended low-cost-low-effort early action treatments. Separated cycle tracks or raised bike lanes will be considered but will likely fall into the category of higher-cost-higher-effort treatments.

In the absence of maintaining the status quo of doing nothing or very little at all, building separated and protected bicycle facilities such as cycle tracks are certainly expensive treatments. Bike facilities are only expensive when viewed in a vacuum and not in light of the fact that they are a mitigative measure against maintaining an incredibly expensive automotive-based transportation network. In light of rising gas prices and the continuing economic recession, not providing residents and visitors with increased options to move around is not an effective way of ensuring the city's success or relevance in the coming years. Stating that the bike facilities are higher cost or higher effort treatments ignores the incredible return on investment that bike facilities provide cities. If San Diego wants to stay relevant as a city in the years ahead, its about time that the City's decision makers cast aside the belief system that is not only false but also harmful to our city's future.


This was written by Sam Ollinger

Update on Chuck Gilbreth's Ghost Bike

Chuck Gilbreth's Ghost Bike originally placed on an unwalkable area not blocking anyone's access to any place. Photo: Sara Kazemi

Despite the message from Councilmember Marti Emerald's office to not have Chuck Gilbreth's ghost bike removed, the City of San Diego did so anyway. The Storm Water Department Spokesperson, Bill Harris, chose to instead make up facts about where Gilbreth's ghost bike was placed insinuating that Gilbreth's ghost bike was blocking wheelchair access or right-of-way regulations - when the ghost bike wasn't blocking any sort of access except serving as a grim reminder that our city streets aren't safe for bicycle riders.

A couple of local advocates including Penelope Robles then tracked the ghost bike down and reported back that the ghost bike was now located downtown and that after chatting with with Harris, Robles learned that the Storm Water Department would return the bike if someone went down to the City Administration Building to pick it up.

I contacted Forrest Brodsky who is one of the many volunteers at SDSU's Bike Cooperative, The Bike Stand, to learn whether his organization intended to pick up the ghost bike to return it to its original location. The Bike Stand was the group that originally placed the ghost bike to honor Gilbreth's life. Brodsky said that he would first contact Gilbreth's family to ensure that replacing the ghost bike would be in line with and respectful of the Gilbreth family's wishes.

This morning Brodsky informed me that Chuck Gilbreth's widow, Ginny, was more than willing for the ghost bike to be replaced at its original location on Montezuma Road - a road that has yet to see any road design improvements that would make it a safe corridor to ride on.

Protest of the Removal of Chuck Gilbreth's Ghost Bike

Angered that the City of San Diego plans on removing the ghost bike placed to honor Chuck Gilbreth's life, riders and other supporters will be protesting all day tomorrow (July 12) at the location where Gilbreth was killed.

Gilbreth Ghost Bike. Photo: Sara Kazemi

This will be an all-day affair. Please feel free to come earlier or later than the posted time.

Chuck Gilbreth was a cyclist who was tragically killed on Montezuma Dr near Collwood when an impatient motorist decided to pass a city bus on the right, in the bicycle lane, plowing into him and knocking him into the road. In memoriam of Mr. Gilbreth, there is a Ghost Bike chained up to a pole near the site of the incident. The City of San Diego now wants to remove this bike. As the story states, this would not be such a huge slap in the face if the City had taken the steps to make this street safer for cyclists to bike on in light of Gilbreth's death. Please join us in protesting the removal of his bike at the site of the ghost bike (just West of Montezuma and Collwood)

UPDATE: If you are unable to attend please feel free to send this email to Councilmember Marti Emerald at

Dear Councilmember Marti Emerald,

Chuck Gilbreth was tragically killed by a pickup truck on April 18, 2012 while riding his bicycle in the east bound bicycle lane on Montezuma Road. Please ask your City Staff to not remove the ghost bike on Montezuma Road near Collwood Boulevard until the road safety improvements have been made to Montezuma Road.

The city Transportation Department is studying the traffic road conditions relative to bicycle rider safety and should submit a report to you shortly. Please do not remove the ghost bike until bicycle safety improvements have been made to Montezuma Road.
Thank you.

Update 12:00pm: Just got a call from Cynthia Harris at Marti Emerald office. Gilbreth’s memorial will not be removed. Thank you to all who called. More soon

City to Study Ways to Improve Bicycle Safety on Montezuma Road

Charles Gilbreth (June 20, 1948 - April 18, 2012). Photo:

In a city that was built around the automobile, it has taken a recent death and a subsequent memorial ride honoring the dead rider in order to get our elected representatives and the city staff to note that our existing transportation network does not accommodate all San Diegans in a manner that is safe, efficient and comfortable.

In addition to Councilmember Todd Gloria, the latest champion for a more livable San Diego is Councilmember Marti Emerald. In a May 25, 2012 Memorandum to Mayor Jerry Sanders, Councilmember Emerald requested that the City study Montezuma Road to improve bicycle safety in the wake of Charles Gilbreth's death on April 18:

I request that you initiate a study of the roadway design of Montezuma Road between Fairmount Avenue and 55th Street, with regard to bicycle safety. Montezuma Road is a very important link in the City's bicycle network, providing one of the few routes for bicyclists traveling east to west to/from a large area of the City and County of San Diego.

As you may know, a cyclist was killed on this stretch of road on April 18, 2012. While to my knowledge, the preliminary reports on the accident indicate that roadway design was not to blame, I find there is significant evidence and testimony that this area is dangerous for cyclists. I believe this corridor is in need of study to determine if additional measures are warranted to improve bicycle safety.

The use of bicycles for commuter and recreational travel offers public benefits for those who ride and for those who do not. The City needs to do everything it can to protect bicycle riders and thereby encourage more people to ride.

On June 5, Garth K. Sturdevan, Director of the Transportation and Storm Water Department that oversees bicycle projects and issues responded, in part, as follows:

This is in response to your May 25th, 2012 memo regarding bicycle safety on Montezuma Road. As requested, staff will perform an assessment of Montezuma Road between the limits of Fairmount Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard to determine if further measures can be implemented to improve bicycle safety. We will respond within 90 days with the results of our investigation.

Much thanks to Tim Taylor, Council Representative for Councilmember Emerald, for both following up on my initial request and ensuring that this one death would not be forgotten.

I will post subsequent updates as I learn of them.

Guest Post: San Diego Epitomizes the Failure of Government to Actively Cultivate a Viable Urban Community

This post was written by Dr. Esteban del Rio who is an Associate Professor at the University of San Diego

Making the Sunset at Dogs Beach
Making the Sunset at Dog Beach. Dr. del Rio and his daughter. Photo from Dr. del Rio.

I mostly enjoy my commute from home in La Mesa to Linda Vista, where I work as a professor at the University of San Diego.  I ride quiet neighborhood streets until Montezuma Rd, where the bike lane appears and disappears, then descend the hill carefully before taking the bike bridge over the 8 interchange, after which I'm unceremoniously spat out right into traffic as I try to hurdle speeding vehicles to make the left turn along Camino del Rio North.  I’ve learned a few tricks in trying to get over to the left, but its often rather hairy.  Then, it’s a lovely ride along the river on Camino del Rio, then through the strip malls of Mission Valley, cutting through Fashion Valley to Friars Rd., then up to campus.

Riding home is more of a gamble.  My thoughts lie mostly in imagining dinner with my family and holding my two small children in my arms when I arrive.  But the road is less inviting.  Everything’s fine until I think about climbing back up Montezuma.  I cut over to Camino del Rio South at the strangely-named “Mission City Parkway,” which is a tidy bridge over the 8.  That way, I avoid four very dangerous interchanges that face the cyclist or pedestrian going from Camino del Rio North to Montezuma.  Instead, I get only two very dangerous interchanges, while trying to make my way home from work to eat dinner with my family: Fairmount and Collwood.  It doesn’t get better at the top of the hill, when the bike lane becomes laughably narrow just as a rider goes the slowest and cars go the fastest because of some psychological burst that comes with driving up to the top of the hill (it seems to me that motorists drive more recklessly uphill than downhill).  There’s a sorry-looking chain-link fence at this point “protecting” pedestrians, and relegating cyclists into caged risk-takers.

I think about this every time I ride up Montezuma.  But I paused, a bit shaken, and took a moment last Thursday when I rode home from work, one day after Chuck Gilbreth was killed on this same stretch.  His death represents a horrible tragedy, caused by reckless driving that deserves strict prosecution.  But why else is it so dangerous to Chuck and all of us who ride or walk it?  Well, it is obvious that the infrastructure does nearly nothing to ensure cyclist or pedestrian safety.  In fact, the design is a lesson in willful neglect.  The wide lanes, and freeway-style ramps encourage speeding.  But one can find these conditions throughout the county.  We have a culture of speeding in San Diego, facilitated by these kinds of roads all over town.

More than anything, traffic calming must become an absolute priority in city and county transportation policy.  Is there a reason any surface street should have a speed limit above 35 miles per hour?  High speed limits on city streets encourage speeding, increased fuel consumption, traffic, and accidents, while discouraging people from walking, cycling, and children playing outside.   Planners have pushed civic life into hiding – children and the elderly stay inside.  Commuters stay in their cars.  Citizens become isolated, the streets more dangerous.  Perhaps this is what government officials want – a populace so disconnected from each other that we couldn’t come together to challenge official complacency and the culture of cronyism that characterizes San Diego political leadership.  Perhaps this is why people who ride bikes are so troubled by recent deaths – it’s the failure of governments not only to facilitate safe travel for non-motorized means, but it is also the failure of government to actively cultivate a viable urban community.

The beginnings of a sea change are easily within reach, with something as simple as paint, and as complex as political will, needed to alter the urban and civic landscape.  In this case, with Montezuma Road, narrow the lanes, make the speed limit 35 mph, lay a divider for much of the road for a cycletrack and wide sidewalk, put in signals at the on and off-ramps, use green-painted bike lanes when needed.  For the throngs living in La Mesa, College, City Heights, and many other neighborhoods, Montezuma is a lifeline to work in Mission Valley and many points north of the 8.  Don’t even get me started on the other options, characterized by broken routes along University Ave., El Cajon, Blvd., and Mission Gorge/Friars Rd.  All of these require the same kind of changes for San Diego to become more livable.  More livable. – this seems like such a simple goal for policy-makers.  I wish San Diego decided to become more livable before we lost Chuck Gilbreth .